Month: June 2016

Kuang Si Waterfalls & Other Tips for Luang Prabang

 

Laos: the land of roosters, butterflies, incredible landscapes, and limestone caves, with a rich history and French influence. If you haven’t heard of Kuang Si Waterfalls, a quick Google image search will show you why so many people travel to Laos just to see this oasis outside of Luang Prabang. I have been to some incredible waterfalls in my life, and this one is by far the best (even better than Krka National Park in Croatia!). Here are some tips and pictures if you are looking to go in the future or just want to learn more about it:

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The Kuang Si Waterfalls are about a 45 minute drive outside of Luang Prabang and an absolute must-see if you are in Laos. Between the Black Bear exhibit and series of 7 cascading waterfalls, there is a ton to explore at the park.

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How to get there: Find a tuk tuk on the street near the night market and negotiate. Don’t book through hostel or guest house; you will get ripped off! I would recommend a tuk tuk over a minibus/van because you can see the beautiful views better and you are less likely to get carsick on the windy roads with an open air truck (I did both and much preferred the tuk tuk).

Go with a Group: The bigger the group (4+ is good), the lower your price. Tuk tuk drivers may start out with something outrageous like 80,000 kip per person, but believe me, if you try hard enough and talk to enough drivers, you can get it down to 20,000 kip ($2.50 US) per person roundtrip. The driver will wait for you for three hours at the park entrance, but see if you can negotiate 3 ½ or 4 hours- you will want to stay longer!

Once you get to the bridge with the incredible views and photo ops (see below), you may think you’ve reached the top of Kuang Si Falls…don’t worry, there’s more. Continue on the trail (I highly recommend wearing sturdy hiking sandals like Chacos as opposed to flip flops) and you will see a fence with barbed wire and a sign that says “do not pass”. Go against what your gut may tell you and crawl through the fence to reach the best part of your day. You can swim at the very top of the waterfalls, go underneath the 300 ft. waterfall into a small cave, and take some incredible photos. There are typically just other backpackers up there who’ve heard about this “secret spot” through word of mouth, so it’s a great chance to make new friends!

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I didn’t do this the first time I went, but I am so glad I went back to Kuang Si Falls to hike up and around the top waterfalls. If you continue on the trail to the left when you climb back through the “do not pass” fence, you will not regret it. There is a trail at the very top above all of the waterfalls with incredible views of the mountains and there was not a soul up there when I went. You can even follow the signs to get to another cave farther back, but unfortunately, I ran out of time, and followed the trail down the other side of the waterfalls (see photos below).

Butterfly Park: There is a butterfly park about 300 meters away from Kuang Si falls, which is a great addition to a day trip. I wanted to go until I found out it was 40,000 kip for entrance, which is pretty expensive for Laos standards. I’ve heard it’s beautiful, but didn’t get a chance to go for myself, so let me know what you think if you do!

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Though I could visit Luang Prabang just to see Kuang Si Falls, there is also a ton of other activities to do. Here are a few I recommend in order of how much I enjoyed them:

Night Market: Make sure to eat at the buffet at least once (15,000 kip for all-you-can-eat vegetarian food), eat at the noodle place on the corner by the tourist center, try the local coffee at the countless cafes, and support local people by buying their unique handicrafts. If you head to this area in the day, there is an awesome spot with several vendors selling fruit shakes and sandwiches. I highly recommend the chicken, cheese, and avocado sandwich!

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Utopia: This bar and restaurant is the best spot in town with totally different vibes in the day and at night. With views of the river, tons of places to chill out, yoga classes, delicious food, and a sand volleyball court, Utopia is a great place to hang out in the day or around sunset. At night, this is where all of the backpackers come to hang out and drink at the bar. Though there is music and plenty of flowing drinks, this place usually doesn’t get too rowdy and is a great place to meet new people.

UXO Visitor Center: I learned SO much about the history of Laos and how the Laotian people are still affected by the Vietnam/Second Indochina War here. Do not miss this visitor center while you are in Luang Prabang- it was absolutely fascinating, heartbreaking, and eye-opening to learn about the unexploded bombs from the Vietnam War scattered throughout the country and how they even have to teach the children how to identify and avoid them. UXO is an organization that goes to villages throughout Laos to detonate or defuse these deadly unexploded bombs that kill hundreds of Laotian people every year. How did I not learn about this in school?!

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Traditional Arts & Ethnology Center: Another educational spot that should not be missed when in LP. I learned about the different ethnic and cultural groups of Laos and all about their daily lives, crafts such as weaving and embroidering, and how tourists can support the local people. Amazing!

Bowling: As strange as it sounds, bowling in Luang Prabang is basically a daily ritual for visiting backpackers. After Utopia closes at 11 p.m., everyone heads to the bowling alley, as it is the only place open late and is surprisingly a lot of fun when there are that many people there.

