Cascading Waterfalls, Moon Bears and ... Happy Birthday, to me! ...

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Asia » Laos » West » Luang Prabang
October 2nd 2016
Published: August 12th 2020
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Today is our first full day in Luang Prabang, after arriving here late yesterday afternoon. Today we have to be in the lobby by 8-30am as we have several places to visit this morning before we head off to visit the Kuang Si waterfalls this afternoon.

Breakfast at the hotel is included during our stay and, Ted and I headed to the dining room at about 10 to 8. We had a minimal selection of choice and there was a mixture of western and Lao food, on offer. Orange juice (super sweet), eggs, little sausages, pork, I think, bread (no toaster), butter and jam. There was also a small selection of Lao food, which I didn’t even contemplate so, just went for the eggs and sausages.. As usual, Ted and I had our Vegemite and peanut butter with us, so also just had that on bread to round off our meal – not much other choice anyway.

We were one of the last of our group to have breakfast but, were still there in plenty of time before we had to meet in the foyer. The only others there were Dave and Anita, Joe and Rory.

With breakfast over, we headed back to our room to do the last-minute couple of things before going down to meet the others.

Katy had arranged for the hotel shuttle bus to drop us at the Morning Market where we spent about half an hour just wandering through it with Mr Kit, our Laotian guide, pointing out different things. This market is mostly only food – fruits and vegetables, meat, fish etc.

We saw some weird and wonderful things there apart from the ordinary. Many of the vegetables we recognised but, there were also a lot that we didn’t so, Mr Kit explained them to us but, it was the meat side of things that I really had difficulty with – live toads in a huge dish with a net over it so that they couldn’t escape, bamboo worms in a big dish that are mostly used as bait for fishing but can also be cooked and eaten as a snack!

But, what I really couldn't cope with, was the huge chunks of meat just lying bare, out in the open, on long trestle tables. This is what I had the most difficulty with.

There was meat – buffalo, at around $USD40 per kilo (very expensive), big chunks of it; pork, chicken (had seen live ones just previously) and other types of meat, and also fish, all just lying on top of the tables in the baking sun, with blowflies crawling all over everything which made me cringe, just looking at it. 😞

From there, we walked the short distance to the National Museum. This used to be the old Royal residence (their last king died in 1959) and the nearby Wat Mahathat or, “Temple of the Great Stupa”, close by in the grounds, which is one of the more ornate temples in Luang Prabang

Wat Mahathat was built in 1548 during the reign of Setthathirath, King of the Lan Xang Kingdom. In 1900, the sim (temple) collapsed during evening prayers as a result of a devastating typhoon. Many people were killed in the destruction as well as many other buildings of the Wat being destroyed. The sim was rebuilt between 1907 and 1910 to replace the original. It was restored again in 1963, with more restoration work taking place in 1991.

Next was a visit to another temple just up the road a bit and only a short walk away. The day was hot and humid and, as I wasn't feeling 100%, we soon found a shady spot out of the sun, and it was while we were sitting here in the shade in the grounds of the temple, that daughter, Jenni, rang me from home, for my birthday. The line wasn’t the best and there was a long delay when you talked, which reminded me of when we used to phone her in Costa Rica when she was there on student exchange many years ago. 😊

Anyway, we chatted away for about 10 minutes. Little did I know then that it was going to cost ME the $14 for the privilege! I have a Global Sim card in my phone that now, I always use when we travel overseas but, being new to this technology on this trip, I didn’t know then, that I would also be charged for receiving calls, as well as making them! 😊 However, it was still lovely to hear from Jen, as she sang happy birthday to me whilst also wishing me a great holiday experience in Luang Prabang - which was proclaimed a UNESCO heritage site on 9 December, 1995 – and is one of her most favourite places in the world. Being a travel agent, she has seen a great deal of the world over the years but, Laos still remains her all-time favourite country to visit. Interestingly, her birthday also falls on December 9. 😊

After our visit to the temple, we just had time to catch a quick lunch before we all had to meet up with our shuttle bus so, we made for the small sandwich place just up the road. We weren’t terribly hungry so, Ted opted for a tuna melt whilst I had a ham and salad wrap. To round off these epicurean delights, we both decided on a mint and lemon-freeze to drink, which was, very mint-y but also very refreshing and just hit the spot, as the day had now become very hot.

