Sunday, April 20, 2014

Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: Solo Mountain Biking Trip to Kaeng Nyui Waterfall

"He had the look of one who had drunk the cup of life and found a dead beetle at the bottom."

P.G. Wodehouse

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Chicken in Tree
A chicken (one of several) I saw perching on a flowering tree en route to Kaeng Nyui.

When I returned with Cheryl from our day cycling out into the Vang Vieng countryside, climbing Pha Ngeun, swimming in the Blue Lagoon, and spelunking at Tham Phu Kam, we returned our shitty bicycles and received our passports back - something that rental agencies in Indochina countries like Laos, Vietnam and Thailand require as deposits. Of course, people are now awfully aware of this regional peculiarity thanks to a passenger on board the missing MH370 flight being found to be holding a passport belonging to an Italian national who lost it to a motorcycle rental shop in Patong.

I would then hand my passport over to another bicycle rental that evening for a top notch mountain bike. You see, I intended to strike out eastward the next day at the crack of dawn to visit a waterfall 6 kilometres away called Kaeng Nyui. Cheryl opted to sit this one out because she had a bad knee and could not be persuaded to cycle another metre on the undulating dirt-choked roads of the Laos countryside, so this was going to be a solo outing for me.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Dog
Friendly farm mutt I befriended.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Turkeys
Some unfriendly turkeys I didn't befriend.

Using a proper mountain bike on the dirt tracks here really made all the difference and if you ever decide to cycle in the region, I recommend that you spend a little more to rent one with good shock absorbers. The journey itself took me through some of the more rustic scenes of Lao village life and I was glad for the reprieve from the sanitised, culturally-terraformed environment of the backpackers' town. Don't get me wrong, I don't necessarily dislike commercialisation - it makes remote places so much more accessible for people like me - but one risks not actually seeing the country one visits if you don't stray off the beaten track occasionally.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Kids
A couple of village kids picking stuff from a field.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Lake Restaurant
A restaurant on stilts standing on a small man-made lake.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Ducks
Ducks in the lake.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Stream
A tributary of Nam Lao after the village of Ban Naduang that is fed by Kaeng Nyui. Presumably Houay Nyui stream.

I dismounted frequently to take pictures of the countryside but even then the journey only took me about an hour, and because the ride was so pleasant, it didn't even feel that long. The sun was still hidden behind the forested hills to the east and it was cold enough that my breath would come out in mists. The wind chill itself was making my face numb.

Entry into the area of the woods and hills housing Kaeng Nyui demands a monetary sacrifice of about 10,000 kip (1.25 USD or 4 ringgit). The villagers of Ban Naduang cooperatively maintain the site and trails so one can think of it as a donation of sorts - which always make me more willing to part with cash. However, when I arrived at the ticketing booth, it was still very early and no one was tending it so I just rolled right through. Saved me a meal's worth of money there. I was planning to climb a limestone hill called Pha Poak the next day so I wondered if I can just start super early again and bypass the necessary fees. It can't hurt to try, right?

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Hills
Less than a kilometre away of ups and downs in the long shadows of the hills.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Sign
Heh, "forigner".

There is a clearing before one gets into the jungle proper where many hawker stalls have been set up to maximally capitalise on the lucrative business of parting tourists from their coins. In the style of the party grounds at the Blue Lagoon, the local villagers have also erected a number of basic gazebos by a stream for tourists to chill out in. It gave the spot a vague atmosphere of desperation and the stink of opportunism, two things that will keep it from replicating the success that the Blue Lagoon at Tham Phu Kam had. That, and the tiny trickle of a stream there is just no Blue Lagoon.

The only other person there when I arrived was a lady who was just setting up her stall (have I mentioned how early I reached there?). Chaining my bicycle to a post, I ventured into the woods on the direction volunteered by a handy signboard.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Jungle
The monsoon forest

The walk through the monsoon forest was pleasant. The trail was well-paved. Bridges spanned over every stream and rivulet. Stairs were installed wherever there's an incline in the terrain. This was meant to be a family-friendly attraction where parents can take their very young children on a nature hike.

