A stolen camera and a conquered fear… Luang Probang.

26. Waterfall hopping

Its funny travelling alone; you get really used to always looking out for yourself, making all the decisions, keeping an eye out on other people and just generally being a tiny bit more responsible than when you have your parents around to make your lunch. So, when I met the three lovely Norwegian girls on the slow boat, I suddenly felt my guard dropping and

I did something stupid.

I left my bag unattended while I went to the loo. Lo and behold, my camera wasn’t there when I returned. The strange thing is that it is perhaps the oldest camera in existence and of barely any monetary value. In fact, when I told my brother about it (and was really digging for sympathy!) his only words were “Who’d steal that piece of shit?” He had a valid point.

Still, it’s a camera that I’ve had for eight years and have had so many wonderful experiences with – it was sad to say goodbye but an excellent reminder that you really do need to be careful. Fortunately the baguette I had bought for lunch was still there, thank goodness.

Despite the camera theft, the slow boat was a wonderful experience. (For more information on taking the slow boat, please click here) On the second and final day of our border crossing adventure, I found myself surrounded with some lovely, lovely new friends. In addition to my Norwegian pals, I present to you…

Laura, a wonderful, open and funny German girl who I really felt a click with.

Laura and I

Laura and I

A Dutch girl named Dieuwke with a huge amount of energy, curiosity and chat – and an incredible collection of vowels in her name.

Dieuwke... and Breakie!

Dieuwke… and Breakie!

And lastly, Tessa (another Dutchie) and Hayley (from Canada), two of the most wonderful travel companions I have met so far. Spoiler alert, I ended up travelling with them both for six weeks. (Yes, I am that far behind on this blog. Apologies.)  Anyway, Tessa and Hayley – excellent folk.

Gorgeous Hayley and Tessa

Gorgeous Hayley and Tessa

After waving goodbye to our boat and dragging ourselves up a near vertical sand bank, we began the process of negotiating a guesthouse with the huge gaggle of touts. This was actually a really funny moment as we began playing them off against each other. One tout would say “Free coffee!” and another would say “Free coffee AND tea!” and a third would pitch in with “Free bananas!” Free things are always a great way to enter a country. In fact I have since decided that the only circumstance that I will return to England under is the offer of free cheese and oversized jewellery for life.

Accepting the offer of free tea, (no bananas, sadly) and a really cheap room rate, Hayley, Tessa, Laura, Dieuwke and I found ourselves in our own little five person dorm. It was like a sleepover. We immediately set about making it into a total mess and decided to celebrate the evening with showering, dresses and actual make up. It was pretty wonderful to be back in a group of girls.

Bag explosions.

Bag explosions.

The next day we decided to venture out and visit Kuang Si, an incredible waterfall roughly 45 minutes away from Luang Probang. Keen to get away from the hoards of tuk-tu drivers, we decided to challenge our driving capabilities and hire some scooters. For anyone visiting Luang Probang, I would highly recommend this method – the journey is straightforward and a wonderful blend of scenery; fields, hills, trees, waving farmers and weird looking cows.

After we arrived and finished securing our bikes (and sampling a few fruit shakes), we wandered up through the leafy entrance, past a (slightly random) black bear sanctuary and up some steps to this absolute stunner of a sight. I had kind of figured the pictures I’d seen in google had been edited, but no – the turquoise really is that turquoise.

Truly, Kuang Si waterfall is absolutely stunning. Along my travels, I’ve developed a fool-proof way of deciding how beautiful a point of interest is.

  1. Google the attraction you are visiting. Save the image that Google gives you.
  2. Visit the attraction. Take a photo.
  3. Compare the two photos. If your photo is as beautiful as Google’s image, you know you’re on to something good.

So, the result of my google test:

GOOGLE RESULT

GOOGLE RESULT

My photo. Almost the same! Magnificent!

My photo. Almost the same! Magnificent!

My test gave a good result.

