Riding Motorbikes in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Meeting a friend from Israel in Vietnam? Time to take the bikes out for a proper ride in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam, is a top travel destination which draws tourists from all over the world to its lush limestone mountains which jut violently from the sea. What few realize is that a whole adventure waits for you just outside the city of Ha Long Bay itself.

For all my travel blog posts on Vietnam: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the motorbike ride around Halong Bay: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the cruise around Halong Bay: Click Here

Halong Bay, Vietnam
#squadgoals

Of all the travel destinations I’ve wanted to see most in Southeast Asia, Halong Bay, Vietnam, was top of my list. World renowned for its brilliant karst limestone mountains which seem to impossibly rise out from the surrounding bay, I was more than thrilled by the sites but less impressed by the weather. July is hit-or-miss in Asia in terms of weather as the monsoon can be unforgiving. I hit a one-for-one with one day wet and rainy and the next nice and cool albeit quite gray with clouds.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

I’ve gone in-depth before on the Halong Bay itself however in this post I’ll focus on the surrounding area.  I met a good mate of mine from Israel who had been studying abroad in Hong Kong and he joined me along with two of his classmates, one from Germany and the other from Singapore. Taken aback by the sheer number of tourists descending upon the bay, we spent our second day renting motorbikes for 200,000 Vietnamese Dong (about $10 USD each for the day, quite expensive in Vietnam but expected for a tourist area like this) and by using Google Maps traveling throughout the countryside in a makeshift loop.

Our makeshift loop around Halong Bay
Halong Bay, Vietnam
Google Maps works in Vietnam… a welcome luxury after suffering through Myanmar with my basic Burmese
Halong Bay, Vietnam
The city of Halong Bay doesn’t have much to offer… but the countryside is another world altogether
Halong Bay, Vietnam
The powerful water buffalos of Southeast Asia are nothing to mess about with

The loop we chose was a large elliptical surrounding the outskirts of the city – past farmland, karst limestone mountains (the very same that dot the famous bay, just formed on land) and massive quarries which deplete the area of its natural beauty and resources, not too mention they brew up a nasty dust storm which makes biking through the area quite unpleasant. My sunglasses where even chipped by stones being kicked up by massive trucks moving huge piles of the stuff through the area.

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Landscapes all day
Halong Bay, Vietnam
And the ‘progress’ which is destroying them
Halong Bay, Vietnam
The Bãi Cháy Bridge from the outer loop swampland

The landscapes surrounding the city are almost as stunning as the bay itself. Unfortunately they may not be around for long as economic exploitation of the region is shifting into high gear as Vietnam modernizes and raw materials are needed to build the massive buildings and structures already underway in places such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. But I digress… as we explored the countryside it slowly morphed into swampland but we were still able to visit a temple sat back behind the paved road via a sketchy dirt path.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Metal wires help mold the trees outside the temple into unique shapes

Beautiful lakes, well-paved roads (for the most part), pristine surroundings… if it weren’t for the development of these large-scale factories the areas around Halong Bay would be perfect for trekking and exploration. I will say that in the rainy season it would be quite difficult but well worth it. Anyways our loop took us from the southwest corner of the city all the way past bridges and towards Hanoi, then back up and around the northern tip of Halong Bay region and back along the coast south into the city.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Trying to chart our progress… OK I got us lost….
Halong Bay, Vietnam
And made it to the coast! The monsoon was setting in but with some lucky lighting I got in a few shots

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Doesn’t this look like a “Lord of the Rings” set?

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Well that more or less wraps up our motorbike ride around the Halong Bay, Vietnam. With clear weather we decided to take our bikes for a little drag race to see who’s was faster. Mine was an embarrassment and I came in last by a long shot. With that defeat in mind but a fun day overall, I highly recommend the outer loop of Halong Bay. Till next time in Hanoi.

For all my travel blog posts on Vietnam: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the motorbike ride around Halong Bay: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the cruise around Halong Bay: Click Here

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Ready, Set, Go!
Halong Bay, Vietnam
Nuu… faster!

A Crazy Trip to Kuang Si Waterfall in Laos

Kuang Si Falls, Luang Prabang, Laos

The Kuang Si Waterfall is a jungle paradise and a crazy trip

On the way to the Kuang Si Waterfall, we passed two massive water buffalo dead on the street and another monster which squared us down.

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Luang Prabang: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Vang Vieng: Click Here

To check out my trip in Luang Prabang, click here. For the crazy part life of Vang Vieng, click here. For my photo essay on the Luang Prabang-Vang Vieng trip, click here.

