Charming Luang Prabang

Traveling has its difficulties. Living out of a suitcase can get pretty old. Arriving at a hotel to discover that it smells like sewage can be pretty depressing. Travel days are exhausting. But the worst part of traveling is traveler’s diarrhea, or as I like to call it ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’

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For some reason, Dave and I love traveling in the most high-risk areas for this terrible affliction…

This is a special kind of ‘food poisoning’, where your gut bacteria decides that it doesn’t like a new cuisine and proceeds to evacuate everything from both your stomach and intestines at such a violent pace that you end up with sore ribs.

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For my readers who learn best through the use of visuals…

I spent the first 24 hours of our 3 days in Luange Prabang wishing for death…or that at least the smell of sewage in our hotel would subside. Luckily, this never seems to get me sick for more than 24 hours, and by day 2, I was able to go out and explore the city. I quickly fell in love.


Luang Prabang’s History

Luang Prabang is located in North-Central Laos. The main city itself is a UNESCO World Heritage sight due to its many Buddhist relics and well preserved historical buildings.

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It’s a small city, but has a tonne of history. Because it was the capital during Laos’ French Colonial period, there is a tonne of really cool architecture in the town. The mixture of colonial and traditional Laos buildings make it a great place for taking photos!


Buddhism in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang translates to ‘The Royal Buddha Image’. I imagine this is because this is the town to see if you want to see Laotian Buddhist Architecture. We saw countless temples while we were there. I actually lost count of which ones were which, so I apologize that I can’t properly label them.

Some temples were extra interesting. Dave found one that had this really interesting rock jutting out in front of it. Another is said to have Buddha’s footprint in it. Buddha was apparently HUGE!!!

Luang Prabang is also known for a daily ceremony of local monks. Each day, at around 6am, monks walk the streets, asking for alms (donations). We never actually saw the procession, because as far as I’m concerned, 6am doesn’t exist when I’m on vacation, but it would be pretty neat to see. We did stop at one monastery, though, where I followed a cat around and got some really neat shots of it, with the Monk’s robes drying in the background.


Handicrafts in Luang Prabang

As interesting as temples can be, they aren’t the only things Luang Prabang has to offer. There are several craft villages around the city. We attempted to visit 2 of them, but only one of the trips was successful.

We had better luck in the Paper and Weaving village, where we bought more than one souvenir!


On Our Way to the Waterfall

The best part of our trip to Luang Prabang though, was without a doubt, the trip to Kuang Si Falls.

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For obvious reasons

There is more than one way to get to the falls. Most people take a tour with a group or with a Tuk Tuk driver. We opted to rent a motorbike instead, and found our own way, which was half the fun!

The first thing you see when you enter the park, is actually a bear sanctuary. Asiatic Black Bears (also called Moon Bears) are incredibly cute, but are also becoming incredibly endangered. They are captured all over Asia for use in Chinese Medicine.

Bear Bile has been used in Chinese medicine for over 1000 years. The bile is mostly used to help with gal bladder and liver conditions. Fortunately, there are herbal options that are equally effective as the bear bile; unfortunately, people in China still think the bear bile is better. As a result, Asiatic bears are captured and literally tortured for years for the sake extracting bile from their gal bladders.

The bear sanctuary has saved their bears from these farms. They also rescue bears who have been injured in traps. We saw one bear lumbering around clumsily because it was missing one of its front paws He made me think of my sweet Hugo, and how adaptable animals can be.

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I never got this good of a picture, so I stole it from the internet.

If you ever want to get me a Christmas or Birthday present, but aren’t sure what I’d like (and don’t want to pay outrageous shipping fees), please donate to ‘Save the Bears’ or any of the other organizations I’ve mentioned in past posts.

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I’ll be writing about the UXO foundation in another post, but this is another cause I’m very passionate about.

The Kuang Si Falls

The falls themselves are well worth the trip, no matter how you decide to get there. They go on for ages, and the final view of the big falls is absolutely stunning. I’ll let the pictures do the talking for me…

As you continue up the hill, there are places you can actually swim at the falls. Dave and I both regret not bringing our bathing suits, as this would have been a gorgeous spot to go for a dip!

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As we continued on, the falls got bigger and more beautiful.