Halfway to the show-piece waterfall of the park, there was a smaller waterfall called Kenlon which is only 5 metres in height.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Kenlon Waterfall

The Kenlon feeds a clear pool with a bed of sand and pebbles which would make a very pleasant swimming hole if the water level had been higher - but alas, it was the dry season. I chose to come to Laos in February to ensure that my trip would not be rained on but the con of it was that almost all the freshwater attractions I saw were less than impressive (with the notable exception of Tat Kuang Si, but that's a later post).

Kaeng Nyui is a 34 metres high fall. Back before the 1960's, it was an even more impressive 45 metres drop but a landslide had cut it down to size and turned its plunge basin shallow. The pareidolatrous villagers here claimed that the cliff faces used to sport a distinctive image of a hippopotamus whose spirit they believe to have ruled the place, but after the "guardian spirit" became geologic history, they turned Kaeng Nyui into recreational spot. Apparently, "nyui-nyui" is the word that the villagers used to describe the fine spray caused by the fall's splashing so that gave it its name.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Kaeng Nyui Waterfall 2
Behold, the Kaeng Nyui.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Kaeng Nyui Shrank
The puddle at the base of Kaeng Nyui. My backpack included in frame for size comparison.

I can't say I hadn't been expecting disappointment after seeing the size of Kenlon (which is fed by Kaeng Nyui) but I never thought that the volume of water it dispenses would be less impressive than the shower in my guesthouse bathroom. Water is also piped from the top of the falls for the use of Vang Vieng town so that reduced the dry season trickle even further. I had seen pictures of the fall during the wet season and it is a roaring monster, so unless you happen to be there when the monsoon is pouring, don't bother coming here.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Shrimpy Fish
Little fish in the plunge pool, waiting for the inevitable apocalypse.

After eating a small packet of nori-flavoured crackers and watching the fishes weave about in the overcrowded shallow pool for a few minutes, I decided to head back to rejoin my wife in town. It was still very early so I didn't hurry myself doing it.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Moth
An Iambrix salsala or Chestnut Bob basking on a flat stone.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Grasshopper 2
A unidentified slant-faced grasshopper basking on a stem of grass.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Grasshopper 1
Yet another unidentified grasshopper found on a dead leaf.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Cricket
A cricket (I think). Man, I really suck at identifying Orthopterans.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Small Waterfall
A tiny unnamed waterfall preceding Kenlon and Kaeng Nyui.

By the time I got back to the clearing which served as the gateway to Kaeng Nyui, the enterprising locals are all open for business selling barbecued chicken, barbecued pork, barbecued fish, barbecued bananas and even barbecued eggs cooked in their shells, I shit you not. I would like to have some kai peank lao but I didn't want to undo a whole morning's exercise.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Kaeng Nyui Food Sellers
It is never a good sign when hawkers outnumber customers.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Peekaboo Buddha
A peeping Buddha in a shrine at Kaeng Nyui.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Bamboo Dance
Young local girls in Khmu attire performing a traditional bamboo dance for the tourists visiting the area.

Anyway, I was glad to find my expensive rental mountain bike still tethered to where I had locked it. Just for a lark, I wanted to see how fast I can cycle back to town. Several hilly inclines forced me to dismount and push my bike over them but for the most part, it was a sweet downhill ride. In fact, I was going so fast that I fear that I would flip head over heels when I whiz down some of the steeper slopes. I think I might have wore out a good layer off the disc brake in the back wheel trying to slow my descents.

In about less than half an hour, even including the few stops I made to snap pictures, I made it back to town proper. It was barely half-past ten and we still have most of the day ahead of us - which was good because I wanted more time for us to enjoy our next adventure in Vang Vieng. It is the number one attraction of Vang Vieng and is considered a rite of passage for anyone travelling through Southeast Asia. What is it? Find out in my next Laos travelogue!

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Vang Vieng Karst
View of the karst mountains of Vang Vieng just outside of town.

Vive La Vientiane: Part One
Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: First Night in Town 
Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: Climbing Pha Ngeun
Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: The Blue Lagoon at Tham Phu Kam
Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: Tubing Down the Nam Song
Veni, Vidi, Vang VIeng: Last Day in Town at Pha Poak and Lusi Cave
Sabaidee Luang Prabang: The Night and Morning Markets
Sabaidee Luang Prabang: Phou Si Hill, Haw Kham and Wat Xieng ThongSabaidee Luang Prabang: Out Alone in the City 

Disappointed by a lack of falling water,
k0k s3n w4i

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