A waterfall hunt gone wrong – Luang Prabang, Laos

A waterfall hunt gone wrong – Luang Prabang, Laos

Today I learned a valuable lesson about balancing risk and reward. I hired a motorbike from the hostel and decided I would visit a less popular waterfall outside of Luang Prabang. I set off and very soon into the trip, the road conditions got worse and worse, a pot-hole here, a pot-hole there, the occasional crater, muddy patches and then rugby-sized rocks jutting out everywhere. I took it slow on the Honda Click and gradually got closer to my destination. After some time, I passed three French tourists coming from the opposite direction, they had given up on trying to find the same waterfall I was looking for. They said the road got worse and that it terminated at a small village where there was no signs and no one spoke any English or French. I decided that I would press on, thinking that maybe I would pick up on a clue that they might have missed out. 

I get to the dead-end road and also seem a bit perplexed as to what to do next. I try to ask a lady who is in the process of hanging her clothes out on the line. She gestures back the way I came and off to the right, I do just that and head up a narrow dirt track that requires me to dismount the bike. I am suddenly in thick bush scrub, the midges are out in full force and I’m immediately made aware of the overbearing temperature and humidity. I cross a rickety make-shift bridge made of 8 or so bamboo sticks that are barely secured at either end of the ditch. I can hear running water off in the distance but not enough to suggest a waterfall was close by. 

Small village at the end of the track.

How far do you continue before you decide to go back?

There is a steep descending track that I follow and it splits several times into different directions – two times I have to turn back due to inaccessible terrain. I follow another track quite some way and eventually see a sign written in English and nailed to a tree saying “wrong way”. The only other path I could think of was back the way I had come and I decided then and there that if it was another dead-end I would call it quits on my waterfall quest. While walking back I suddenly notice a spider about the size of my hand at just above head height and realise that I must have walked under it on the way down earlier – I am thankful that I didn’t have to perform the “spider-dance “ and realise that not even Bushman’s bug spray is going to save me here, coupled with the fact that I am only wearing Crocs – I decide to retreat up the hill and back to the motorbike.  

Drenched in sweat – I get back to the Honda Click and smash my emergency Snickers (I always have one stashed somewhere when travelling). As I take off, I immediately know something isn’t right, I am using way too much revs to go anywhere. I stop, look down and discover that my back tyre is completely flat, seems that the rocky road got the better of my Click. My first and second vocalised thoughts were “FUUUUUUCK”. 

I take a deep breath and manage to get the bike back to the outskirts of the tiny village. There is no phone reception but I manage to get the attention of someone who has just come out of the bush. He is walking my way, wearing an army camouflage t-shirt and I feel a little uneasy as he’s holding a hatchet. My True Crime mind runs through the scenario that he punctured my tyre, I shut down that trail of thought as quickly as it arose.  He senses my apprehension, tucks the hatchet into his pants and has a closer look at the tyre. I enact a tyre puncturing with a hissing sound, he smiles, says something to me in Laotian and gestures for me to follow him. 

A friendly local leading me into the small village in search of a pump.

Talk of the town

We walk into the small village and I can see people coming out of their homes to find out what the commotion is with this westerner here. A crowd has gathered around us now and everyone is speaking in their mother tongue. After a while, someone comes over with a bicycle pump. I try to tell him that it won’t work as the tyre is punctured, not flat. He puts out his hand and wants payment before he attempts to pump it. I give him 40,000 Kip (about $1.80 USD), he pockets it and has a go inflating the tyre. The tyre comes to life momentarily and silently deflates itself as soon as the gentleman stops pumping. We make eye contact and I sense that he feels he has done his bit to help.

Another guy suddenly comes over to me and says “Hello!”, I ask him if he speaks English, he replies “yes” and then pulls out his phone and presents a translation app. I ask him if there is anywhere here that I can get the punctured tyre fixed, but it seems his English doesn’t go beyond “hello, yes, no and maybe goodbye”. I type my question into his phone but nothing happens… there’s no reception. He walks off somewhere and comes back a few minutes later with his answer “no fix here, next village”, I ask how far the next village is, he returns saying “4 kilometres”.

I remember the road I came here on and laughed out loud. He looks at me confused, as if there was a mistake with the translation. I ask if there is a truck in the village that can take me… He gets on his motorbike and gestures that I follow him. After a few hundred meters I shout ahead to make a stop. I ask how much further and he replies “4 kilometres”. I repeat “truck…. I need a truck to take me”. He says he will try and find one and drives off back the way we came. Whilst he was gone, by some miracle, a truck came from the opposite direction and I did the “help-me-I-am-a-stranded-tourist” wave and dance. I managed (with the help of the “English-speaking” local) to get the driver to take me to the next town for $10.00 USD. 

Honda Click loaded onto the back tray of a tuck.

A tyre change faster than a Formula 1 pit-stop.

I am now effectively on the back tray of a truck, sitting on and supporting the motorbike as we go over the bumpiest dirt track you can imagine. We arrive in the next village and the guys that supposedly could fix the tyre aren’t there. The truck driver looks like he’s ready to drop me off so I offer him another $10 USD to take me to the next town in the direction of Luang Prabang. It’s dark now and we eventually pass a house where a young lad is working on a car outside his parent’s family home. The truck driver asks him if he can fix the tyre. The boy says ‘yes’ and agrees to do it for $6.00 USD. We get the motorbike off the truck and the boy goes about changing the tyre like he works at the pit stop of a Formula 1 track. I give him $10 USD and tell him to keep the change. I put my hands together and bowed my head saying “thank you”, he did the same. I mount the bike and head off slowly into the night along the rough dirt road again. 

After leaving around 11 am that morning, I arrived back at my accommodation around 7 PM that night. Hungry, exhausted and covered in dirt – I had a big grin on my face and thought “What an adventure… You couldn’t make that up!”.