Laos: An LP Christmas

The journey may have been a wee bit of an effort but if all long, noisy, uncomfortable bus journeys ended with Luang Prabang, I daresay nobody would ever moan about them again. Groggily wandering the streets of LP in the early hours of Christmas morning, I got very little sense of what this city had to offer. Everything was shut, it was pitch black and it was only after a long kip that I’d experience my new destination properly. I checked into the nearest hostel I could find that night but then moved to Downtown Backpackers Hostel the next morning, simply because I’d heard really good things about it.

I wasn’t disappointed. No sooner had I moved into my room I was greeted with a cheery ‘Merry Christmas’ from my roommates and asked if I wanted to join them on a trip to the famous Kuang Si Waterfalls that day. Actually, cheery is a lie. They were all hanging from their Christmas Eve shenanigans the night before, but they were still super friendly.

Before we headed on our trip, a few of us wandered round the city. It was a beautiful day. Experiencing Christmas in 30 degree heat will never feel normal to me. Despite this heat, we thought it would be a good idea to climb Phousi Hill, a bizarre hill stuck slap bang in the middle of the city for no particular reason. The climb up is pretty easy (if a little sweaty in the heat) and it costs 20,000 kip to go to the main viewpoint. Once we got up there, we got a sense of Luang Prabang properly. I always think it’s a brilliant idea to hit the city’s highest point on the first day as it means I can get my bearings somewhat.

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The view from Phousi Hill

From this vantage point, I could get a somewhat misty look at the mountains I’d passed through to get here as well as the two rivers (the Mekong and the Nam Khan) that sandwich the city of Luang Prabang. What struck me was how green it was. Considering it’s such a significant city for Laos, it maintains the feel of a leafy town, both from above and when you’re meandering down its cafe-filled streets.

After recovering from the sweaty hike, a group of 5 of us headed to Luang Prabang’s main street where a plethora of tuk tuks are waiting to take tourists to the Kuang Si Waterfalls, arguably this area’s most popular attraction. The tuk tuk drivers are friendly enough. The standard price appeared to be 30,000 kip each for the half an hour journey there, waiting time and the journey back. This seemed very reasonable to us, although a nearby group of French backpackers were adamant we had hijacked their fruitless attempts at bartering by accepting 30,000. They had been certain they would get the tuk tuk driver down to 25,000 and apparently it was all our fault and they now had no choice but to join us and pay the 50p (50p!) more for the journey. It made for a particularly awkward tuk tuk ride. Still, it’s not Christmas Day until there’s been a pointless row, right?

Luckily, we soon ditched the irritating penny-pinchers and, after grabbing some lunch near the falls, followed the sound of gushing water. Entrance to the falls was 20,000 kip which is bonkers cheap for arguably the most spectacular waterfall I’ve ever seen.

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Layer after layer tumbles into the next at the Kuang Si Falls

It’s not big in the way that, say, Niagara Falls would be, but the way each layer seamlessly flows into the next is fascinating to watch. And it’s never-ending. You would keep climbing expecting it to end and yet it never did. The sunlight pushing through the trees gave the water a photogenic tint which my camera appreciated.

After snapping photos, it was time to get in and sample the water for ourselves. Being the brave soul that I am, I encouraged another member of our group to take the plunge first and let us know how it was. “It’s lovely!” she exclaimed. Brilliant! We stripped off and headed straight in. “But really cold!” she then decided to add, far too late for us to do anything about it.

It was bloody freezing. I tell you, Iceland was delivering frozen Christmas turkeys which were warmer than this water. Once the shock wore off, it was actually really nice, though I welcomed clambering out and drying off in the hot sun afterwards. It’s definitely worth a dip – just be prepared to catch pneumonia (joking… sort of).

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The waterfalls get more breathtaking the higher up you climb (it’s not a difficult walk) so we kept plowing on until the final big’un. Deciding we’d earned some Christmas beers (though I’d started hours ago, truth be told – you can take the boy out of the North…) we stopped at the small bar close to the top and toasted a successful trip.

At any rate, we’d need the Dutch courage to survive the inevitably awkward tuk tuk journey back.

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