Luang Prabang - Part 3     Last Updated: 07-Nov-01 

Go directly to Meals

Among the attractions around Luang Prabang are two waterfalls, Kouang Si above the Mekong, and Taat Sae on one of its tributaries. We decided to rent two motorbikes (OK, scooters - with automatic transmission!) and head for the hills. After a quick negotiation and waiver form, we mounted the bikes. It is fortunate the we had recently completed our motorcycle safety training and gotten licenses, so that we could run through the checklist which was hammered into us:

Motorcycle license?  They did not care
Shoes covering the ankles?  No
Gloves?  No
Tough full-length sleeves?  No (THAT would have prevented our sunburn)
Eye protection?  Barely
Helmet?  No
OK, we're ready! 
Motorcycle checkout? 
Speedometer broken
Fuel gauge dead
But it seems to start

Carefully planned route?  Not really
Clear understanding of the laws?  Nope

Now ready, we headed South along the Mekong to drive the 35 km to Kouang Si falls. City gave way to village. The road ran into an active construction zone where we had to dodge the grader and pass over a wooden bridge which had two lines of planks for car wheels. The paved road gave way to dirt, but we did see a sign pointing towards the falls (with spelling which strongly suggested the place we were seeking). We drove through several small villages where the kids always waved at the rare Farangs and shouted, "Sabai dii," to which we happily responded. After about 7 km on the rutted and stony dirt road, we decided that maybe we were not up for another 28 km, and 35 back. So, we turned back and decided to drive to the other falls, which were only 15 km out of Luang Phrabang, and along the paved highway 13 (which connects LP to Vientiane).

Practicing balance - just look up, don't look down (the river is 20m below)  Easy riders 
Rice fields  South of Luang Prabang  Does anybody live here? 

This road was better, and a little busier. Sure, there were small patches of construction, potholes the size of New Hampshire, and vague road markings, but it was a picturesque drive through hills, farmland, and hill villages. One village was gathered around large tables for a celebration.

Stopping for yet another photo  And here it is 

At about the right distance from town, we spotted a sign which could be interpreted as the posting for the Taat Sae falls with some confidence. As we drove into a small village, there was a flagged rope across the road, and a sign listing the tariff for parking the bikes. Given no choice, we paid the fee (10¢ each!), and walked on towards the river, only to discover another sign listing the costs for the boat ferry and entrance to the falls. Written in English and Lao, it was clear that the price for locals was much less (20¢ Vs our 50¢).

Tollgate town  Why do we always find the turkeys?  Clear? 

Someone eventually instructed us to board a longboat constructed of plywood. We pushed out into the muddy river, and the boat immediately began taking on water through multiple bubbling holes. The driver instructed (in Lao) the third passenger to try to stuff rags into the holes, but it was to no avail. So, the boat was hauled ashore where the driver bailed it out, and then hammered the boat with a well-worn bamboo chisel designed for the job. It was hard to tell if he was banging rags back into the holes, or whether he was banging the plywood bottom back into place. Whatever he did, it was sufficient to slow the leaks until we made it downstream to the other side. There we climbed the muddy bank, walked through a stand of trees, and came to a bamboo hut toll gate. Paying yet another fee (of 50¢), we walked up the hill to the falls. The local village has made quite an industry of these Taat Sae falls (especially considering that the average annual income is ~ 500 US$).

The boat...dock  Fixing leaks  Just relax, Scott  Farms on the shore  Ducks  Playing beachball 

The falls themselves are a series of low cascades falling from about 60 meters above the river, in small steps of about 2 to 4 meters each, interspersed with many pools and trees. The falls reminded us of Dunns River Falls in Jamaica. Bamboo benches have been built in some pools, and bamboo huts shelter tables and refreshment concessions. Circles of rocks hold beer and sodas in the cool water. A few people were splashing around in the pools. We climbed as far as a cave above the cascades (and sighted one of the Legendary Land Leeches of Laos), and then sat down by the pool. We had brought swimsuits, but they seemed a little too baring compared to what other people had on, so we decided to not take the plunge. A dip in the cool water would have been refreshing on the muggy day.

Taat Sae falls joining the Nam Khan  Taat Sae Falls  Taat Sae Falls  Chilled drinks  Taat Sae Falls  Yes, it's cold...sort of  Enjoying the falls  Braving the falls  Keep your pants on 

I asked at one of the concessionaires (big word for the sad little pile of stuff…) if they had pomellos (a soccer-ball-sized citrus with thick pulp and mild sweet/sour flesh about the size of a softball), but they did not have any at the moment. They indicated that we should wait a bit for some to arrive. Sure enough, just a few minutes later, a woman traversed the falls carrying a burlap sack full of pomellos. Soon we were happily dribbling juice on ourselves as we shared one.

Legendary Land Leech of Laos  Peeling a pomello  Juicy!  Escaping without another payment 

The return was uneventful, and we did not have to pay to exit the park, cross the river, or ransom our bikes. Back in Luang Prabang, we stopped at Malee Lao restaurant, and had a wonderful and spicy stew. We then stopped at the oldest operating Wat in Luang Phrabang, Wisunalat, and its unique "watermelon" stupa, That Makmo. The huge Sim houses many gilded wooden Buddhas and ordination stones. The Pha Bang now at the Palace museum was housed here in 1507.

That Makmo, the 'Watermelon' Stupa  Buddhas in Wat Wisunalat  Wooden Buddhas 

After returning the bikes, and showering to remove the road grime, we treated ourselves to a French dinner at Restaurant L'Elefant, just down the street from our hotel. By far the most expensive place we've eaten in Luang Prabang ($34), they also had great music (Nat King Cole and the Andrews Sisters), and were still the least expensive good French Dinner we've ever had.

For Sunday, we've not planned much - much in keeping with the local custom; since there is no school, even the main reason for traffic jams seems to be eliminated. We plan just lazing around, shopping, catching up on email, webpages and reading, and preparing for tomorrow's flight to Vientiane on the infamous Lao Airways (a strong "AVOID" rating by the US State Department). OK, and maybe another tuna sandwich, a little more laap, and some gecko torture.

We'd most definitely would like to thank Richard Foster and Anna Lincoln for their suggestions and inputs for Luang Prabang.

Luang Prabang Meals:

3 Nov.

4 Nov.

5 Nov.

Back to Home Page                Back to Top                On to Vientiane