Besides getting a little exercise, bicycle tours are one of the best ways to experience the “flavor” of a new location or to make new discoveries in places that you thought you knew. With the day-long bicycle tour from Luang Prabang to Tad Sae Falls, I was hoping to accomplish the former.
The falls are only about 20 kilometers from Luang Prabang as the crow flies. In addition to biking to the falls and back and spending time there, the day-long trip would include several stops in villages and hamlets along the way.
Other posts about sights, nights, and flights on this around the world trip to Southeast Asia:
Luang Prabang City Tour
Hotel Review – Villa Nagara, Luang Prabang, Laos
Hotel Review – Marriott Executive Apartments, Bangkok, Thailand
Qatar Airways 777-300ER Business Class – Bangkok, Thailand (BKK) to Doha, Qatar (DOH)
Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge Doha, Qatar (DOH)
Qatar Airways 777-300ER Business Class (Q Suites) – Doha, Qatar to New York, NY (JFK)
The tour began at 08:30 at the tour agency on the main drag in the Old Quarter.
It has been years since I’ve been on a bike regularly. However the fantastic bike tour I took in Bangkok a few months before showed me that bike tours can be a great and enjoyable experience and also gave me some confidence that my stamina would hold out. The bikes were in decent shape. They had three major gear settings and each setting had eight speeds. After a short overview of the route and sights, the guide and I hit the road.
On this tour all of the stops were on the ride to the falls. The first stop was on the edge of town at a shop making silk garments. The shop shows the whole process from silkworm to finished product.
We then got back on the bikes for a few kilometers before stopping at couple of villages that produced bamboo baskets and other woven products for the markets in the city.
The villages we stopped at seemed to be relatively prosperous and the people were very friendly. People worked from their homes. We left our bikes at the edge of the villages and walked through them stopping occasionally to admire the handiwork and chat briefly with the residents.
After stopping at the weaving villages it was ride of about 10 km along a paved, two-lane road until the turnoff on the dirt road to Tad Sae Falls. There were a few moderate hills along the way. I lagged behind the guide as I was not in good bike shape and struggled with the gears going uphill. Since it was just the guide and myself, I stopped whenever I felt I needed to.
It was a relief when we finally turned off onto the dirt road to the falls. We left our bikes at a home near the river and walked down to the Nam Khan for the boat ride to the falls. I was looking forward to the advertised refreshing swim at the falls.
There were several men with long narrow motor boats offering rides to the falls. The ride took only about five minutes. The Nam Khan River was retreating from its highest levels during the rainy season but it was still flowing swiftly. I don’t remember anyone asking if I could swim. I can, but there were no life preservers.
Tad Sae Falls is a popular spot for locals. Normally, many can be found here enjoying a picnic lunch and swimming in the pools. Foreigners are advised to bring modest swimwear to avoid offending Lao sensibilities.
Tad Sae Falls consists of several series of cascades five to 20 feet in height with pools sprinkled in between the cascades. Kung Si falls is a more impressive waterfall. This is what Tad Sae Falls are advertised to look like.
In early September, the falls looked like this.
Clearly, there would be no swimming today. The stream (I never learned the name) was raging. It overflowed onto the elaborate system of wooden walkways that led across the river and up the steep hillside.
Walking the length of the falls confirmed that there was no place safe to swim. We then stopped for lunch. There is a restaurant serving Lao food.
While eating, the skies opened up. We waited out the downpour in the restaurant. When the rain stopped I got to say hi to one of the elephants that are used for tourist rides. (Not recommended for the elephant’s sake b/t/w.)
We stayed only about an hour at the falls before starting the return to Luang Prabang.
After getting back to the bikes, I was ready to put the bike in the back of a tuk tuk and ride back. The guide said a return tuk tuk was unavailable but that we could catch one after starting the ride back. I’ve been a parent long enough to recognize that trick, but agreed to start back on the bike.
The guide had previously warned that the return would start with a long climb. I kept going on the climb for about 20 minutes before being forced to dismount and walk. It took almost an hour to reach the top. From there it was all downhill to Luang Prabang. Picking up too much speed was the only issue to be wary of. We got into town about 16:00 when traffic was getting heavy on the two-lane roads. I’m glad my legs were fresh from coasting downhill. They were able to provide bursts of power necessary for merging with traffic at intersections and traffic circles.
There were times on this tour when my legs ached and I was too pooped to keep riding. That was kind of the point of doing the bike tour, though. I needed some exercise. Furthermore, visiting the villages was a great way to get a glimpse of the locals’ way of life. While not swimming at the falls was slightly disappointing, seeing the awesome power of the cascades in flood stage was quite a sight in itself. I’d do one of the other bike tours if I ever get back to Luang Prabang and recommend them to others.