Day 36 | An epic bike ride in Laos: simply beautiful

Today was an epic biking day, with much more time spent pedaling than the last two times we had rented bicycles in Mandalay or Ko Phangan! We biked all the way to the Tad Sae Waterfall and back, overwhelmed by the stunning and unspoiled nature that Laos is known for.

Yesterday we really wanted to attend the daily procession of monks being offered food from locals at sunrise but ended up snoozing for too long. So today we had no more excuse and woke up super early (before 5am). We walked to the main street where locals and tourists were already waiting for the monks to arrive. People giving food to the monks were sitting on small stools on one side of the street while the rest had to observe from the opposite side. It did not take long before the first group of monks showed up.

First group of monks collecting offerings

Each monk carried a personal alms bowl to receive rice as well as various snacks. The almsgivers had prepared or purchased food and tried very hard to not miss any monk. In some cases it created long lines of monks.

This lasted for well over an hour. Monks came in groups, perhaps according to the monastery to which they are affiliated with. We did not count but we probably saw at least three dozens groups of monks, with an average of 10 to 15 monks per group. Do the math, that’s a lot of monks! Within each group, individual monks seemed to be ordered by decreasing age with children monks at the end. Unlike in Myanmar, there was no nun to be seen. This was one of the last group of monks we saw before moving on.

Last group of monks collecting offerings

We noticed the presence of baskets on the sidewalk that monks used to reject food they did not want. Mostly undercooked or overcooked rice that they had no interest in but occasionally we saw monks discard wrapped cookies or other snacks.

Food discarded by the monks

It was a funny thing for us to witness as we did not expect monks to be picky with their food or throw food away. However it made some local kids very happy as they collected the discarded food in plastic bags for their own consumption. Some kind of second hand food donation: whatever the monks don’t eat, these kids will! Some of the kids were evidently hungry as we saw them eat plain white rice from their bag.

Kids with food collected from the discarded food baskets

After that, we went to see the morning market. Just like the night market it takes place every day but in a different location in town. The morning market is also much more focused on food and Lao people outnumbered tourists there. Unusual items we saw for sale included live owls and frogs.

We then walked back to our hotel to get breakfast. We stopped by a local travel agency to book a tour of the Pak Ou Caves for the next morning as well as a minivan ride to Vang Vieng, our next stop in Laos after Luang Prabang. We also briefly stopped by the National Museum to take some pictures as there was nobody around (the museum itself was closed since it was just 7:20am).

National Museum of Luang Prabang

For breakfast, I decided to try banana pancakes for the first time in Southeast Asia since I heard from Mimi that it was a classic for backpackers in the region (apparently there is even a concept called the Banana Pancake Trail linking all Southeast Asia towns where Western tourists can expect to find their favorite food from back home). It was actually really good!

After breakfast, we came back to our hotel room to wrap up some administrative chores. Mimi finished her overdue yolomimo blog post though the Internet connection was too flaky for her to be able to publish it in the morning. We also booked our hotel for three nights in Vang Vieng and dropped off our dirty laundry.

We rented two bicycles from our hotel. The bikes had no speed and uncomfortable seats but we figured it would still be fun to bike around town. We started by going all the way to the end of the Luang Prabang peninsula where the Nam Khan River joins into the Mekong River and saw many beautiful villas along the way. This part of town was pretty empty with almost no tourist.

Mimi in front of the Nam Khan River with the Mekong in the background

We kept biking and passed by the UXO Laos visitor center which was unfortunately closed on Mondays. We also stopped by a small public park with a statue of a previous Lao president. It was almost noon then and the temperature was getting really hot. We went to get food and drinks from street vendors mainly so we could sit in a shaded area and decide where to ride our bikes next. We ordered crepes filled with avocado and cheese and watermelon juices. The crepes were surprisingly good.

Avocado cheese crepes from a street vendor

We motivated ourselves to go to Tad Sae Waterfall, 15 kilometers away from Luang Prabang city center. We really liked the Kuang Si Waterfall we visited yesterday and knew that the Tad Sae one would very likely have less visitors.

We followed the Google Maps directions which took us to a dead-end street where evidently drunk road workers tried really hard to get me drunk. Seeing that I was refusing the liquor glass that his friend was offering me, another guy pretended to hand me a glass of water, though the strong alcohol smell that came out of it was telling me otherwise.