Kuang Si Waterfall
Stairway to Heaven

A day trip on a motorbike some 30-plus kilometers away through a winding and mountainous jungle road just to see  a waterfall? Sounds like a legit backpacker’s Wednesday to me – and thus began our journey to what should be a world-famous tourist attraction… but isn’t. The landlocked country of Laos is often overlooked by travelers heading to Asia, and Southeast Asia especially. Its neighbors Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and China are known for excellent tourist infrastructure, fancy hotels and incredible landscapes combined with unspoiled beaches and five-star restaurants. You won’t find any of that in Laos, well, save landscapes that completely boggle the mind.

Kuang Si Waterfall
Rolling mountains covered in almost impassible jungle and at the end of the rainy season, green of all shades
Kuang Si Waterfall
The Mekong River, sleepy in the morning

Located roughly 30km southwest of Luang Prabang, options for transportation through the rolling, thick, lush, hot, adjectives-galore route include tuk-tuk, open-air pickup truck, boat or motorbike. Our group of four chose the latter and to save money took two bikes and shared driving duties.  It was an epic adventure to say the least. On the way to the Kuang Si Waterfall, we drove by two huge, dead water buffalo which had just been ran into by a large Laotian big-rig truck. Ran into, that is, instead of run over… because you literally cannot run over these hulking monsters. Thinking that would be the gnarliest thing we saw, we then came across a herd crowding near the road and one single solitary bull of a male who clearly didn’t give two sh… cares about us wanting to pass through on our bikes. I could describe this in words but pictures seem to tell a more powerful story:

Kuang Si Waterfall
There were about a dozen total, but the thick jungle can hide a 500lbs animal a yard away no problem

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
Come at me, bro

 

Kuang Si Waterfall
Angle #2 from the bike ahead of us. That’s less than 2 yards from a bull with his head lowered right at us
Kuang Si Waterfall
Too… close…

 

Kuang Si Waterfall
And… exhale… whew

As you can tell from the penultimate photo, the bull is bigger than the two of us and our bike, combined. After that incredible experience we stopped our bikes off to grab some water, talk about the harrowing experience (I cursed, as is my custom) and chat with the locals. The roads of Laos are paved but narrow and are lined with small little bamboo-stilted shops with rudimentary rusted tin roofs. We needed to chill for a moment before continuing our journey and the locals are lovely and welcoming.

Kuang Si Waterfall
Camera #1
Kuang Si Waterfall
Camera #2
Kuang Si Waterfall
Camera #3

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
Building a bridge with a machete as a hammer

Kuang Si Waterfall Kuang Si Waterfall

Another sprint through the ‘jungly’ roads and up into the mountain and finally we arrived at the Kuang Si Waterfall. We arrived in late October which is at the tail-end of the rainy season which affects all of Southeast Asia. The monsoon rains bring out shades of green that you have to see to believe. Entrance to the Kuang Si Falls runs about 20,000 kip ($2.50 USD) and the visit rewards the lengthy, roughly 1-hour fifteen minutes ride.

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
A South African, American, Kiwi and Frenchman walk into a bar in Laos…

The first part of the hike up to the top of the waterfall is a famous bear sanctuary  where Asiatic Black Bears (aka Moon Bears, White-Chested Bears) have been rescued from poachers and abusive situations. They are listed as ‘vulnerable’ in some places and endangered in others, as their bile is considered a natural medicine by the Chinese. There are about 20-25 bears in the sanctuary at any given time.

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

After taking in the bears, it was time to get down to serious waterfall-trekking business. There are several tiers to the Kuang Si Waterfall system with pools located all over the mountain. Some are sacred so swimming is prohibited, though others are free and good to go. There are several waterfalls in this system with the biggest measuring almost 200-feet tall (60 meters). The turquoise and blue hues of the water is really quite brilliant and after a hot 30-minutes or so hike to the very top, the pool at the top offers not only unbelievable views but a refreshing swim on the peak of the mountain.

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
Feels neverending

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
Straight out of a fairytale

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
#selfie #nofilterneeded

 

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
One part of the slippery climb up

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
Kuang Si Waterfall

Just a brilliant spot to hang out. Flooded pools and fast-moving water… I absolutely recommend the Kuang Si Falls during or after the rainy season. You get the full feeling of a flooded landscape and gain comprehension of just how much water flows through Southeast Asia thanks to these monsoon rains. After kicking it at the flooded campsite, we hopped back on the bikes for the trek back to Luang Prabang and I have to say, I was a bit nervous about the ride back. Our bikes needed some fuel so we stopped for petrol at a small market on the side of the road. Two women were busy chopping meat while the okes purchased the petrol and it didn’t take long to figure out what they were chopping… the water buffalo from the ride up that were hit by the truck. Roadkill = dinner in the Laotian jungle.

