Laos is for Lovers
Lao-Lao is for Lovers
“Drink this and go make babies,” ordered the security guard with a wink. We were at the very top of the Kuang Si waterfall, in Luang Prabang, Laos, and the guard had just handed my husband and I a shot of the local homemade hooch, Lao-Lao. Apparently, the stuff is good for everything; sore joints, asthma, eczema, you name it, but especially if you want to make babies, as we learned repeatedly while we stayed in Laos.
And while we usually try to heed the advice of the locals, babies aren’t in our plans. The Laotians are happy to share their Lao-Lao and often espouse the benefits of drinking it daily, so I wasn’t surprised to hear that from the security guard, I was, however, surprised that he was knocking ’em back while on duty.
He was the only official looking person I saw at the falls. Maybe he was at the top to make sure no one jumped over the 60-meter fall or just to make people feel like there is some sort of security. But either way, we toasted with him and drank our Lao-Lao happily.
We rented a scooter in Luang Prabang and drove the windy road for 29 kilometers until we reached the falls. If you aren’t into scooter rides, then hop on a tuk-tuk. They are everywhere in town; you can get your own or jump in with others in a minivan if you want to get there even cheaper.
There is only one road to get there, and as soon as you leave town the landscape transforms into lush greenery, and local life outside of the tourist hotspots sets in: small villages with kids playing on the dirt roads, large farms, temples, and Buddha statues high on the hillside.
Once there, we parked our bike and walked through a lineup of food stalls selling everything from freshly made to order papaya salad to grilled chicken skewers, both for less than $2.
The entrance fee is 20,000 Kip/$2.35 which includes a walk through the Free the Bears Sanctuary. Asian black bears are trapped for their bile and organs and have become endangered; the sanctuary houses rescues from all over Laos.
At the entrance, there are signs about each bear telling you their name, their personality and how to tell them apart; the one with the crazy hair, the skinny one that gets bossed around, the three-legged one.
The larger bears are in enclosures full of toys, towers to climb on, and hammocks to chill in. The hammocks were a fan favorite. The one with the crazy hair looked just like me in a hammock, arms hanging out, lounging, just waiting for someone to bring him his cocktail with an umbrella.
It only takes about 10 minutes to check out the sanctuary, and although I don’t like enclosures for animals, this is the best life they can have. They can’t fend for themselves, so sadly they can’t be released into the wild.
As you leave the bears, you walk through a dirt path surrounded by dense green jungle. At the first clearing, you’ll see the lowest set of pools and small cascades. The pools are flat and Tiffany blue with boulders that are smooth and polished from years of rushing water.
Kuang Si is on all the tourist itineraries, and it is packed with bikini-wearing foreigners, a no-no in conservative Laos. It’s not forbidden, just frowned upon by the locals.
As you walk around to the left of the falls, there is a dirt path leading up to the next pool and the next, each getting larger and more dramatic. All the pools are surrounded by massive clusters of dense green bamboo and thick jungle. Each one is tucked away in its hidden spot that takes your breath away as it reveals itself.
At the third tier is the highest fall in all its glory, and that is where the real climb begins. It’s not a long hike, but it’s pretty much straight up, the right shoes would have been helpful, but I made it with my flip-flops with the helping hand of my husband who gently pulled me up some of the steeper inclines.
After about 40 minutes we reached the top to find a peaceful sanctuary with plenty of cold pools to sit in, barely a soul in sight other than the security guard and his friends. One had a rope swing to sit on and dangle your feet, others had bridges to walk over and get a glimpse of the edge and the falls below.
The view and the mostly private pools at the top were worth the hike. We went in the dry season, and it was breathtaking. It’s the best time to go. During the monsoon or wet season, you’ll feel the powerful raging water, but the pools will be muddy and not that clear turquoise that makes them so unique.
Tips and Tricks
- Scooter rental: Prices depend on what size bike you desire. We rented a 150cc motorcycle for about $15 which is a lot compared to the rest of Southeast Asia. No matter where you rent from, take the bike for a test drive before agreeing to make sure it’s up to snuff. By all means, wear a helmet.
- Tuk-Tuk prices are around 200,000 Kip ($23) for the trip. The more people you have, the cheaper it gets.
- Minivan: This is the cheapest option, between 50,000–70,000 Kip ($5.85–8.20) for a seat on a shared ride minivan.
- Negotiate, negotiate and negotiate some more… for everything especially tuk-tuks, scooters, and market goods.
- Dry bag: Try to bring a small one for your wallet, phone, camera, etc. but if not, do keep an eye on your stuff and don’t carry valuables.
- Not all the pools are open for swimming so pay attention to the signs.
How to get to Luang Prabang?
You can fly directly there or take a slow boat to Luang Prabang from Thailand.
Where to Stay
There are a lot of places to visit in Laos, sadly we only had five days so we stuck to Luang Prabang.
- Totally depends on your budget. We stayed at Sala Prabang; an adorable boutique hotel set right along the river. Our room was in the traditional Loa Bungalow which was utterly charming.
- There are plenty of hostels and budget hotels to choose from as well.
When to Go
- Dry season is the December–April/May
- Avoid weekends and afternoons if you want to have fewer crowds—first thing in the AM is the best.
What NOT to Wear
- Be modest, no skimpy bikinis or thongs. You will see people wearing them, but that doesn’t mean you should as well. There are signs stating, “No bare chests or bikinis” that are completely ignored. Throw a t-shirt over your suit—don’t be the ugly tourist. The Laotians are conservative so act respectfully.
- Wear waterproof shoes so that you can climb the muddy and slightly unstable grounds.
We really loved Luang Prabang (and the food) and def intend to spend more time getting to know this wonderful country.
Have you been to Laos? What was your favorite place? Tell me in the comments below.