Mount Phousi: Hike to the top of this mountain with a temple for beautiful views of the river and the city for sunset. I would not recommend doing what I did and going at 1 p.m. in the peak heat hours of the day (even though the views were still worth it!).

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Royal Palace Museum: If you’re a museum buff, check out this museum to learn about Laos’ history, get to know the royal family, and see beautiful traditional art.

Free Movie Night at L’Etranger Café & Bookstore: Just make sure to buy food or a drink here, and take a night to relax watching a movie in the upstairs lounge. The night I went, we watched The Intern!

Sunset Cruise: I attempted to do a cruise with Sa Sa Sunset Cruise, but unfortunately, not enough people signed up that day (#lowseasonproblems). I hear it’s fun though! If you end up going, let me know how it is :).

Other than that, walking around the Old Quarter is a great experience in itself. There are plenty of shops and cafes to take refuge in from the heat, but my favorite part was just enjoying the French Colonial architecture and walking along the river. There are a few other activities I missed, so make sure to look online or ask around for other things to do, such as seeing the early morning Alms Giving Ceremony.

 

How much to expect to spend: Depending on what you’re doing, you can expect to spend between $10-$15 USD per day including accommodation (this could be more if you buy alcohol).

Hostels:

LPQ Backpackers hostel (40,000 kip/$5 USD per night): Simple, but does the job. I had no complaints about this hostel, other than the rock hard beds and not-so-helpful reception.

Khounsavan Guesthouse (50,000 kip/~$6 USD per night): This hostel had better reviews, more people, and a pool, so I switched here for my last two nights. To be honest, I wasn’t too impressed based on the food, reception/service, and (bath)rooms. The pool was nice and the people I met were great, but I think the signs that say “rated best hostel in Laos” may be a bit of an exaggeration. Regardless, it is still a fun place to stay, especially if you’re looking to meet people and go out.

If you don’t want to book anything in advance, you can very easily just show up near the night market and find tons of guesthouses nearby. However, some of these guesthouses may not be as social as the two I recommended above :).

Booking Busses: Almost everyone is either going to or coming from Vang Vieng via bus, and there are a ton of places to buy bus tickets. I highly recommend going directly to the bus terminal and buying your ticket there, rather than buying at your hostel/guesthouse or at a tourist office. These places will charge you extra and there are a lot of scams for “VIP buses”, which are quite the contrary. I paid 85,000 kip for my “VIP” bus, but others on the same bus paid 115,000 kip because they did not buy directly at the bus terminal. Just an extra tip!

I hope this was informative and showcased all that Luang Prabang has to offer, which is a lot more than Kuang Si Waterfalls! I kept extending my time here because I enjoyed it so much, so I hope you get the chance to go as well :). I will upload my GoPro video of Laos highlight soon- thanks for reading!

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How to Get an Adrenaline Rush in Koh Phangan

Alright, I just have to rave about two of the most fun things I have done in Thailand on the island of Koh Phangan! The Challenge Phangan and Slip n’ Fly are both popular attractions on the island for those looking for a huge adrenaline rush or just to work off a hangover from the Full Moon Party (see photo below). Here is a bit of information about each if you’re looking to go or just want to see more pictures!

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The Challenge Phangan is essentially a giant wipeout course on a lake which will leave you more exhausted than you ever thought possible from an inflatable course. With everything from a swing starting from a 30 ft. high platform to giant red balls to attempt to jump across, the course has a huge variety of challenges for every skill/fitness level. The giant blob is definitely the biggest hit and if you have the guts to do it, the staff will launch you with three people (see photo of my friend Mark mid-air below).

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Where is it?: On the northwest side of the island

Cost: 500 baht per person (~$14 US) for the day (pricey but WORTH it)

Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

How long to stay: Depending on the crowds and the size of your group, I’d go for a minimum of three hours. There is also a small restaurant there with (overpriced) food, but I highly recommend the nachos if you get hungry :).

Facebook page: Check out some of their pictures on The Challenge Phangan’s Facebook page!

Slip n’ Fly Party is equally as awesome as the Challenge Phangan, but in a totally different way. The park has a DJ attempting to play “western” party music, games like pool volleyball, lots of drinks, and of course, huge water slides. If you want to see someone soar, send them face first down the biggest water slide you will probably ever see and hope they nail the landing. Watching other people go down the slides is just as hilarious and entertaining as doing it yourself! If you dare to take a ball down with you and make it in the basket mid-air, they’ll even give you a free drink. I had so much fun at this park and met amazing people there too! The best part is that it was free for me and my friend Harry because I met a local guy who gave me a ride on his scooter the day before (sorry for hitchhiking, mom) and he put us on the list! That saved us a ton of money and made the day even better :).

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Where is it?: Toward the center of the island but easily accessible from the pier area via taxi/songthaew

Cost: 600 baht per person (~$16 US) for the day (still worth the price)

Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. with happy hour (100 baht drinks) from 5-7

How long to stay: I could’ve stayed here all day! We were there for three and a half hours and I definitely could’ve used an extra hour or two. Then again, I spent a significant amount of time waiting at the top of the slides trying not to chicken out…

Facebook page: Check out some of their pictures on the Slip n’ Fly Party Facebook page!

