Thursday, January 19, 2017

Cycling Isan Thailand - Laos 2016 : Day 10 - Luang Prabang Morning Market & Kuang Si Waterfalls

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Cycling Isan Thailand - Laos 2016 : Day 10 - Luang Prabang Morning Market & Kuang Si Waterfalls
Tour of Isan Thailand & Laos : Day 10, 11th December 2016

Route Recommendations :
1. Traffic Directions, Ride Conditions & Flights
- Laos  is left-had drive, so ride on the right hand side of the road. Do remind yourselves of this when entering Laos. Same thing applies when crossing the road, so do take care.
- We flew from Vientiane to Luang Prabang via Lao Skyway at a return fare of about RM500 which included free checked-in luggage (inclusive of sports equipment for our bicycles) of 20kg.
- This is a short an easy touristy route. Year end temperatures in Luang Prabang is quiet cold with early mornings at 15ºC and afternoon at 23ºC.

2. Communicating with Local
    For the uninitiated cycling in foreign lands can be a daunting experience, especially when one can only speak a smattering of the local language or if there is no common language to speak to each other (like English). Most Lao can hardly speak English, and learning some basic phrases will be helpful.
    This could be partly overcome by using translation apps like Google Translate. Do install this app into your phone and before you leave on your tour do some basic translation as it will be saved onto a list of recent translations.
    And do install memory-resident translation apps into your mobile phone.
Vientiane and Luang Prabang have quiet an international exposure; most international eateries and drinking joints have staff that speak fairly good English.
In Laos, doctors and pharmacists speak relatively good English. Seek out clinics or pharmacies for help when necessary.

3. Staying in Connected
    When travelling in a group it's important to be able to communicate with each other, especially if one got lost or just to share photos and moments. Other than wifi provided by hotels, home-stays and restaurants, getting pre-paid card is a good option.
In Laos:
We crossed over to Laos via the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge at Nong Khai and bought Lao Telecom high speed 4G SIM cards from a mini-mart at the Laos side with 1.5 GB data that last for a week for 150 Bahts. This was a mistake as the mart attendant was not very familiar with setting up the phone. Un-noticed by us, there is a Lao Telecom booth right after the immigration booth (at an island on the centre of the road), buy it there as the staff can set up your phone for their system for it to work properly. Click here to view a range of Lao pre-paid sim packages.
For Lao Skyway, once one have checked in, there is free wi-fi available, the password is shown in the passenger's copy of the luggage tag.

4. Places of Interest
- Luang Prabang Morning Market (GPS: 19.89062, 102.1336).
Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre (GPS: 19.751, 101.99594).
- Kuang Si Waterfalls (Tat Kuangsi) (GPS: 19.75111, 101.99672).
Luang Prabang Night Market (GPS: 19.89065, 102.13507).

5. Currency Exhcange
Although the Thai Bahts is widely accepted in Laos it is better to change to the local Kips at the hotel or money changers for better rates. Market stalls and restaurants generally give poorer exchange rate. In Luang Prabang, there are several money-changers that open early and close only at night. Do note that they will do not give back change in the currency that you offered, i.e. if you want to change 50USD, don't offer a 100USD note and expect a return of 50USD. Try to change Kips to your daily requirements as buy back rates are lower.
A convenient money-changer offering good rates (GPS: 19.88885, 102.13308) is situated near the Luang Prabang Post Office. This money-changer is opened everyday from 7:30 am to 11:00 pm.

6. Accomodations
Our accommodations for two nights at Luang Prabang was at the Mekong Moon Inn (GPS: 19.88992, 102.13255) at around MYR160 per twin-sharing room per night inclusive of taxes.

7. Food
Breakfast a good fusion spread of Lao & Western fare at the Mekong Moon Inn (GPS: 19.88992, 102.13255) 
- Lunch was Pad Thai at the Lao Green Kuangsy Restaurant located withing the Kuangsi Waterfalls area (GPS:19.74949, 101.99193).
- Dinner was Indian food at the Garden Restaurant (GPS: 19.89243, 102.13777).

8. Weather
November and December are good months to ride in Isan and Laos as the weather is quite cooling and the possibility of rain is low. Early morning temperatures is between 18 to 20°C, mid morning between around 22°C and afternoons 26-28°C.

9. Navigation
Where data signal is available and strong, one can use Google Maps to navigate around. If the cycling options may not be available, just use the walking options.
In cases where data signal is weak or unavailable (like in remote rural areas), install MAP.ME into your phone. It's an off-line map app.   
Alternatively, use a dedicated GPS unit like those from Garmin. However ensure that one install the Thailand and Laos maps into the unit.


With child actors of the Luang Prabang Children's Cultural Centre.
Yesterday we had arrived in Luang Prabang, cycled down from the airport and also around the old quarters of the town. The old town feel of the place, the serene atmosphere and the colourful, smiling people just made us love the place all the more. Today, we are still in Luang Prabang and will head for the waterfalls some distance away!


Ride Distance: 58.40 km.          |             Level: Not relevant as we motorcycled.
The route is undulating with certain stretches of steep hills and take one pass interesting small towns and villages.

