Kuang Si Falls

After our outing with the elephants, we made our way to what is on pretty much every Top 5 of Laos list — Kuang Si Falls.  Because we had already pre-arranged this at the hotel, our driver picked us up from the Elephant Village and drove us the 30-45 minutes to the falls.  If you take the excursion out there on your own, I would highly recommend getting a driver with an actual car as opposed to hiring a Tuk Tuk.  The road there is dusty, bumpy, and windy and would be very uncomfortable on the back of the rickshaw.

The entrance fee for the falls is 20K kip.  Be sure to bring a bathing suit and towel because even if you don’t think you’ll want to go in the water, you will once you see it.  The Kuang Si Falls are a beautiful emerald-jade color with hundreds of butterflies that flutter all around; it truly lives up to the hype.  The first watering hole you approach at the falls is by far the biggest and busiest.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is the only watering hole out of the excitement of seeing it first.  Keep walking up and you’ll see that there are about 7 or 8 watering holes and they get progressively less and less busy as you keeping walking up the hill (that being said, the first watering hole does have a tree that you can jump off of into the water).

As you make it up the hill, you’ll eventually reach the apex of the falls which is a giant 200 ft. waterfall.  At the bottom, you can take some great pictures and there is a trail that will take you to the top.  Now when we tried to hike up this, we were both wearing flip flops, making it nearly impossible.  So if you want to hike up to the top, be sure to wear shoes.  Also, the climb is incredibly steep, like on your hands and knees steep.  It is not for anyone who isn’t in peak physical shape.  As we were struggling to get to the top, we asked the folks coming down if it was worth the effort.  Most, if not all, said “No”.  The general consensus was that the view wasn’t really that good at the top and you may as well just take more pictures from the bottom.  So it’s up to you whether you think the climb is worth it.

We eventually settled on a water hole 2/3 of the way up from the bottom of the trail and hung out there for a good couple of hours.  The water is a little chilly, but you do get used to it after a while and the refreshing coolness and cleanness of the water is a welcome escape from the hot mugginess of Southeast Asia.



Elephant Village

One of the key activities we had on our list for things that had to be done during our trip was to get an elephant ride in.  Booking this trip was done through our guy Mr. Un at the hotel.  We specifically wanted to go to the Elephant Village because this sanctuary is government run and the animals are treated humanely, unlike at other places in SE Asia (and the world for that matter).  They offer full, half, and two day tours; we opted for the half day tour (as we were going to see the Kuang Si Falls in the afternoon).  I apologize that I don’t have the price because we put together a package for the Elephant Village and the Kuang Si Falls that had a negotiated price.  However, it’s Laos and the price for the Elephant Village is most likely going to be pretty good for you no matter what option you want to go with.   Getting there requires a bit of a trip, it’s about a 30-minute drive from Luang Prabang.

The elephants are as cool as you think they would be.  These creatures slowly roam around the sanctuary, allowing visitors to come up (do this with caution of course) and feed/pet them.  The Village only keeps females around as the males can tend to be lazy and/or aggressive (sounds like another species we know, right?).  After a short orientation, you begin your elephant ride with a designated mahout (the elephant guide).  It’s a much more relaxing and enjoyable experience than a camel or horse because the elephants are so big and slow.  The elephants can fit two people on their backs along with the mahout up on their necks.  The convoy of elephants walk around the village, through a river (which was the coolest part) and back up around the town.  During the ride, each person is given the chance to ride on the front on the neck and the guide will climb off and take pictures.  Trust me, it’s a little unnerving at first riding on the animal without a guide, but you quickly get comfortable with being on her.

After the ride, the tour takes you on a traditional Lao long boat to Tad Sae Falls.  Tad Sae Falls itself is like the less impressive version of Kuang Si Falls, which we will be going to in the next post, and it was even more so not impressive because there was no water from it being the dry season.  But the main highlight of taking this side excursion was not the falls, but to see the baby elephant and to get a chance to bathe with an elephant.  The baby elephant is adorable; they keep him in a pen with his mother.  You can’t help but think of the little guy as Dumbo.  He’s playful, curious, and from what our guide says, very mischievous.  We were warned not to get too close because he had a habit of stealing cameras.  We were also warned that if we get too close or too touchy, the mother would get really pissed.  That being said, it still didn’t stop anyone from giving the little guy’s trunk a pet when he reached out of his cage for us.

The tour also offers an option to bathe with an elephant.  Do it.  Bring your bathing suit and pay the extra $30.  You’ll sit atop the elephant while it goes into the river and plays around.  The guide will also give you a bushel of bananas to feed the animal as reward for diving under and cooling everyone off.  It was such a fun experience, and not one that I’ll soon be able to do again any time soon I’m sure.


