We had one day to spend outside Luang Prabang center and had Pak Ou Caves and Kuang Si Waterfalls to tick off from our list.
We asked from our hotel how to go there on our own, but instead, they recommended a one day tour package for these two sites for a price of 45 USD, under Manifa Travel. Since it was December then and we are very much in the spirit of the holiday season, we decided to take it (rephrased as “we were just lazy to turn on backpacker mode”).
We had booked Pak Ou caves and Kuang Si Waterfalls ONLY, but we were surprised they’d put us on a tour that included elephant ride, which became our first stop for the day, whether we liked it or not.
I honestly wanted to try the elephant ride but I wanted to do it with an organization that truly cares about the elephants. However, the truth is that true care for the animals is giving them freedom to roam around their natural habitat, not letting them work during the day for tourists’ enjoyment.
It’s sad seeing the elephants chained by their legs to trees when they’re not “on the job”
Another sad part is that we can’t do anything but waste an hour in the camp to wait for the other tourists in our group who included an elephant ride in their package. Since there’s no other thing to do, I took the time photographing what I saw in the camp.
Cutting of sugarcane, which is fed to the elephants
Might as well enjoy this scenic location in the camp
Empty water bottles wasted everyday. We ate lunch at the camp, where they have a kitchen. Reusable and washable cups offers a better option.
Tourists and the mahouts preparing to bathe the elephants
From the elephant camp, we drove to a village then walked a little until we reach the riverbank of Mekong River. We boarded a small boat to cross the river and reach the cave entrance. The 20,000 kips entrance fee is already included in the tour package.
On our way to the boat that will take us to Pak-ou caves
Flattened rice cakes being sun-dried
Typical Laotian home in the village
Pak-ou caves at the other end of Mekong River
Pak-Ou cave has been used as a pilgrimage site by the royal families and the Laotian people as part of the New Year religious observances. Buddha sculptures were brought and venerated in the caves by the people until they accumulated over the years. I am not sure though whether this is still being practiced at this time.
There is a lower level cave and an upper level cave on top of the hill. Man-made stairs are already in place so it is not difficult to reach both caves, except for the quite steep climb to the upper cave.
Steps leading to the upper cave
A family picnic-ing along the side-stairway to the upper cave
Upper cave entrance
The upper cave is bigger and unlit. Hence, you would need a flashlight to view the Buddha images inside.
The lower cave is much more lighted because this is smaller and the Buddha sculptures are located close to the cave openings. The lower cave is also much more crowded with tourists than the upper cave.
Buddha statues in the lower cave
Marigold in banana leaf cones as offerings to Buddha
Whiskey Village is close to the Pak-Ou caves, the reason why this is usually paired with a trip to Pak-ou. The village is known for…you guessed it right, making whiskey! In local language, lao-lao means rice whiskey. Say lao-lao in front a Filipino and I’m pretty sure they’ll give you a laugh. If you’re not Pinoy and want to find out, just Google lawlaw. Hehe.
The come-on here are the bottles of whiskey containing snakes, which are believed to increase a man’s sexual performance. I don’t know if it’s legal there to use wildlife in their products but I think this should be discouraged.
Traditional Laotian textile are also sold around Whiskey Village
Kuang Si Waterfalls
This is definitely the highlight of my Luang Prabang visit. Unfortunately, we were only given one hour and 15 minutes to enjoy the area. Entrance fee of 20,000 kips is already included in the tour package.
Then I thought of the one hour we wasted in the Elephant camp, plus the time we wasted going back and forth from the elephant camp to Pak ou cave then back to the elephant camp again for lunch. The reason why we opted for Pak-ou and Kuang Si Waterfalls only is for us to have enough time to enjoy both sites without the cramming.
Anyway, we’re already in the situation, and we’re supposed to enjoy our vacation. Thanks to the overwhelming beauty of Kuang Si Waterfalls, all the rantings changed to awe.
Near the park entrance is the Asiatic Black Bear rescue centre, which houses bears rescued from poachers and traffickers. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any bear outside when we visited.
We were not yet in what they say as the Big Falls but I’m already in awe of these small cascading falls
The main falls. I am speechless.
For those wanting to know the science behind why the water of Kuang Si waterfalls is blue or blue-green, here’s the answer (as written on the sign):
The water flows over many limestone rocks on its journey from the spring, over the main falls and then the stepped travertine cascades.
Limestone particles, containing high levels of calcium carbonate, collected along the way reflect light making the water appear to us as a stunning turquoise blue color.
Going on a tour package will give you the advantage of not having to think about you’re transportation to and from the sites. Kuang Si falls and Pak-ou caves are quite far from the city center. The package tour might be ideal if you are travelling with kids. However, it is best to first research on reviews about the travel agencies (which we didn’t) offering the tour you want. Also make sure that the places you wanted to visit matches the itinerary they are offering.
If you really like the elephant ride, choose carefully the company you will take for this service. It is best to check whether your money will be spent in a sanctuary, in a true sense, where income is used for maintaining healthy and happy conditions for both the employees and the elephants.
I think doing the tour by yourself is the way to go. It may not be the most convenient but it’s cheaper and it’s easy. We saw a lot of tuk tuks near the tourist information center in the Luang Prabang center, waiting for tourists to hop on.
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