Luang Prabang: Tuesday 4th March 2008

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A much later start to the day today; our pickup was at 9:30 so we had plenty of time to relax over breakfast.

Nikhom arrived on his motorbike, and our driver brought the mini-van along shortly after. We headed out through the suburbs of Luang Prabang, passing scores of schools with their yards a sea of bicycles. The houses thinned out and the water buffalo became more frequent as we left the city. The road started weaving through the mountains, and we passed many young teak plantations and small villages.

Our driver and guide got quite excited at one point, spotting a bright green snake moving across the road but unfortunately I missed seeing it, let alone getting a photo of it.

We stopped off at a Hmong Village and followed the concrete path between the huts moving from one shop to another stall. Mostly textiles on sale here and we bought some cushion covers amongst other things.

A very small young girl, who must have been all of two years old was ushered over to me by her mother, offering a small cotton bracelet for US$1. She was so cute, even though she was getting her lessons in selling to the tourists at a very young age that I had to buy it off her. She dutifully took the $1 note back to her Mum.

At another hut, a very young boy, also probably not much more than two years old was walking around playing with a machete. And we worry about kids running with scissors!

The village was full of young children walking around or playing in groups; the very young wrapped in pouches on their mother’s backs.

In another hut, an old woman was smoking on an opium pipe.

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Leaving the village, we continued up the newly made road to Kuangsi Waterfalls, and after avoiding the stalls in the carpark made off down a narrow path through Elephant Ears, Poinsettias and the jungle in general. We crossed small clear streams on bridges and came to an enclosure housing a dozen or so Asiatic Black Bears. This sanctuary was a refuge for the bears that were orphaned by or saved from poachers. The bears were very playful and were clearly enjoying themselves, playing in the water, climbing trees, chasing each other around and pulling old plastic planters apart.

I bought a T-Shirt to support the Free the Bears Fund, then we walked on to visit Phet, a Indochinese Tiger orphaned by poachers. Unluckily, Phet wasn’t on display today so we continued down a narrow overgrown jungle path towards the river. We crossed the limestone creeks on stepping stones and logs passing many small cascades and came out on the most beautiful sight.

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A turquoise pool surrounded by green jungle with a crystal clear cascade flowing into it was laid out before us. It was like a landscaped garden it was so beautiful. The water was so clean and clear, and if only a little warmer we would have gone swimming.

We continued upstream, passing more clear pools marked with signposts “Swimming Areas”, and a couple marked “Don’t Swimming Areas”.

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The cool clear pools ended at the foot of a multi-drop waterfall. I followed the path up the mountainside to the first drop, walking carefully over a flooded path and down some rickety steps where the upper falls landed into a number of pools before making their final descent to the soft blue pools below. The views down the valley were magic.

There were butterflies everywhere, some a beautiful blue and the sound of woodpeckers followed us back to the car park.

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We had lunch at a restaurant with a small lake behind it full of fish. I of course had grilled fish, as well as trying sticky rice, a traditional Lao food. I had to fend off a very friendly and hungry kitten that kept climbing onto my lap as I was eating.

We bought a carving of Indra’s Mount, the Three Headed Elephant, a traditional symbol for Lao. There was a man nearby carving some fantastic elephants out of timber, but they were too big for us to bring back practically. We had a quick wander through some other stores selling T-Shirts and clothes as small children ran chasing one another through the car park.

The drive back was uneventful, passing dry rice paddies and teak plantations and many small villages.

Back near Luang Prabang we stopped off in a village that specialises in mulberry paper, dropping into the Simon Saa Paper Shop. We saw the silk worms, as well as paper being made by stewing the bark, mashing it all up and then spreading it across screens to dry. We even saw the bark being brought in by farmers, weighed and purchased. We bought up as usual in the nearby shop, getting a paper umbrella, and photo albums all nicely wrapped in mulberry paper and given to us in a mulberry paper carry bag. We visited another nearby shop as well with similar products, which also had a display of all of the natural dies that were used.

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We walked into town that afternoon and had dinner on the side of the Mekong at LPB. The spring rolls weren’t very nice, especially after all of the beautiful ones we had had at other places up to now, but the other dishes were alright. Apparently the larb is good here. The view with the setting sun over the river, and the fruit shakes were very special. I also picked up another cat that wanted to join me in my meal.

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After dinner, we walked back through the night market and I finally got a good Coffee Lao! A really nice one from the roadside stall. I asked for traditional, and got lots of sweetened condensed milk with really strong thick dark coffee. Lovely; I ordered a large cup, and bought a couple bags of beans to take home!