The scenery around the falls was very nice as well. Even the garbage cans were cute, and there was an old water wheel as well.

Finally, we arrived at the big falls, which are even more beautiful than the little ones! I hadn’t actually looked at the pictures online, so I wasn’t expecting anything this gorgeous, so it was a rather awesome surprise when we arrived at this point.

So that’s it for Luang Prabang. I’ve got plenty more to write, as we are now in Ho Chi Minh City! Stay Tuned!!!

Kratie – Home of the Irrawaddy Dolphins

Our final stop in Cambodia was in Kratie, a small city located North-East of Phnom Phen.   We booked our transportation ahead of time with Cambodian Pride Tours and I was glad we did.  It was a 6 hour drive from Angkor National park, and I was happy to not have to do it in a crowded van!   Being in a car also meant that we could appreciate the countryside more, which was really nice.  I feel like we got to see so much of Cambodia while we were there!

Kratie is located right on the Mekong River.
Kratie is located right on the Mekong River.

Kratie is a lot less touristy than Siem Reap, and it was nice to get away from the crowds.  Kratie is both the name of this small city and the province where it’s located, and there isn’t a whole heck of a lot to see here, based on what the internet has to say anyway.  Other than the Irrawaddy Dolphins (which I’ll get to in a bit), Kratie’s biggest attraction is that is runs along the mighty Mekong River, and there are lots of great sights as a result.

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One of the first things we saw in Kratie! This was right in the city…I don’t think anyone was herding them either…but nobody seemed to care much!
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We met this little heart-breaker at the hotel, hanging out with the Tuk Tuk drivers. He asked me for a kiss within about 2 minutes of meeting me. He settled for a picture and the use of my camera
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Taken by my new beau. With that helmet and that face, who WOULDN’T be asking me for kisses?? hahaha!
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People getting around by tractor

As happy as I was to get away from all the tourism though, I was just as happy to discover that our hotel was clean, comfortable and uber cute.  Also, our hotel had a pool, which we took advantage of in the Cambodian heat.  Have I mentioned it was really hot while we were there???  Because it was!!! I especially loved all the pets we had in our room 🙂

One of several Lizards in our room. It was through no fault of the hotel...these little guys are EVERYWHERE! I found this one to be especially adorable...he was hanging out on our door frame.
One of several Lizards in our room. It was through no fault of the hotel…these little guys are EVERYWHERE! I found this one to be especially adorable…he was hanging out on our door frame.

We only had 1 full day in Kratie, and it began bright and early when our tour guide, Sithy, met us at our hotel.  Before going further, I need to say that Sithy is one of the most passionate and fantastic tour guides I’ve ever met in my life.  I honestly didn’t know a tour could BE that enjoyable.  If you are reading this because you are visiting Kratie, please do yourself a favor and get in touch with this man.  He started this company on his own and does basically everything himself.  His prices are fair, he cares greatly about the quality of his tours and he tries very hard to give back to the community.  You can check out his website here. or go to http://www.cambodianpridetours.com

This is Sithy. He's about as nice of a guy as you'll find. I don't typically work as an advertiser on my blog, but for this guy...I will.
This is Sithy. He’s about as nice of a guy as you’ll find. I don’t typically work as an advertiser on my blog, but for this guy…I will.

One of the cool things about this tour is how laid back it is.  We rented a scooter for the day and rode around the countryside, stopping now and then to see what country life in Kratie province is like.  We were able to see how noodles and whiskey are made in rural Cambodia, and we even had lunch with Sithy’s family (his mother provided us with traditional Cambodian food.  It was fantastic!).  It was a very personal tour for Sithy as he seemed to know everyone in the area.  Everywhere we went, children came running out of their homes to say hello and squealed with excitement when we returned the greeting.  It was a lovely morning and afternoon and surely not one I will soon forget.

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A typical noodle ‘factory’ in Kratie.  These women sort through noodles, separating them into meal-sized portions, before selling them at the market.
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These are rice noodles, not the wheat kind you’re used to back in North America. First, they grind the rice up into a powder here
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Then, after adding lots of water into the ground up rice, they put the mixture in these bags and place rocks on top of them to push air out
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Then they press the resulting goop into this noodle making machine.
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A nice complete view of their little shop. It’s located under their house (the stilted homes provide a nice cool working area during the dry season
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Some chickens hanging out while their owners make rice noodles to sell at the market
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Rice is also used for making alcohol here. This is where the rice is sorted
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Here, the rice is fermenting, slowly turning into alcohol
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Rice Wine!!

