Laos: Water, water

I mentioned “lovely surroundings” as a reason to visit Luang Prabang, but so far we’ve only looked at them from the center of town. One day is devoted to visiting nearby Kuang Si Falls. For a major tourist attraction, the road from town is surprisingly sketchy, where buffalo have right-of-way even at “rush” hour; but our professional taxi driver gets us there safely.

Before reaching the falls, we visit the bear rescue center. I scarcely knew there were bears in Southeast Asia (aren’t they in charge of Boreal regions?), much less that they needed rescuing. So I learned that the Asian Black Bear, or Moon Bear, favors mountainous areas if northern Laos (and Thailand), and is hunted by poachers to sell to Chinese traders for medicinal extracts. It’s an ugly business, and I’m happy to support the rescue center by buying a “Save the Bears” T-shirt.

Happily, we have come early, before the big crowds of tourists, so we can enjoy a cool swim in peace. Several swims, actually, as there are several nice pools, below each tier of the falls. (Yes we took pictures, but they aren’t the most flattering, so I’m not saving them here). The pools are replete with small and some not-so-small fish (see top photo), who are eager to give us a defoliation of any submerged skin. This is not particularly comfortable.

Hiking around the falls, swimming, spotting bits of lovely wild nature—a great way to spend the day.


Another day calls for a river trip. It’s the “low” season for tourism (although I don’t know why; the weather is wonderful), so there are dozens of empty tour boats sitting idle along the river bank. These are really house boats, with the forward half decked out for tourists to enjoy, the aft half for a family dwelling. They all seem to be constructed about the same way, which makes me think they were all designed for something else (cargo?) before being converted to their current use.

We arrange to hire one for a half-day trip. Since Esso’s native Isaan language is essentially a dialect of Lao, she can negotiate with the skipper without the additional expense of an English-speaking guide.

Our ride is outfitted with lovely wood carvings, comfortable lounge furniture, retractable roof and curtains for all kinds of weather. The family running the boat must own very little else, but they are easygoing and cheerful. A very fit 50ish man is the skipper; a pre-teen girl is the deckhand. We only got a little glimpse of the mom, who is likely the chief engineer (among other duties).

I’m just cargo now, but I enjoy the ride. We visit Wat Tham Sakkalin, a blissfully-quiet forest temple across the river from the city, then head up to find a noteworthy (but now sleepy) village of crafts shops. Wherever there is any sign of civilization along the shore, there are ramps and stairs down the bank so that it has boat access. Along the Mekong, highway access is a relatively new idea.

Finally, we continue upstream to see the new railroad bridge being built. When I first see it the big concrete structure, I also see a trestle behind it, and think that the trestle is the old bridge that washed out, prompting the design of a new, higher, stronger span. But when I ask, we learn no, there was never a bridge here before. The trestle is just there for the construction crew to reach the big piers. Impressive!



2 thoughts on “Laos: Water, water

  1. Hi Alan, Short and Sweet, this Laos trip is truly informative. Liked the bear and buffalo pictures and story. Do they make cheese out of buffalo milk like in Italy?

    Redid my back garden area and had a small car accident (someone hit me)–it took a toll on my 75-year-old body so I’m now nursing a knee. Love to sit there and meditate. Hank is hanging in there but could use some healing thoughts.


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