We made a beeline for one of the pools and stumbled awkwardly gracefully descended into the water, watching as groups of people plucked up the courage to jump into the pool from the top of a tree. Of course, we decided to do one better. We decided to jump in from the waterfall.

I remember a family friend once telling me that the older she got, the more afraid of things she became. It’s strange; this day was the first that I could really relate to her saying this – as I looked up at the waterfall (which was really only about seven feet high), I was absolutely terrified. I’ve jumped from much higher heights before without a single concern entering my mind, but in that moment, it seemed like the scariest thing in the world.

And I’ll admit, I chickened out.

I watched as Hayley and Tessa climbed up and jumped off. I watched as a group of guys back flipped off. I just kept thinking “Why can’t I do this?” I turned to Tessa and said “Man, I really want to do this, why can’t I do it?!” She looked at me, smiled and said possibly the most powerfully simple sentence.

“Why not?”

And since I couldn’t think of any reason other than “Oh, I might slip and die”, I marched my terrified self out of the water, climbed up the waterfall… and jumped in.

Okay, I’ve left out the part where I stood at the top for about five minutes wailing that I couldn’t do it and then allocating various people my personal belongings if I were to die. Eventually, I had run out of items in my backpack and was left with the only option of jumping. So, gingerly, I stepped out onto the ledge and threw myself in.

Turns out… it’s not scary at all, it is remarkably fun. I was just being a massive scaredy cat. It did however remind me how important it is to do things that scare you – in most cases the actual act is never as scary as the thought of it. Plus, the feeling afterwards, the feeling of “Yeah! I did that!” is pretty awesome. Two days into Laos, and I was learning all sorts of lessons.

I decided to celebrate my new-found level of awesome with the girls at a local bar called Utopia that evening. One cocktail lead to another, and soon we found ourselves at the only place that stays open past midnight – a bowling alley. You really never know where you’ll end up.

Tessa and I - Bowling Champs.

Tessa and I – Bowling Champs.

The next morning, Tessa, Hayley and I shook off the night before with another trip back up to the waterfall to take some pictures without the hoards of tourists. We soon discovered a trail leading upwards – a different part of the waterfall that we hadn’t seen the day before. An arrow pointed upwards, informing us of a hike. A hike! Sounds lovely, right? What the sign didn’t inform us was that we would first be scaling vertical stone, shimmying up trees and clambering over rocks in order to reach the top of the waterfall. Nothing like an 8am climb in flip flops in the scorching heat to start the day, eh?

Me and the tree. With the infamous waterfall I jumped off behind...

Me and the tree. With the infamous waterfall I jumped off behind…

IMG_1311

IMG_1335

Dramatic? Moi?

Dramatic? Moi?

Yeah... I'll wait a while before I jump off that one...

Yeah… I’ll wait a while before I jump off that one…

Happy at the top of the waterfall.

Happy at the top of the waterfall.

20140328_104512

Swamp

Swamp

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20140328_105016

Still, with the view, we didn’t complain too much.

We wandered around the curves of the swamps, the clusters of trees and out onto an open path that would eventually lead us down to the base of the waterfall and into a butterfly farm. Again, you never know where you’ll end up.

20140328_125924 20140328_130048

After covering ourselves in butterflies, it dawned on us that we had exactly 15 minutes to get the bikes back to the rental shop. Oops.

Yeah, we definitely did not make it back in time.

Luang Probang was wonderful to us; offering butterflies and bears, night markets, beautiful temples, incredible views, yoga classes over the river, free coffee (!)… And a pretty spectacular evening buffet each night. But, I really cannot express how highly I would recommend a visit to Kuang Si waterfall. Go, see… and jump.

Have you even been scared of something and not known why? Have you ignored your fear? Ever been to Kuang Si Waterfall? Let me know!

Enjoy this? Maybe you’ll enjoy…

21. A Tale of Train Station Kindness24. Four Nights in Hospital20140506_145930

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