All regrouping back at our central meeting point of the Post Office by the allotted time of 12-30pm, our waiting shuttle took us back to our hotel, where we quickly gathered our belongings, leaving by 1pm. It was about an hour’s drive to the Kuang Si waterfalls, which were about 30 k’s from town.

Making our way up the mountainside along a very windy road, we were soon presented with the quite spectacular sight of numerous cascading waterfalls which made hearing and conversation somewhat difficult because of the thunderous roar of the water tumbling over the falls. This was quite deafening, as recent rains had ensured that water levels were in abundance, so much so, that a lot of the picnic areas, tables included, were knee-deep in water.

All of us had taken our swimming gear with us and, could swim if we wanted and, most of our group did, but Ted and I didn’t, as I was still feeling less than average after my asthma attack yesterday but, did paddle a little bit, which was quite refreshing. However, we did delight in watching some of the more adventurous in our group, as they swam, ducked and dived under one of the larger waterfalls.

However, Joe, being the most adventurous in our group, decided that this had now become a bit tame so, feeling the need to add further adventure to his experience, achieved this by climbing out along the limb of an overhanging tree, and leaping from a great height into the deep pool below him – not once, but several times! 😊 We don’t know about Joe, but the rest of us were certainly entertained! 😊

Spending about an hour at the waterfalls, we then began heading out, but not before stopping to have a look at a number of Asian Black Bears, more commonly known as Moon Bears, that have been rescued in recent years from abusive environments. This sanctuary was something like the elephant sanctuary we had previously visited outside Chiang Mai in Thailand but, on a much smaller scale.

The Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre began back in 2003 in conjunction with the Laos Department of Forestry, as a rehabilitation centre for rescued bears, some having been rescued from illegal wildlife trafficking and also from the despicable and illegal bile farms, with the bile from the animals finding its way into traditional Chinese medicine. The animals, often being kept in abusive and inhumane conditions in constrictive cages, would be milked for this vital substance for as long as they could live and survive these repeated ordeals. Sometimes, Moon Bears would also be used as a food source or kept in deplorable conditions, as pets.

As we wandered through the Centre, watching the bears relaxing and playing in their now safe habitat, and also being thankful that now, they do have a safe haven, I couldn’t help looking at (what appeared to me, to be) their little sad faces and wondering what they had had to endure before, finally, ending up here being looked after by an organisation of people who are now loving and caring for them in a protected and rehabilitative environment.

Back home again by 4-45pm, we had an hour and a half before we had to meet the others for dinner so, plenty of time to go and collect our laundry that, yesterday, we had dropped into the laundry lady just down the street from our hotel, which ended up costing us 45,000 Kip on collection, for our 3kgs. This equated to about $8 so, we considered this to be a good deal! 😊

This done, Katy suggested birthday drinks on the balcony of our hotel to celebrate my birthday before we went to dinner, which was a nice thought and very relaxing just sitting there, chatting about the events of the day. The only one not to join us was Jim, as he sat reading his book at the other end of the balcony, preferring some time to himself.

6-30pm, we headed off to go to dinner and walked down to the riverside, as Katy had suggested a barbecue for those who wanted to participate. We all walked down together but then, Dave and Anita, Rick & Libby opted out and decided to go somewhere else.

The barbecue worked by us grabbing a couple of plates each, piling it with whatever - meat, chicken, etc - that you wanted as well as doing the same with vegetables etc, and then bringing it back to your table and cooking it on the domed top of the barbecue which sat above a brazier full of hot coals. Something similar to a Vietnamese Steamboat but, barbecues the food instead of cooking it in boiling water which eventually made a broth. This also made a soup in the recessed bottom of the “hotplate” which was continually topped up with water. The meal cost 60,000 KIP each or, $AUD10.

Whilst we were enjoying our Laotian barbecue, a friend of Katy’s (another Intrepid tour leader) turned up and joined us in our meal, but had also brought Katy a cake, as it is her birthday on the 18th but, somehow, it turned out to be mine, complete with candle. It was only little and was made from some kind of jelly, layered and in a pyramid shape. A lovely thought and a complete surprise on my behalf..