We woke up to a very cold morning, the moment we step out from the house it was shivering cold. But these two children in cute jackets did warm our hearts and make the cold somewhat more bearable.
Their mummy was at another table, eating an interesting Bakchang (Zongzi). Here in Laos it is called Khanom Chang and instead of being wrapped in the usual bamboo leaves, they are wrapped in banana leave which impart some green colour to the Chang and made it looked suspiciously weird. But Mummy, who operates our home-stay, was eating it with zest, so it must be okay.

After a hearty breakfast at Mekong Moon Inn, it's to the Morning Market. We found this market more interesting as unlike Night Market it catered more for the locals than the tourist. The food sold were for local tastes and flavours, some stall sold clothes and other wares, these too were for locals. But more important were the people in their colourful day-to-day Lao wear and chatting away in a sing-song Lao market language.
Interestingly, the market stretches to the side entrance of the Luang Prabang Royal Palace, making it easy for the kitchen staff as the market is just at their doorsteps.

This lady in a colourful shawl was selling the Lao Khanom Chang, the type that's wrapped in banana leaves. Yes it was a cold morning and the locals were all wrapped up too.

Another lady, in a beautiful sarong, selling red and green chilli; her wares just simply laid onto banana leaves.
Like most South-east Asian countries, most of the stalls were run by women... is this the culture or were the men busy elsewhere?

I did see this man, with his son. I walked passed him several times and eventhough there were no buyers for the palm sugar that he was selling, he was ever smiling. Such are the strength of the locals in their Buddhist ways, through hardship they are still brave. To them good or bad is Karma; taking pity and practising Buddhist Dharma, I bought some sugar from him and gave it Home-stay Mummy.

Not only are the people colourful, so are there wares!
Colourful orange flowers stacked on banana leaf cones; these are used in prayer offerings.

This is the Hoven's carp, in Malaysia it's called the Jelawat or Sultan fish as it is a prized and expensive fish. Here, it is way much, much cheaper and bigger.

Orange small crabs, cooked and strapped to bamboo-handled contraptions.

.... and some weird food (weird to us tourists, probably normal to the locals) like toasted frogs...

... and roasted padi rats. The rats are a local delicacy and are usually caught at the padi fields; but a friend told me that padi rats are running out due to over-consumption and nowadays some markets sell the normal urban rats.... Ughs!

10:15am - Market's time over! Time to head for other pastures... which would be the Kuang Si Waterfalls about 30 km away. The low-paced life had gotten to us and made us laid-back soft; instead of cycling there, we decided to rent a motor-cycle for 120 Kips and take an easy ride there. Along the way we met, Mark and Courtney, an Australian couple from Melbourne who were on their way there two; so had a two motor-cycle caravan.

I think we were the only lazy ones 😜. Others happily rode up there, like this couple on a tandem and many locals on their road bikes.

And this gutsy lady, Ms. Ho, a fellow Malaysian from Kemaman. She took on the dragon-back slopes bravely on her small wheeled Brompton; made us just wished we were on our Bromptons too.

Yes, this is a sample of the road leading to the waterfalls, and this is just the gentler slopes.

There were much greenery around including small patches of silvery reed grass which reminded me of the silver grass of Hakone (.... see blog).

One of several villages we passed along the way.

... and some locals going along their daily routine.

It was busy time at entrance to the Kuang Si Waterfalls, the car-park was almost full and the place was full of tourists; many shops selling food and souvenirs lined the road.

Just after the entrance is the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre. Tat Kuang Si operated by the voluntary organisation "Free The Bears" care for victims of the illegal wildlife trade and work closely with the Lao authorities to strengthen wildlife protection legislation and enforcement. Asiatic black bears (Moon Bears) are an endangered species targeted by illegal hunters for use in the traditional medicine trade, restaurant trade or as exotic pets. The bears here have Lao names like Deng, Damm, Kayasin.

The waterfalls are unique as the water is blueish. There are several levels the lowest level has the largest pool.
A trek leads up to the further reaches, along the way there are several cascading falls.

Right at the top is another large pool with taller falls feeding into it with a rushing roar.

Somewhere near the top, we took a longer break for lunch of Pad Thai at the Lao Green Kuangsi Restaurant; and then took an easier parallel road to reach the bottom within fifteen minutes.

Back in town, we tried to go up That Chomsi at Mont Phousi, the highest spot for a good view of the place. But just after climbing the first flight of stairs (about 100 steps) we gave up.... just getting to lazy yah?

Instead we cycled to Khem Khong Road, walked down several steps to the long-boat river cruise jetty to have a fantastic view of the sun setting down the hills with the boats sailing down the Mekong in the fore-ground. Not so taxing but still very rewarding.

Back in town, more old-time atmosphere posing with an antique car.

Dinner was Indian... Biryani rice with Chicken Vindaloo. The rice was served heart-shape, cutting it midway down, it became a broken-hearted.... from not enough cycling perhaps... Yup, we should have cycled to Kuang Si!

A colourful ending to our stay here; tomorrow we head back to Vientiane.

(That's "naitonkangkhun thidi" - "Good Night" in Lao)


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