After a good night’s sleep in my own hostel bed, I found Vivien at breakfast the next morning and we exchanged our horror stories from the 12-16 hour bus expedition across Laos. I must admit, after hearing what she went through I think her journey may have been worse. Luckily we both survived to laugh about it and we were back together with more adventures on the horizon. We decided to head out to town to explore while picking up our daily 8,000 kips ($1 USD) fruit shake with passionfruit, pineapple, and dragon fruit. Once we had them in hand, we walked through town, walked on the bamboo bridge and crossed over into a smaller, off the beaten path village. We decided to explore to see how the locals live here. We found a textile factory where they hand make the scarves that they sell at the night market. We also found lots of stray dogs and a cute little puppy. We noticed that every kid somehow has a motorbike, they must not be that expensive to buy because 8-year-olds were cruising past us with their friends. When we saw the locals, we yelled Sabaidee to them which is Hello in Laos. This quickly became my favorite word to use in Laos. All the kids would yell it back to us and wave with their gigantic smiles – so young and free! Another thing we noticed were all the roads in the local villages were dirt roads unlike the neatly paved roads near the city square.
After a nice 2 hour walk around the local village, we decided to make our way back to the city square for fresh avocado sandwiches! Vivien had been raving about these sandwiches ever since breakfast so I knew they would be good. At 10,000 kips ($1.23) per sandwich, you couldn’t go wrong! Our lunch for the next three days became fresh avocado sandwiches and fruit shakes. I wouldn’t have had it any other way because they were filing but made me feel at home. During the night, all the backpackers suggested that we head to a local bar called Utopia and then go night bowling. When we got to Utopia, I introduced Vivien to my dutch friends from The Gibbon Experience and we had a very fun night out and met a ton of new backpackers. Since it was storming the next day, I decided to go into town and walk around a bit while Vivien stayed at the hostel figuring out her next move. While walking around town, I bumped into a couple of backpackers who we met the night before. I mentioned that I was craving a chocolate croissant and coincidentally the French women who was in the group mentioned she was en route to the best French bakery in the city so I decided to tag along with them. We finally arrived at the bakery and my eyes definitely did the ordering more me. I walked out with 3 croissants and a hot chocolate and finished everything before we sat down at the day time market. The people I had joined were extremely friendly with different stories of their own (one guy was traveling around SE Asia for a year, the French women was a 31-year-old lawyer from Paris taking a 6 month leave to pursue traveling and the other guy was taking a gap year before going to college). After relaxing and hearing their walks of life, I decided to join back up with Vivien and relax in the hammock for the rest of the day. That night we went to the night market and indulged in some Khao Sai and baked goods from the bakery. Vivien and I also walked away from the night market with a new bracelet that was only 4,000 kip (.50 cents). We knew we had a very long day ahead of us tomorrow so after renting our motorbike we decided to call it a night.
We decided after talking to a lot of people that in order to avoid the crowds at Kuang Si waterfall, you needed to get there before the tours arrive at 10am. The dutch boys mentioned that they were leaving to drive an hour to Kuang Si at 7am in the morning. We decided to do the same. That morning after packing out day packs, Vivien and I headed towards Kuang Si Waterfall. It was absolutely freezing on the motorbike. We did not plan our outfits accordingly even with long leggings and a jacket. While driving up the mountain to Kuang Si, I think my fingers were 90% frozen for most of the ride. Luckily for Vivien my body blocked most of the wind. We had to pull over many times because of how cold my feet and hands were; next time I will be sure to pack some gloves with me. After an hour of curvy roads and gorgeous landscapes, we arrived and only saw 3 other motorbikes in the parking lot (the dutch boys had arrived!). After paying the entrance fee of 20,000 kip ($2.50USD), we stopped at the bear sanctuary to see the Asiatic black bears. This sanctuary rescues these endangered bears from being poached and houses them here. They were absolutely adorable and the little cubs playing was exactly what I wanted to see at 8am after a cold motorbike ride through the mountains.
After admiring the cute and cuddly bears, we walked towards the waterfall. We first arrived at these pristine, out of a movie blue-green pools of water ultimately coming from the waterfall at the top. Luckily we had this amazing place to ourselves (with the exception of our 3 dutch friends). We were absolutely mesmerized. How could this water be so TEAL? So clear? So untouched? As we walked further up we arrived at another cluster of fairytale like blue-green pools. Again we were taken aback. As if we were walking through a dream. This was hands down one of the most gorgeous waterfalls I had ever been to….but I had not even gotten to the waterfall yet! After a quick 30 minute photo shoot with Vivien while we had the blue pools to ourselves, we slowly made our way up to the mother of all waterfalls! Before we even arrived at the main attraction, we spent an hour or so at the small pools, we didn’t even know what we were missing out on yet but we were still in awe of the beauty of everything and it helped that we were the only people around for the first hour or two.
Finally….we arrived at the mothership, Kuang Si Waterfall. I think I shed a tear when we got there, it was STUNNING! I’ve seen a lot in my 24 years of life but this was unlike anything I had ever come across. I would honestly tell everyone right now to book their flight to Laos for their next vacation if you want to be completely blown away by natures beauty. The pictures and videos that I took does not even begin to describe the beauty and power of Kuang Si. It was absolutely huge and we had just spent 2 hours at the small pools down below. Everywhere you looked was gorgeous, my mouth was permanently dropped in awe for the next 4 hours.
As everyone is wondering, how is this water so beautiful?