After dinner, we walked back home through the Night Market to the Post Office end, where Katy then organised a tuk-tuk for Ted and me, to take us back to the hotel, as I wasn’t feeling up to the walk. This amounted to 15,000 KIP for the two of us – or, about $AUD2. 😊

On arriving back at our hotel, we were, once again, confronted with the rather ominous-looking expanding heavy steel high security fence that closed off the front entrance of our hotel overnight, each evening. I guess it all depended on your point of view as to how you felt about this.

Perhaps, for the faint-hearted, maybe feelings of anxiety that you were residing in a really unsafe area or, for the more practical, feelings of safety and security and happy in the knowledge that our hosts were really looking after their guests' welfare, confidently reassuring you that you could sleep soundly tonight. Perhaps we were in a possibly unsafe area but, maybe no more than anywhere else … however, whatever your thoughts were on the matter, I much preferred to go with the latter possibility. 😊

We had had a lovely day but, quite taxing for me in the heat and humidity with my limited lung capacity so, bed was calling - a lovely hot shower and an early night beckoned.

Tomorrow was to be another day …

Additional photos below
Photos: 28, Displayed: 28


13th August 2020

Luang Prabang
Really enjoyed this blog Jan! Looks like Intrepid has changed their hotel in LP recently, as our hotel certainly didn't have the metal security fence - but we would have had the same feelings about it as you did anyway. The water levels at Kuang Si Falls falls seem to be much higher in October than in January, and with far fewer people. The loud large crowds wrecked our experience of it a bit, so it's nice to see that you had a nicer experience. Looking forward to reading the next instalment :) Ren x
14th August 2020

Luang Prabang ...
Hi Ren & Andrew, Thanks Ren. Yes, we were fortunate when we visited Kuang Si waterfalls as we were there during the wet weason, which runs from May until September, and there had been a lot of rain prior to our visit, and also lucky that there was hardly anyone there. We got caught up travelling during Chinese New Year once. Never again, if we can avoid it, for the same reason. It was interesting when reading your blogs on Laos, just how dry the countryside was during your visit. Loved your venture into the countryside on your dune buggy, looking for the caves. You seem to travel much the same way we do - always up for an adventure! :) We had hired a quad bike on Mykonos a few years ago and took ourselves off for the day. It too, had a few quirks - like us not being able to work out how to turn on the headlights when headng back home at dusk. That was an interesting episode, with the pedal to the metal, trying to get home before it became really dark! :) Mind you, the quad bike wasn't going to break any land speed records, either! :) Re the security fence at our hotel in LP - we aren't nervous nellies when we travel and, mostly, take things in our stride, whilst always being mindful of our safety at all times so, the fence didn't worry us at all and, we always have confidence in Intrepid having done their homework when sourcing premises and also activities. Have already started on LP No 2 so, watch this space. :) Janxx
14th August 2020

Another view of Luang Prabang
It's interesting to read about your trip to this city after reading RENanDREW's own account just recently and comparing your experiences! (Intrepid Tours must have a devoted following in Australia.) I also noticed Mr. Kit's name came up in both of your blog. How nice to celebrate a birthday while traveling -- the best kind of present!!
14th August 2020

Another view of Luang Prabang ...
Hello ... I think it is always interesting to hear, or read, of two different perspectives of the same place, We have done many trips with Intrepid over the years and they have never failed to provide a most enjoyable holiday. They are an Australian company, providing soft adventure tours, worldwide, for small groups.Thank you for dropping in and pleased that you enjoyed our two different experiences.
17th August 2020
Wat Mahathat

What a beauty.
One can only imagine the trauma of the destruction of Wat Mahathat during a typhoon during evening prayers...a perceived place of sanctuary no doubt. Then the uplifting of the spirits of the faithful on it being rebuilt. Thanks for sharing its story Jan...albeit briefly.
18th August 2020
Wat Mahathat

What a beauty ...
Hi Dave, It was really distressing to hear of such a tragedy occurring at Wat Mahathat and hard to imagine the devastation and destruction that resulted for those poor people. I always try to add a little bit of history in my blogs when it comes to points of interest, without getting too detailed for readers to have to get through. Hopefully, if it is something that has piqued their interest, they may wish to research it a little further themselves, if they would like to know more. It's a bit of a fine line sometimes - to try and add interest, (hopefully), without your readers losing interest, and you boring them to death in the process. :) Great to hear from you again and, thank you for dropping in. Please say hi to Denise. :) Jan

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