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Tat Sae – Or “Not this waterfall, the OTHER one!”

22 Sep

Tat Sae Waterfall

After a brief encounter with an “Older Nomadic Traveller” over breakfast we decided that we should all head to one of the two waterfalls around Luang Prabang. After pointing at one of the waterfalls on a faded card the ‘tuk-tuk’ driver had shown, me, Clare and Paul were on our merry way.

We arrived near the waterfall in the pouring rain and were told that we would have to take a boat up river to the waterfall. We insisted that the one we wanted to go to you could walk too. After a heated debate of “NO, NOT this one the OTHER one, I SAID the OTHER one” and “I think I heard about this, them trying to rip you off by taking you to the smaller one”, I realised I had pointed to the wrong falls to begin with.

I'M ON A longtail BOAT!

As we were now near A waterfall we decided we might as well not spend money for nothing and jumped into one of the little motor boats (a 12ft long thin boat with an engine with two speeds, full power or off). It was actually quite a pleasant ride up the river and when we arrive we were even more pleased by the falls.

The falls were a tributary joining the main river we had sailed up and it looked as though the jungle was flooding. Seriously, water rushed over short drops and swept around full grown and alive trees. Small bamboo woven bridges crossed at various points and further up the falls the reached up into one of the steps so you could actually wade out across the falls. From one tree hung the remanence of a tire on a rope. From the edge of one falls you could get a good swing and dive into the pool of the step below.

The falls were hardly the crystal blue that a lot of pictures had shown, but a choclate brown. Aparently this was due to the huge amounts of rainfall that come with the monsoon season. This didnt actually take away from anything and infact meant there was a lot more water to play and dive into.

We also heard from another couple of tourists that the other waterfall was so flooded and fast flowing with water that it was completely impossible to swim in let alone jump into. So in the end it seems like we inadvertently choose the better one for this time of year.

Jungle Trekking

8 Sep
Clare tests out a bamboo bridge

This Is A Bridge?

After a bumpy hour long ride standing in the back of a pick-up truck we arrived at Akha Hill House. It felt like a tree house built on to the side of a mountainous jungle. The place was a little run down and after some really terrible noodles (think supernoodles with way to much soy and pretty awful veg) and over priced beer we hit the hay. The rooms were as basic as they come (a bed with a mosquito net, one light, four walls, roof and floor) but it was actually pretty comfortable and cool to sleep in.

There were a few jungle treks you could pay for, but as most of the starting prices were around 2000 Baht a person, we decided just to get a little advice and do it ourselves. The nearest ‘attractions’ around were a waterfall and hot springs, being that we hadn’t seen the waterfall yet (as we saw the hot springs on our previous cycle) we set off for that.

The path that one of the guides had told us about took us up higher and away from the village. It was hard work in the sun but the view was pretty stunning. Eventually the path narrowed as we left the hills village and slowly entered the jungle. With bamboo thickets on one side, sheer drops on the other and mystic plants growing over the path it felt pretty adventurous. We pass only one other person;  an old man carrying a huge sack of rice (of course).

Soon we could hear the rush of water and eventually could see bits of waterfall. We reached a path off the main track that lead to a large pool of water just before one part of the falls (it was more like many smaller falls rather than one huge drop). I could see that the only way further down the falls was to first cross the river, the only obvious way to do this was across 2 sections of bamboo that had been laid down. Edging along the 2 beams of bamboo no more than 20cm wide we crossed. After trekking down we reached another bigger pool which had a slightly weathered bamboo bridge (with a bamboo woven floor and bamboo railings) leading from the edge so you could access the pool.

This pool was great to swim in and although it wasn’t deep the ‘exit’ was protected by a huge rock, which meant there was no chance of being swept downstream or over the edge. The spray from the falls and the huge trees that surrounded the area meant it actually felt quite cool in the area, so returning to the hill house after this meant it felt even hotter than before. After some lunch we somehow reached the conclusion that the walk to the hot springs in the midday sun would be a good idea.

Clare stands in extremely tall grass

Child Height Grass

We pushed through the jungle once again; this time it opened out into a strange grass like field. The grass was so tall here that it felt like being a child again, playing in the fields next to my home. This path then sidled up to a bamboo fence, which took us past paddy fields and around a little village.

After passing through a village (where everyone gave us the look of “why… why are you here? HOW even!?”) and running low on water, we finally got to the point where we admitted we were horribly lost. Then from the road in front came one of the guests from the hostels.  He asked (without prompt) if we were looking for the hot springs, we nodded and he told us to follow the road for another 2km or so and we’d get there.

The hot springs were more than a welcome sight, it was an accomplishment. We soaked our aching bodies in the bath water warmth, to the point where the return journey seemed like it would be hell.

The return journey along the road was a lot less pretty and less interesting, save for the fact it was rapidly getting dark and we had no torch (except Clare had pointed out at the time “I have my mobile and part of my sandal glows in the dark”, though to what effect these would have been on a jungle mountain road is anyone’s guess). We made it back to the hill house through some tea plantations just as the daylight gave out.

Mopeds, waterfalls and lakes

25 Aug

2 Days ago we hired a moped. It took a long time to debate whether we should but in the end we decided it was the best way to explore some places not easily accessible by foot (i.e. a good 15km walk from where we were staying).

Waterfall Playground

Waterfall Playground

So we set off on our little automatic 110cc bike toward a waterfall that the bike rental place had recommended (it was free and less touristy compared with the main bigger waterfall around here). After a short while we ended driving up a pretty well paved mountain road, reaching what looked like a lookout spot we got off to explore. We explored round and down a very worn ‘path’ that lead to an amazing lookout of Chiang Mai.

On the way back we noticed 3 locals sitting on the opposite side of the river/waterfall. After waving and various silly posed photo’s they beckoned us to come over. One of them met us half way and we slowly inched our way across the top of a slippy, fast flowing shallow. One of the plunge pools after a fall had a line across with tires attached, it looked pretty solid so using the power of no words I asked the locals if it was ok to swim. He replied saying “Tarzan ahhhhheiiiiiiiiahhheiiiiiiiahhhhh” and beating his chest and giving the thumbs up. That was enough for me, I slowly edge along the rope letting the current pull me from the rope, it felt incredible.

After a short time I had gained confidence and was jumping straight in, which seemed to invite the locals to show their daring side. After showing me how you could swim behind the falls using a back current they played the ‘this is how WE do it’ game. This involved sitting at the top of the falls and riding it down like a slide and then climbing to the top of a nearby tree and jumping right into the deep plunge pool. It felt as if we had stumbled upon the local ‘watering hole’.

After our extended good-byes we took off on the bike again, this time headed for a nearby lake. Arriving there (having to pay 20 baht each) we had a quick bite to eat at one of the small straw shacks by the waterfront. The lake was more like a giant pond and felt more like swimming in a far warmer version of the ponds on Hamstead Heath.

We drove around the 10km edge stopping briefly at a statue of a standing Buddha and finally headed back to Chaing Mai. We used the bike in the evening to drive to a “Contemporary Vegetarian Restaurant”, which Clare had a spicy Thai salad that was too hot to eat more that 2 mouthfuls and I had a coconut drink that was disgusting. My food was nice (a tofu sweet n sour chicken) and Clare’s Sweet herbal tea was nice, so between we had one inedible meal and one fantastic meal.

Next up, meditation for 6 days in a Buddhist mountain temple. No, really (How do I get talked into these things?).