If the photos aren’t enough, you can check out my GoPro video of my month in Thailand below with even more footage! As always, thanks for reading and have fun in Koh Phangan if you go in the future (you should!).

Must-Have Travel Products

Someone recently asked me if there are any products I don’t travel without, which got me thinking. One of my favorite things about traveling is gearing up for a trip by finding travel hacks and products that will make my trip even better. I thought I’d share a few of them with you here!

Loose mineral sunscreen:

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Ready for the longest name ever? Colore Science Sunforgettable Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Water resistant loose mineral sunscreen. Phew! I never travel without this amazing powder sunscreen. Melanoma runs in my family, so I am religious about sunscreen, especially on my face, but liquids can get super greasy and are annoying to reapply. This travel size mineral sunscreen comes in a tube with a brush, is easy to apply, is tinted like makeup (so I use it instead of foundation when traveling), and actually acts like a matte powder if your skin gets oily or sweaty. I can’t say enough good things about it! Luckily, my grandma gave it to me, and unfortunately, it’s pretty pricy, but I use it every day and feel confident that I’m protecting my skin. It’s only about 4 inches long so it fits in any small bag/purse, and comes with me everywhere! You can get it on Amazon here :).

 

Clarks tennis shoes:

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I cannot tell you how long I looked for a good pair of lightweight, neutral, cute, supportive, comfortable tennis shoes that were not running shoes to wear in Europe. I was searching for the unicorn of shoes and I magically found them at Off Broadway! Clarks is a widely-known and reputable brand, so I already trusted the name when I bought them. These shoes lasted me for two month-long trips in Europe, and they are the only tennis shoes I brought with me to Southeast Asia. They are flexible, easy to pack, washable, water-resistant (survived rainy days in London!), and perfect for travel days. One of my favorite parts about these shoes is that they are slip on, but look like they have real laces, making them super easy to take on and off (I’m looking at you, TSA) but not ugly like some other brands out there (not gonna name names… Sketchers). Though these are walking shoes and not meant for intense hiking, they definitely have enough traction to be worn during more adventurous outings. They come in several colors you can find on Amazon here, but I love my taupe/tan shoes with orange laces :).

 

Laundry detergent strips:

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Again, another product my grandma gave me, and I love it already! These Travelon strips are really only good if you plan to wash anything in a sink or bathtub, so they definitely do not replace real laundry detergent, but are awesome for travelers. One tiny case (smaller than a credit card) holds 50 strips, which last forever. Just throw 1-2 strips in and wash away! You can buy them on Amazon here.

 

Inflatable pillow:

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Both times I traveled through Europe, I took a memory foam neck pillow and carried it around everywhere with me. I knew how dirty it got and was pretty grossed out when using it, but I thought it was the only option to get some sleep on a bus/train/plane. Think again! I didn’t even know these existed until my grandma gave one to me, but there are, in fact, small, inflatable, travel pillows out there. Mine is the Azurec Ultralight Travel Pillow and folds into the size of a pair of folded socks when deflated, so it takes up virtually no space in my backpack. Whenever I need a pillow, I can quickly take it out, unroll it, and blow it up with no problem. Plus, it comes with a tiny cover that cinches closed, so I know it stays clean :). Such a life saver!

 

Vapur rollable water bottle:

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I used to carry around a CamelBak water bottle everywhere, before I realized how much space it took up when I didn’t use it as much as I thought I would. This collapsible water bottle is awesome because when not in use, it can be rolled up and secured to take up only a few inches of space, but it also holds 22 oz. of water when expanded. Pretty much every backpacker I see in Thailand has a large (empty) canteen type water bottle attached to the outside of their backpack, along with a plastic water bottle in hand, which must get annoying. I just have my little Vapur in my backpack in case I want to fill up at the airport or empty a bulky water bottle into it. You can even fold it when it’s filled to fit in a smaller bag! I found this one just by searching on Amazon, and you can buy it here for only about USD $6.

 

Emu Joy on-the-go Relief Stick:

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Bless this miracle stick! It has not left my side since I’ve been in Thailand and has been a total lifesaver. Luckily, this anti-itch/relief stick is only USD $8 on Amazon and is well worth your money. The size of a tube of lip stick, the Emu Joy on-the-go Stick is portable and great for bug bites, bee stings, cuts, scrapes, bruises, minor burns, and chapped lips or nose. Basically, this guy replaces several products and is just great to have around, especially if you are constantly getting bitten by bugs :). You can check out their website at www.emujoy.com or buy one on Amazon here.

**Disclaimer: Though I have included links to buy these products online, I don’t get paid if you click on the link. I just really like these products, so I wanted to share them!

 

Do you have any more awesome travel products you want to share? Feel free to add in the comments section. I hope that was helpful! Thanks for reading :).