Sitting in a coffee shop working on my laptop in Vientiane, Laos…a gentlemen wearing a Lao T-shirt walked up to me.
“Are you visiting alone?” He asked.
Yes yes, it was my first time and first day here.
I inquired about his whereabouts, and whether he was a local. He sure seemed to be.
“My parents were born here, but fled to the states during the Vietnam war and never returned.”
He was visiting Lao, his rightful homeland, for the first time and was almost 30 years old.
“I actually live in Minnesota right now. I saw your Florida sticker and figured you were from the states.”
Going to the Waterfall?
“Yeah, just outside of Luang Prabang. I guess it’s supposed to be the most beautiful waterfall in the world.”
When I planned this trip, I just pinpointed cities in which to spend four to ten days. This would give me a jumping point in which to discover all of the local attractions more naturally.
I had not heard of the waterfall surprisingly, so I was quite thankful that this gentlemen came to tell me about it.
Four days later, after riding the bus to Vang Vieng and later Luang Prabang, I woke up at another homestay. Time to go find this legendary waterfall.
Waiting for the Van
I paid 50,000kip for a roundtrip ticket to the waterfall and back to my home-tel. Whether I would actually return or not is a different story.
Always being early to the party, I came to back to the homestay around 30 minutes before the van was supposed to arrive. I dropped off my laundry and waited. I waited…and waited.
About 15 minutes after the scheduled pickup time, the extremely friendly frontdesk gentlemen came outside to grab me for the shuttle. He and the shuttle driver exchanged some Laotian words, and then he told me to wait just a moment.
Then the shuttle driver waved me with him, and then they immediately told me to wait again. Okay, I already know where these events will lead me from seeing them happen to others.
After about six more “Stay here, no come with me” flip-flop decisions in less than 40 seconds, I finally was following the driver of the van to the road.
When we arrived at the van, the driver opened the passenger door and revealed a van with 12 seats and 14 people. Naturally, he said “okay wait here!” and then got in the driver seat and blasted me with gravel dust.
Too Close for Comfort
After five minutes of confidently waiting, another white van came careening down the road to where I was standing. The passenger door opened where a large gentlemen was sitting. The driver waved me inside and the passenger scooted over.
So, I would be sharing a front passenger seat with someone for the entire 45 minute van ride. This of course, prohibited the usage of a seatbelt.
We were already running about twenty minutes behind at this point. Just about two miles down the road outside of town, we pulled into a gas station. All busses and vans I have ridden at this point seem required to make as many unexpected stops as possible in order to keep you entertained.
On that note, this van seemed to be struggling quite a bit. Perhaps the reason is that it was designed to hold eight people, had 12 seats, and was carrying 15 passengers.
Or, it could be because the tire was flat….
So, my involuntary front seat partner and I got out and watched as he changed the tire. I strongly considered helping, but then the last thing I wanted was to be somehow held liable for the accident of a Lao van involving 15 foreign tourists.
One Hour Down!
We were finally starting the 45 minute journey to the waterfall, a full hour after we were supposed to leave. This would give us less than three hours to see the World’s Most Fabulous Waterfall.
During the ride, our driver used numerous Lao standard safety precautions. This included violently swerving around five-foot deep and wide holes in the middle of the mud-gravel slop road.
Other techniques included…
-Laying on the horn at 12 year-olds riding motorbikes while approaching them at 85mph.
-Laying on the horn at bulls, goats, chickens, and the elderly with no brake application.
-Having full faith that any large and blunt physical objects in the roadway would magically move upon impact.
-Narrowly missing unexplainable concrete poles on the side of the road by four millimeters (on the side in which my face was pressed against the window)
-Carefully navigating the tires of the van onto the single wooden planks of the bridges that appeared to be built in 1721. (Yes, the bridges are literally two seperate wooden flats just a bit wider than tires)
-Operating a cellphone and driving/honking with elbows while doing all of these.
Mind you, I was sharing the front seat with someone while all of this happened, so I had a wonderful view of whatever immediate death I might experience. However, I was very lucky in that I had two handles to very firmly grasp during the entire ride.
My violently jostled seatmate was not so lucky.
As I immediately jump out of the van upon arriving at the waterfall, the driver began to yell out times.
“5! No no…5:30! 5:00!! 5:30!” He kept flip flopping while pointing at the ground.
Finally….”5:2o! Here! 5:20! FIVE-TWENTY!”
He told all of us individually 5:20 and pointed at the van. Therefore, I decided to arrive no later than 4:50 after all the indecision.
Upon taking off into the waterfall park grounds and leaving the group far behind, I ran into some bears!
I’m not sure of the back story here, but about a dozen black bears…apparently “Moon Bears”…are kept in a confined area on the way into the waterfall.
It was more or less a nature exhibit, and I believe these bears were all somehow injured or in need of a rescue. Naturally, they put them all at the entrance to Lao(s)’ [<–which is it anyway? Lao or Laos?] biggest tourist attraction.
