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Luang Prabang, Laos

Visiting Laos was almost completely by accident. I had hoped to visit when I first arrived to do my scuba instructor course in Thailand, but as time went by it just seemed impossible… Then, one night, sitting on the beach and drinking beers with friends I said “I wish I could go to Laos…”. My good friend, Monique, replied with “Well, why can’t you??”…. That is when the seed was planted… yes why can’t I go???

In truth it had been many years since I had traveled anywhere new by myself, even though that is my favorite way to travel, but another friend hoped to join so that ignited the fire of excitement even more and I soon traded some old books for a used Lonely Planet and got on with planning. Ultimately he couldn’t join but by then the train was rolling and there was no way to stop it!

My original plan was thus:
– Travel by overnight bus to Bangkok, stay at NapPark hostel where I could store luggage.
– Travel by overnight train to the border then on to Vientiane, the capital, for a night.
– Another 13hr odd journey to Luang Prabang and spend a few days before the return journey.

But you never know how plans might change so it is never worth carving things in stone. As it turned out I met a great bunch of folks at the hostel and we planned to do a day trip to Ayutthaya, the old capital of Siam, and at the same time the travel agent who happened to have his little office in the restaurant suggested I fly to Luang Prabang instead….

With the prospect of not only getting a chance to see Ayuthaya but also spend more time in Luang Prabang I was sold!! The cost was around $189 (US) for the ticket vs about $100 and a total of 4 days of travel…. yup no brainer!

Luang Prabang was phenomenal, stunning, chilled, friendly…. one of my top 3 for sure.

The People You Meet….
Among the amazing experiences was meeting up with one of the Terrific Ten, Denise from Holland, who met up with me after visiting Chang Mai. Was like having an old friend to hang out with and to go on a kayak/trek with. The kayak trip was with White Elephant Adventures and was brilliant, post food poisoning and all. Another incredible opportunity was learning to weave with a German girl who was staying at the same guesthouse.

However, I think my all time favorite experience was meeting my “Smoothie Family”. Every night as you walk down the main street towards the night market you pass around 10 families all selling smoothies of various flavors. Well on my first night I wondered down trying to decide if I wanted one, when this young chap calls out “You want a smoothie?” with a cheeky little up swing in the tone as he said it. It caught my attention and I was hooked for the rest of the week. At some point I ended with a smoothie buddy, an older lone traveler, we had a smoothie date at 8pm 3 nights in a row… one of those rare memories you can only have through travel.

Smoothie Family and Smoothie Date

Smoothie Family and Smoothie Date

I hope to return some day!!!

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2016 in RTW, Thailand, Travel

 

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White Elephant Adventures – Luang Prabang, Laos

Choices, Choices…

Luang Prabang, Laos, is a hub for adventure! Everything from 1-3 day trekking trips to remote tribes in the hills, to kayak trips, to zip-lining, elephant riding and so much more. The hard part is not only choosing which activity to take part in but also which company to choose from the many that line the main street.

Luang Prabang Main Street

Luang Prabang Main Street

I spent a couple of days wandering along looking in at some of the tour companies but none of them really caught my attention, until I wandered in to the White Elephant Adventure Company office. Immediately there was a great vibe, and the owner, Alex, paused long enough on his way out to provide some great information.

From what I could tell the big difference comes from the fact that White Elephant uses only local guides, supports the local communities and schools and also believes in “leave no trace” activities. Unlike other companies who would take tourists to a remote community and leave their company stickers plastered all over the houses… White Elephant also has a unique pricing technique, every day of a tour costs $50 US, regardless of how many people or which tour you do, making things nice and clear.

My friend and I opted for the 1 day kayak and trek. We would drive and then trek through a local village, home to 3 of the tribes: Hmong, Lao and Khmu (In Laos these days the tribes get along really well, and often live together in communities, each with their own architectural designs and lifestyles). Then we would kayak to the Tad-se waterfalls where we would have lunch, have time for a swim and for those interested in Elephant rides or zip-lining there would be time for those (for a small fee).

This is what got my attention at first

This is what got my attention at first

A Right Proper Pair

On the morning of the big day my friend and I were a sight… she had broken her big toe while in Chang Mai after a tourist rode their scooter over her foot and I had decided to skip street food the night before and eat in a restaurant resulting in food poisoning…go figure.

But Miss Limp-along and Miss Sicky sucked it up and gave it a go… our decision was aided in the fact that there was an entry fee that had already been paid and if we changed dates we would have to pay it again (only $10US but that was equal to around 5 sandwiches and 3 smoothies). The staff at White Elephant were phenomenal, making sure I stayed hydrated and my friend had any help she needed with getting around.

A Great Day Out

So despite feeling and looking like I had a heck of a hangover… we had a fabulous day. Our phenomenal guides were Mr Manh (yup he da Manh!!) and Mr. Vee. We headed out by truck 30 minutes outside the city and then, after visiting the 3rd bush on the right (I had been drinking a LOT of water), we walked down to pick up our ride across the river. It became a source of much amusement as it turned out to be a dugout with a motor that sat VERY low in the water and did not feel stable, we were afraid to sneeze.

Once we were across Mr Vee gave us a great tour of the villages explaining all the differences in the lifestyles and their homes, how one tribe prefers double story, another prefers stilts and the other goes for a one story ground floor.

Hmong Houses.

Hmong Houses.

All very fascinating with some awfully cute kids along the way…

Super cute kids.

Super cute kids.

Then it was time a bush trek, around 30min, to get to our next dugout ride and finally to the kayaks. Mr. Vee was my kayak partner since I was under the weather and not sure how well I could keep up, he was fantastic and took over a large portion of the kayaking, also happy to answer all my questions and tell me a few things along the wa.

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Tad-Se Waterfall

After a short kayak across the river we came to Tad-Se waterfalls, similar in design to the Kuang Si waterfalls with the travertine limestone creating beautiful pools to take a relaxing, if somewhat chilly, dip.

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We also used it as the perfect lunch spot while some of the others took a dip in the falls on the back of an elephant.

Kayak, Rapids and Friends

All too soon our fun at the falls came to an end and we headed back to the kayaks for the last stretch of the river and some fun rapids. It was spectacular with a few clouds and blue sky, slowly kayaking down the Nam Khan river (a tributary of the Mekong). We hit a couple of rapids but nothing serious just a bit of fun.

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Finally we came to the home stretch and landed the kayaks smoothly. The last set of rapids were a little more exciting and one of us did tip over (as it turned out his kayak had been taking on water the whole trip without realizing it and was fairly unstable when he hit the first rapid), but no one was harmed…

All in all a phenomenal trip, phenomenal guides, and an outstanding company, highly recommended!!!

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2016 in RTW, Travel

 

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