After our elephant bath time, the long boat takes everyone back to the main camp and the Elephant Village provides its guests with lunch.  For those that book the full day tour, they stay to learn how to be a mahout — the practices, commands and such.  For us, we headed our way to Kuang Si Falls, one of the signature sights of SE Asia.  That’s next up on Here and There Travel.

Tuk Tuk – the Auto Rickshaw

A popular mode of transportation in SE Asia is the Tuk Tuk (pronounced “Duk Duk”), which is an auto rickshaw.  Generally cheaper than cabs if you can negotiate correctly, the Tuk Tuk is a fun way to get around.  But know that your heart rate will be accelerated as you ride on them.  Think of it like taking an amusement park ride without the benefit of a safety bar.  And again my mantra for SE Asia — Keep Your Elbows In!

Bangkok, Thailand

I’ve been pretty blessed so far to have started 2015 with trips to Australia (I’m still working on those Great Barrier Reef pics, more to come on that) and now — Southeast Asia.  The 12-day trip of the region consisted of Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.  Starting off in Bangkok, which is essentially the international hub of SE Asia, was the natural choice for the first part of our trek.

The flight over is long and arduous, so if you can afford it, I would highly recommend choosing an airline carrier that is on the higher end.  We flew over, with a stop in Dubai, on Emirates Airlines.  Despite the long travel, that flight was easily the most comfortable flight I’ve ever been on.  I fully admit that it helped that I had an entire row to myself for the 14-hour leg, but on top of that the flight attendants treat you like you are in First Class, the TVs have every imaginable movie (I pretty much watched all the Oscar nominees) and outside the plane camera views. The more bizarre, yet cool part was when they dimmed down the light to let people sleep, the ceiling of the cabin illuminates like a starry night.

I do have one gripe that’s not on the airline. And it’s a tip to you all: Don’t push on the TV monitor buttons so hard.  It’s not your iPad, it’s the back of someone’s seat.

Now that that’s out of the way, we landed in Bangkok in the late afternoon and it was the typical chaos in the Bangkok airport.  Getting a cab was far less of a pain than we anticipated, as they have a cab stand with an organizer directing passengers into cabs.  The cabs should cost around 300-400 baht ($1 = 30 baht) for the 30-minute ride into the city, but our cab told us 500 baht flat rate.  At this point we were too tired to care about arguing and paid the extra $3.  This will be a trend throughout.  SE Asia is ridiculously inexpensive once you get there.  Food, taxis, bars, whatever — it’s all really cheap.

After an interesting cab ride where the driver told us about some good lady-boy bars, we arrived at our hotel, The Landmark Bangkok.  Though the Landmark isn’t anything special, a good solid western hotel (we will eventually stay at cheaper, more native lodging in Laos and Cambodia), what is an advantage of staying there is its close proximity to Soi 11, the popular going out street in Bangkok, and it’s a block away from the Nana train stop.

The trains in Bangkok, by the way, are really modern (just built in 2008), are cheap, and are super easy to use in Bangkok.  This is key because you’ll want to use the trains especially during rush hour.  Cabs at those times will be charging high flat rates because rush hour traffic is so bad that what typically would be a 15-minute drive could turn into an hour or two.  The train will be faster and cheaper.

After we checked in and cleaned up a bit, we went out to explore the area.  The streets are packed with vendors and the hustle and bustle that goes with that.  Right on the first night, I learned the #1 survival tip of Southeast Asia: Keep Your Elbows In!   At all times.  If you don’t, you’re likely to get the hit by a Tuk Tuk, or you might hit some person enjoying their street food on the sidewalk, or any number of things.  Keep them in.  I know doubt will be saying this again in the next few posts; it’s easily the mantra of the trip.

Walking around the streets of Bangkok, I immediately noticed something.  While the noise and energy of the streets was no different than the vibe in say for instance Cairo or Lima, there was an added element of dirtiness to Bangkok.  I don’t mean it physically had more trash.  I mean the sex industry is much more in your face than those other more conservative Third World cities.  There are a ton of “massage parlors” everywhere and lady-boys walking up and down the street.  The vendors on the sidewalk amusingly sell boxes of Viagra and Cialis next to the souvenir trinkets and t-shirts.  It’s a very unique experience walking around that for that for the first time.  But you do get used it.

Since we had no dinner plans, we did what the locals do and grabbed $1 soup noodles from a food cart on the street, which was delicious, and grabbed a 75 cent chicken skewer at a different cart.  We also grabbed a few beers at a dive bar on Soi 11 called The Alchemist (a good place to go if you want a chill vibe and some live music).

The night didn’t last long.  Jet-lag won and we passed out.  More to come on the sights and sounds of Bangkok.