We spent hours cruising around the countryside, stopping to see local homes and seeing the sights in every-day Cambodia.  I loved being on the back of that scooter, seeing the rural countryside fly by us and smelling the fresh air.  The breeze was refreshing and it was so wonderful being away from the crowds.  I was smart enough to catch some of it on video 🙂

The guy riding in front of us is Sithy and when he pulled over, it was so that we could see an old tobacco drying barn.  It’s no longer in use, but tobacco used to be one of Cambodia’s biggest exports.  The tobacco industry has since been replaced by factories as a primary source of income for the country, so drying sheds like this now stand empty.

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This old shed used to be used for drying tobacco
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The tobacco leaves used to be hung from the rafters up top
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This used to keep the fire going that would dry the leaves before they were sold
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Sugarcane is another plant grown in Cambodia. They don’t export much of it, but they use it to make tasty beverages at roadside stands. They add a little bit of freshly squeezed orange to bring down the sweetness. Very refreshing!!

After spending the morning and early and afternoon seeing the sights, we boarded the ferry to get to the Irrawaddy Dolphins.  The ferry leaves every 20 minutes or so and is the only way to cross the river (where we’d spent a lot of the day).  Because bridges are so expensive to build, and Cambodia is so poor, ferries are used to get people across the wide Mekong.  Sithy hopes that there will be a bridge built in Kratie before long.  Kratie is becoming more and more of a popular place for tourists to stop, so with the rise in tourism, hopefully a bridge will be built, resulting in an easier life for locals.

The ferry we took to get across the Mekong
The ferry we took to get across the Mekong

After disembarking the ferry, we hopped back on our scooters and drove for several kilometers, to a place where dolphins are known to hunt for fish. When we arrived at the feeding pool, we boarded a small wooden boat with a guide and were given an hour to experience the dolphins.  Sithy had mentioned on the website that seeing the dolphins was a guarantee but I did not expect to see the number of dolphins we did!  There are roughly 25 of these magnificent mammals in this portion of the Mekong, and sadly, that is about 35% of their whole population.  The number of Irrawaddy Dolphins have dropped drastically in the last hundred years.  Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge killed many of these beautiful creatures to use their fat as weapon cleaner, and many dolphins are killed every year by plastic fishing nets.  And to add to the troubles the adult dolphins face, calf mortality rates are very high, so there is a very good chance that these animals will disappear from the earth forever within our lifetime.

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I stood on the end of this boat to take videos….so I apologize for some of my shakier shots. We were moving most of the time I was filming!!
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Happy as clams to be out on the water
Our tour guide for the hour. He has to have one of the coolest jobs on the planet!
Our tour guide for the hour. He has to have one of the coolest jobs on the planet!

Dave spotted the first dolphin within minutes of being in the boat.  I missed it and was furious; worried that I’d missed my opportunity to see these rare beauties.  But within another few minutes, we saw several more, some far away and some close by.  Often, we’d hear them blowing water out of their blowholes before we actually saw them.  The experience was amazing and altogether one of the most memorable things I’ve ever done in my life.

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They were very difficult to photograph, as they are very shy. Unlike Bottlenose dolphins, who love attention, the Irrawaddy dolphins avoid humans. Luckily, this means awful companies like SeaWorld have no interest in enslaving them.
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One of the only other decent shots I got
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There were many boats out looking for these beautiful animals
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Whether you are Monk, child or Canadian tourist, your reaction is the same when you see the dolphins come up for air:  amazement and excitement!

I will leave you with a video I put together of the footage I managed to get with our small camera.  My biggest regret is that I didn’t have better equipment to capture this incredible experience, but I did what I could with what I had.  I hope you enjoy it!  And if you’re trying to place the music…it’s from “The Island” soundtrack.

I’ll be back soon with some final posts from Guiyang!  We’re coming home in 18 days!!!