Kwang Si Waterfalls

Trip Start Dec 20, 2008
Trip End Jan 20, 2009

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Saturday, January 10, 2009

So here I am sitting in an Internet cafe with no shoes on. You have to take your shoes off when you go into a hotel or house and many shops here in Laos. The hotels supply slippers otherwise it's socks or bare feet like the monks! There are lots of monks and especially novices in LP. Last night I tried to use this Internet cafe which should have a faster connection and it was full of novice monks!

One of the things LP is famous for is the procession of its monks up the main street at dawn to receive alms from the locals. I managed to catch this yesterday as I happened to wake up at 6.30 and the monks pass the door of my hotel. It is an eerie sight to watch as it all happens in silence. It has become rather too much of a tourist even though and people determined to get the best photo rather spoil the atmosphere. It's good to watch from the sidelines. Today is a "Buddah Day", something to do with the lunar calendar, and my guide was on a no meat no alcohol day. I was woken at 4am (well actually 3.58) by the temple gong next door sounding and then the etheral sound of the huge drums being beaten to a strange rhythm. Must have gone back to sleep before the chanting started though.

Kwang Si waterfalls is one of the main side trips from LP. To get there you go out past the market and along a very scenic windy road (only surfaced for the last 12 months) through a variety of minority villages. We had an explore around the market and tried some Lao sweets and a new fruit to me the Sapodillo. Looks a bit like a kiwi fruit but is potato coloured and tastes a bit like a custard apple. Laos may be a poor country but I think you could buy pretty much anything on the market - a lot of it is imported from Thailand as well as China. There are quite a lot of Thais on holiday here as well - the Chang Inn in which I am staying is apparently a Thai investment - and they even fly up here for long weekends.

One village we stopped at was a Hmong minority village - quite a lot of tourists clearly stop there as they had all the stalls selling embroidery out - still it was good to be able to identify the Hmong handiwork which is available on the night market as well. There were sone boys playing a game which seemed like a cross between spinning a top and boules. One boy would set his top spinning and the next had to try to spin his top and knock the first one away. It seemed to involve great skill but some of them were pretty good at it. The Hmong do not build their houses on stilts.

Less touristy was a Lao village, houses on stilts, which is where Ai's grandfather came from. I got invited to try the lunch being cooked for a group of workers - beef laap and beef soup - the soup was excellent but I did not like the beef laap as much as the fish laap yesterday. One of the benefits of being alone with a guide is that you can do things you could not do with a group - like sample people's dinners. Ai seems quite happy for me to try things as we go along although he was not keen on  my eating from the foodstalls at the night market. So far I have not had any trouble. The Laos like sharing their food with others so I had brought some bananas and some biscuits to share with Ai and the driver and we had a light vegetarian lunch - I just had fried veg as I was feeling I had not been eating very much veg lately.

The falls are obviously a popular destination judging by the number of foodstalls and tuktuks in the car park. One stall was cooking very tasty banana fritters....there is something of a park developed around the falls but it is very attractively done and because it is wooded it does not seem too busy as it hides people. The falls are very attractive as the limestone deposits make flat turquoise pools. Ai says it has not got a lot of water in at the moment but it looks pretty nice to me. We climbed up the right had side of the falls on a rather steep and difficult path and then at the top took our shoes off and paddled across a flat limestone shelf at the top of the falls. (They wouldn't let you do this in the UK!). There was a handrail but you could look right down the falls. Then we came down a much easier path on the other side and at the bottom there are some beautiful turquoise swimming pools. Based on the temperature of the water at the top I did have a good swim - it was refreshing and a lovely spot for it. A few other hardy westerners and aussies also swam.

One guy had a cut on his leg and Ai offered him elastoplast and I an antiseptic wipe. It turned out that he is a volunteer worker at the Bear rescue centre in the park which I had read about on the web (Bearlao) and as we had patched him up he offered a personalised guided tour. He told me all about the bears which are generally rescued as cubs from traders who would send them to China. Most of them are too old to be repatriated but seem quite happy here in a large wooded enclosure. I was able to go with him into a nearly completed enclosure and see some of the bears in closeup. The centre is run  by an Australian charity and also has a centre in Cambodia. The bears are Asiatic Black Bears who have a white V on their chests. You can make a donation there and they sell T shirts too.
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