The First Glimpse
Upon first seeing the bottom of the waterfall, I couldn’t believe it. Yes, this was the most beautiful waterfall I had ever seen in my life.
Water was coming down slopes at all different directions, more than any waterfall I had seen anywhere in the USA. The water itself was the most beautiful azul color, more clear than any Florida spring I had ever seen.
It was like a beautiful mating combination of The Caribbean, Great Smoky Mountains, Niagara Falls, Florida’s Springs and the jungle of Laos. Well, more or less….
After going up three different levels of the waterfall, it was now time to find the swimming hole. There is nothing better than all natural fresh swimming hole!
Into the Waterfall
There was nearly 100 people gathered around the considerably large area for swimming, yet only six people inside of the water.
I found a place to hide all of my shit, including my wallet and shoes, and walked as quick as I could to the waterfall.
Fun Fact! The rocks around the Kuang Si Waterfall are actually the most slippery in the world. If you have ever seen that YouTube video of the guy shoveling snow and sliding for an entire nine seconds….that was me on these rocks.
I climbed in and found that the water was not cold at all, much to the contradiction of the broad spectrum of nationalities all around me that stated it was freezing.
Swimming across the pool of water, I positioned myself directly underneath the strongest waterfall. Man, what a feeling!
The water pressure was so strong that you could barely stay underneath the fall without having your hair ripped off of your body.
This part of the waterfall was only ten feet tall! Could you imagine water the bottom of Niagara Falls feels like? Those people in barrels are absolutely insane.
Diving from the Rocks
Looking up from the pool of water, I saw everyone cheering on a chubby older Chinese man. He was climbing up the very slippery and narrow rock that was the de facto diving board of the pool.
The rock was about 12 feet from the surface of the water, and he dived into the pool. The small crowd of people, probably representing at least 20 different countries, all cheered.
I swam around in the falls for around twenty minutes, watching people use selfie sticks up and close and climbing the rocks.
After the crowd shrank just a little bit, I decided it was time to jump into the poll from the big rock. I was sure I would be fine, although I didn’t need 27 different countries to see my slide face first into the rock and back down to the ground.
The water was certainly not deep enough to dive into this pool of water from the height of this rock, even feet first. So I opted for a cannonball.
Onward to the Top of the Falls
About 90 minutes before the scheduled time of departure, I decided it was necessary to get out of the falls to trek on and see the rest of the waterfall. I figured there might be another nice little area to take a couple of photos.
I didn’t realize at this time that I was only halfway up the waterfall.
Even more importantly….I had no idea how tall the waterfall actually was!
Climbing to the Top
After staring in amazement of the beauty for about 15 minutes, I ran to the the leftside of the large waterfall and started the steep climb up. Again, I had no idea there was a trail to the top of the waterfall. I just showed up at this place and took what it offered.
So, about 130 feet through the 1,000 foot elevation, I stopped and took giant gasping breaths, attempting to regain any energy. Perhaps I should take better care of myself.
After about 15 minutes of very cardio intense and frantic climbing, I had made it to the top of the waterfall. There was no choice at this point but to hurry as I had to be back at the van by
There were some wooden plank bridges across the top of the waterfall. They were just wide enough that you could cross if you had at least okay balance.
Learning to Dirt Ski
Oh my god, I had no idea what I was getting into with this climb back down. First of all, the return slope was loose dirt that sloped down at no less than a 60 degree angle. Second of all, my shoes were now apparently worn down to the status of mere dirt skis.
Luckily, there was a handrail made out of bamboo the entire way down the mountain. I attempted to walk carefully, but every third step I lost complete control and began sliding wildly.
After about ten attempts of immediate and near catastrophic failure at basic walking, I finally gave into the Earth’s will.
I firmly grasped the bamboo rail with both hands and began to fully slide down the mountain. After about six minutes of sliding, with several near falls, I made it to the end of the sliding dirt hell and onto some broken stone stairs.
I ran down the stairs, and made my way back towards and through the small tourist mob in front of the giant waterfall.
I quickly walked passed the swimming area, passed the bottom end of the waterfall, and eventually pass the area with the bears. The bears were nowhere to be found at this time.
Back into the Van!
It was 4:42pm and I walked into the gravel parking lot to find my van. I was early for being early. There were about 11 white vans in the lot, and I knew mine’s license plate ended in -4131.
I checked every van, and none of them were mine. I checked them all three times, and still none of them were mine. I assumed our driver would be there soon.
5:00pm rolled around, and no new vans had arrived into the parking lot. Around ten minutes later, a couple new white vans pulled into the parking lot. They were definitely not the right van.
5:30pm was here. I didn’t even see any of the people that were in my van. In fact, all of the people around were a part of large Chinese tourist group.
6:00pm rolled around. The sun has gone down and I was in the jungle.
All of the vans were leaving, and it appeared I had no way to return.
To be continued…