Well it’s simple, the azure waters are naturally colored this way because of its high deposits of white calcium carbonate. These particles from the surrounding limestone mountains are great at reflecting light, hence producing its distinct milky teal color.
Despite what the boys said about not being able to see much at the top, we decided to take the quick 20-minute walk to the top of the waterfall. Although you couldn’t see the much below, there was a swing where Vivi took a little photo shoot at with the blue-green pools under her. As we walked around, I noticed people down below in the middle of the waterfall swimming!! Then I remembered that our friend Hannah from Pai told us that half way down the hiking trail, where there is a sign and a barbwire fence that says “DO NOT CLIMB”, climb it! So listening to the advice of our dear friend, we decided to find the area that you are not supposed to go to and disregard the rules because when did anyone ever have fun following the rules? Finally we got to the fence, climbed under it, continued to trek across until we finally reached our own secret pool in the middle of this gigantic beautiful waterfall. I told Vivien to please pinch me because this was not reality. When we got into the water, we swam around, went under the mini waterfall above us, looked over the edge to see the bridge that we had just taken pictures on and of course had another photoshoot. After snapping 400 pictures that I will be sure to keep for a lifetime, we soaked it all in. Obviously, this secret pool wasn’t a secret anymore since everyone gazing up at the waterfall could see us taking pictures and splash around. Within a matter of 30 minutes, our secret spot was taken over by 40-50 people. Luckily we were able to enjoy this gift from nature before everyone took it over.
Again, Vivien and I experienced another incredible day together. At the base of the waterfall, she mentioned that I had experience 2 of her “best days ever” with her, I felt honored! We flew back to Luang Prabang just in time to catch the mini bus with the boys up to Vang Vieng. 6 hours later we were in central Laos in a very small town known to backpackers as the whiskey and tubing town. Here, every bar in the 3 block radius offers free shots of whiskey because they make it themselves. We decided to take it slow on the whiskey shots because we only had 3 days here and wanted to make sure we were able to explore around town the next day. The next day, I woke up early to go on a light jog around town and find a bakery because my sweet tooth was telling me I needed to find some chocolate, preferably another chocolate croissant. After eating some baked goods, I met Vivi back at the hotel and we went out to explore the caves around town. To get the caves we walked outside of the town square into the fields where the cows and water buffalo reside. The 45-minute walk to Lusi Cave was incredible. We had the mountains surrounding us while walking next to the cows grazing. Once we got to the first destination, we were able to climb to the top of Pha Poak Cave for an incredible view of Vang Vieng. We proceeded to climb up this mountain that was definitely not meant for hiking where we were gifted with incredible sights on the top of a very shaky rock. Because I did not know we would be hiking, I wore my flip flops and my feet were absolutely killing me (lesson learned, always pack sneaked in my day pack). If the rocks had not been so damn sharp, I would have taken my sandals off to get a better grip, by the time we completed the hike, my sandals were destroyed and my feet were scratched up.
After completely the deadly hike and ruining my sandals as well as my sensitive feet, we trekked towards Lusi Cave which was another 30-minute walk through the farmlands of Laos. The admission for Lusi Cave was 10,000 kip and it was a HUGE, very dark cave. To get to the cave you have to climb up some very steep bamboo ladders so again my sandals were not the best type of footwear for this journey. Luckily after looking around Lusi Cave, I gave my feet a rest by playing with a cute little puppy before trekking back to the city.
The next morning around 7am, I decided to run the path that we walked the previous day and it was stunning with no one in sight for miles. When I got back and showered, we prepared our day packs for tubing down the Mekong River. We met up with the guys and took the bus up the river about 2 miles. Vang Vieng is known for the “tubing” because they have bars spread out along the river until you get to the city. These bars have ridiculously cheap drinks and fun games for everyone to participate in. The scenery around us was also a plus. I must admit, I let myself get a little crazy that day and soaked in the sun while falling asleep in my tube.
Luckily the dutch boys messaged us the next morning to remind us we had to catch the 9am bus to Vientiane (Capital of Laos). Luckily Vivien had me there (the early riser) and I made sure we were both on that bus before it departed. Another 6-hour journey to go. Luckily I had a single seat and was able to watch a couple Netflix episodes. Once we arrived in Vientiene, Vivien and I went to the Vietnam embassy to drop off our passports to ensure we were able to get the appropriate visa in time to cross the border the following week. Once we were done at the embassy, we went to the bus station to take ANOTHER 12-hour local bus down to southern Laos to Thukhek where we planned to do the 3-day motorbike loop with the guys. Even though the bus looked like it was going to break down in a million pieces, it held up pretty well.
A couple of bizarre things that happened on the bus was that 12 guys stormed the bus with huge loafs of bread and started yelling at people to buy their bread. They would not get off the bus until everyone bought their bread, check out the video below. Another bizarre thing, which seems quite normal now after traveling on so many buses was that for “rest stops” to go to the bathroom they just pulled over on the side of the road next to a grassy field and let people do their business.
Other than that, the bus wasn’t all that bad but it was a full day of traveling. We departed at 8am from Vang Vieng and arrived in Thakhek at 2am. Since Vivien and I didn’t have any hostels booked, we went to the nearest hotel next to the bus station and crashed there for the night. The next morning, we woke up and were in desperate need for a nice (cold) shower before we rented out motorbikes. Well little to my surprise, this was the bathroom (and shower) I had to deal with. Another cold shower with a sprinkle of water coming out of the spout in the books. Time to embark on the 3-day motorbike loop to close out our time in Laos.