Eventually, we got back on the right path. It was very hilly and Mimi started to doubt she could go all the way and back before sunset. I insisted though I myself was a bit worried we would not have that much time to enjoy the waterfall before having to head back. We stopped by a bridge over the Nam Khan River to take some pictures.

Pretending to be dead on a bridge over the Nam Khan River

The water level in the river was very low as it was almost the peak of the dry season.

Bridge over the Nam Khan River

We continued our ride up and down hill under the intense sun for almost a full hour. It was pretty miserable for both of us and we clearly did not have bikes adapted for such terrain. Mimi felt weak and started having a headache and the chills. We stopped by a gas station to take a water break and check how far we were.

We were almost there so turning back now was not an option! Shortly after the gas station, we left the asphalt road we had been biking on for almost two hours now and got to the side dirt road that leads to the pier. We biked (and walked our bikes) for another 10 minutes through a very small village. Lao flags were on all houses here and residents did not seem to speak a word of English. Definitely very different from Luang Prabang. At last we saw the boats that would take us to the other side of the river where the waterfall is.

Boats taking people to the Tad Sae Waterfall

We were the only tourists there. We bought two tickets and boarded one of the long boats.

The boat ride on the Nam Khan River was quick (perhaps ten minutes) but still long enough for us to take some boat selfies.

Boat selfie on the Nam Khan River

When we arrived, the guy told us he would just wait there for us to return when we were done. We started exploring the area. There were a handful of elephants there and upon seeing them, Mimi immediately started singing her Elephant Nature Park jingle. It is almost like a physical reaction.

The animals seemed sad and stressed, not at all like the ones in Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. They each had a leg that was chained to the ground. A couple was waiting for their elephant to go on a ride.

The elephants were very docile and obeyed their mahout to the letter.

Eventually the couple waiting was able to start their ride. Another couple just finished theirs on a different animal.

Of course we did not want to ride them ourselves, after learning what they go through to be trained to perform such acts. We left the elephant area and went to the waterfall. We saw a first swimming area that had few kids in it but decided not to stop yet. We read online reviews saying that the hike along the river is amazing. We hiked for about 20 minutes looking for the entrance to the cave without success.

Hiking along the Tad Sae Waterfall

We found an empty spot to swim. Beautiful nature all around but the water level was very low. The water was cold like yesterday at the Kuang Si Waterfall which was actually a nice break from the heat after our long bike ride. We stayed there for only half an hour before we had to hike back. On our way back we saw people zip lining. That’s definitely something we will need to try while in Laos.

Ziplines over the Tad Sae Waterfall

We arrived at the pier where a different boat driver was waiting for us.

Pier on the Nam Khan River

Chickens on the shore were racing against our boat and for just a second I thought I was in Chicken Run.

We got back on our bikes for the return trip. At first, the ride back to Luang Prabang felt much easier: the air temperature had cooled down quite significantly and we did not have direct sun exposure anymore, being shaded by the hills that were surrounding the road.

Road back to Luang Prabang

The road had very little traffic so it was easy to stop for pictures.

Happy biker

We even saw a few domestic goats on our way.

However, after a while we noticed our leg muscles were getting more tired and we eventually had to push our bikes in the steepest stretches of the up hills. That’s despite this direction of travel going downhill on average as we were following the water flow of the Nam Khan River.

The sun was just setting as we got closer to the town and since there was little traffic, I managed to capture the beauty of the landscape on video while biking with one hand.

In the end, it took us about an hour and a half of biking to get back to our hotel. The owners had cold fruit juices waiting for us, which we found incredibly refreshing after such a long day! We cooled down for a bit and changed for dinner.

Mimi found Bamboo Tree, a restaurant serving Lao cuisine with excellent reviews within walking distance. We went there without having a reservation but had no problem getting a table for the two of us. The restaurant was very crowded. We both ordered the same dish: a large platter made of eight different vegetarian dishes. The food was excellent and we paired it with sweet Lao wine glasses.

Platter of vegetarian Lao food

We were done with dinner early and by 8:30pm we were back at our hotel to write some more yolomimo posts before going to bed.

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