 

Kuang Si Waterfall
Roadkill steaks

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

We made it back to the hostel just before sundown and dollar street-food sandwiches and much-needed cold beer was required. When in Laos, make like a Laotian.

Next up is the trip from Luang Prabang down south to Vang Vieng and tubing on the Mekong River.

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Luang Prabang: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Vang Vieng: Click Here

To check out my trip in Luang Prabang, click here. For the crazy part life of Vang Vieng, click here. For my photo essay on the Luang Prabang-Vang Vieng trip, click here.

Living “Large” ‘in Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, Laos

There are few places as beautiful as Luang Prabang, Laos

The flight from Chiang Mai, Thailand, to Luang Prabang, Laos, is a short but sketchy one… and well worth the trip.

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Luang Prabang: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Vang Vieng: Click Here

To check out my crazy trip to the Kuang Si Falls, click here. For the crazy part life of Vang Vieng, click here. For my photo essay on the Luang Prabang-Vang Vieng trip, click here.

Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang International Airport

So are you Chinese or Japanese? As a guy from Ohio that clip from “King of the Hill” was pretty much the only time I had every heard of Laos and you can bet after spending some time in Myanmar and Thailand I was pretty stoked to continue making my way East. Having just finished up a week in stunning Chiang Mai, Thailand, a quick 2-hour, super-choppy plane ride brought me over the jungles and mountains of Southeast Asia to the quaint Luang Prabang International Airport.

Luang Prabang, Laos
Headphones and view after view
Luang Prabang, Laos
The infamous Mekong River
Luang Prabang, Laos
Touchdown, Laos

 I had no idea what to expect upon arrival nor did I have any idea about what Laos would be like. Having been in Asia for some time, I assumed hot, jungle-y, but that really was it. On the plane, our route started trailing the Mekong River and when you notice the only signs of civilization are little fishing villages lining the wide-then-skinny-then-wide murky and muddy water of the Mekong, well, you realize pretty quickly that you’re about to be in the thick of it. Touchdown saw an unbelievable sight from the tarmac of rolling hills and mountains. A 20-minute or so wait for a visa-on-arrival and I was on my way via airport shuttle to a hostel in ‘downtown’ Luang Prabang. The 30-minute or so drive saw the sun set on me and at the last moment I got to catch the sunset just over the Mekong from the waterfront. Immediately my favorite shot of the trip so far.

Luang Prabang, Laos
Mekong River waterfront sunset
Luang Prabang, Laos
Utopia Bar off Aphay Street. Your experience will directly be affected by the people in town. The bar is super-chilled
Luang Prabang, Laos
Hostel found – time for Laotian street food
Luang Prabang, Laos
The crew
Luang Prabang, Laos
Post-drinks bowling
Luang Prabang, Laos
Our Laotian tuk tuk driver around 3am

The photos from this trip are a bit ‘below-par’ so to speak as I was shooting from my mobile – a Samsung Galaxy A8 – which turned out to be a good idea as my Canon would have been destroyed, like my watch, sunglasses and other affections that didn’t survive the trip. Laos is a helluva place! So hostel found, street food devoured (basically half a Euro for a chicken and avocado sandwich) and whiskey poured (1 Euro for 1 bottle!), we headed to a local pub popular with backpackers. Late-night bowling is all the rage in Luang Prabang so we ventured out there as well.

Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, Laos
Not bad for $10/night for two people
Luang Prabang, Laos
The beautiful views of Luang Prabang, Laos

The next morning we woke up a bit late, hit up a breakfast and grabbed some motorbikes to head about 30km away to the Kaung Si Waterfall. I’ll cover that in the next post as this one will stick to just Luang Prabang. There’s so much to do in this little city up north in the jungle. The layout of the city is based on the side of the Mekong River with a large mountain in the middle of the city. Mount Phousi serves as a religious point in the heart of the city and has some of the best lookouts on offer.

Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, Laos
Mount Phousi in the distance

Luang Prabang, Laos
Buddhas on Mount Phousi

Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang, Laos

The Luang Prabang night market was also a big hit and well worth a visit in the late hours of the evening. In any case, I’ll be back with a trip to Kaung Si Falls about 30km outside Luang Prabang, Laos.

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Luang Prabang: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Vang Vieng: Click Here

To check out my crazy trip to the Kuang Si Falls, click here. For the crazy part life of Vang Vieng, click here. For my photo essay on the Luang Prabang-Vang Vieng trip, click here.