An Asiatic Black Bear : or Moon Bear.
âGrooooooan!â. Ache. Ache. Ache! Last night has to be one of the toughest nights of non-sleep Iâve had in a very, very long time. Aching and sore all over for reasons I know not what it was an interminably drawn out night of rolling from one screaming side of my ribs to the other. Lying awake listening to the whir, click and turn of the over-enthusiastic fan we have in our dorm. I feel little better this morning at all. Worse in some ways. Looks like Iâm about to lose my first day of travel and itinerary to debilitation. Darn it! It was gonna happen sooner or later I guess.
Still, the boys and I had planned to travel to see the Kuang-Si waterfalls today and itâd be a real shame to miss them.
The pictures that Spicy Laos and the various other agencies tempt you with do look very appealing. Luckily neither Mike or Eris are super âget-up-and-go-go-go!â people so actually they donât muster will to set off themselves until early to mid afternoon. At this time I am still completely knocked out by illness but have dragged my corpse into the shower and into some clothes. A vague semblance of humanity. So I decide to take the trip with them.
The Kuang-Si falls are situated approx 35 kilometres south of Luang Prabang (LP). To get there you have options of hiring a bicycle or motorbike and riding yourselves or hiring a group tuk-tuk or tour minivan.
Many people attempt the first (bicycle) but more often than not regret it. Itâs a 70 km round trip and not on easy roads so my advice is probably to skip this. It wonât save you heaps of money. Although I did see one backstreet place offering bike hire for 20,000 Kip ($2.50) 30 - 40,000 ($3.50 - $4.70) is the average for the day. Once youâre at the latter figure youâre paying exactly the same as a tuk-tuk/ minivan anyways and theyâll only take approx an hour each way. Make sure whoever you go with you make it very clear how much time you wish to spend at the falls otherwise they may force your return to LP prematurely. 2-3 hours is a good period of time. No less. There is a further 20,000 Kip ($2.
Taking a plunge!
50) entrance fee.
Past the various little food stops and trinket shops at the entrance to the falls you will first come to a small âconservationâ reserve for the indigenous and endangered Asiatic Black Bear. Otherwise referred to as the Moon Bear because of the distinctive white crescent of fur that slings across their chests. They are found (in increasingly little numbers) at various mountainous and forested regions of Southeast Asia and the far East. Here whilst they have a very spacious seeming âarenaâ within which to live and look well cared for, one canât help but escape that creepy feeling one always has with animals in captivity that whilst whatâs been done may ostensibly be for their own good, it still never quite feels as right as it should.
Moon Bears are exceptionally good climbers and owing to this electric wire rings are strung around every trunk of every tree of their enclosure, itself surrounded by and electrified fence. They are left with wooden constructs, giant hammocks and the usual black rubber-tyre swings to amuse themselves. I am far too ill today to fully engage with what I am seeing.
The walk to the start of the Kuang-Si falls is short, through a forested walkway. As a whole spread of various falls and watery pools the Kuang-Si falls are an extremely beautiful work of nature. Starting at their base, one moves further and further up the course of a stream that descends in milky-turquoise gentility at various stages of lightly terraced spill overs, or actual miniature falls.
Beautiful huh?! The waters that clatter down the main Kuang-Si falls dissipate all their force through a gentle step system of beautiful pooled water.
At many points there is an almost fairyland like quality to what you are seeing with white waters slipping silvery over the lip of any number of drops in one field of vision. A real work of land and waterscaping genius by Mother Nature. At various points in the journey up-stream it is possible to swim and to swing into the cool cool pools of water, or to jump right in off some of the smaller falls. Mike and Eris do the honours. I am worsening again and feel utterly wiped out. Itâs all I can do in this trip to stagger from point to point and sit down, aching head collapsed on a table. Occasionally mustering strength to lift my camera to take a snap. Just to prove I actually made it there!
The main falls themselves, cast in late afternoon beams of sunlight for us, offer a more than satisfactory finale for what beauty has gone before.
Its waters coursing over the limestone cliff in a loud torrent at odds with the gentler path, dipping from pool to pool, that these waters will soon find. There is no way Iâm gonna climb the final ascent up to the cradle of the falls so I practically pass out on a shaded bench whilst Mike and Eris give it a go. They later claim the physical effort required did not justify the eventual view, but I think they have missed a trick up there, gone the wrong way, as most other people are knocked out by it. Who knows? Explore yourselves.
Back home in the tuk-tuk and a few hours feverish sleep for me before hauling myself out of bed for a happy Spicy Laos gathering that shouldnât be missed. Pong, director of Spicy Laos and its sister hostel Spicy Thai in Thailand is elated as he has today been informed that his hostels have been publicly voted the best hostels 2008* in the whole of Thailand and Laos respectively on the biggest internet hostel booking site in the world.
Stevie & Kuang-si
Certainly in the case of Spicy Thai, with thousands in competition this is a formidable achievement and I can personally vouch for its excellence. My congratulations to husband and wife Noom and Saaw, the real power behind Spicy Thaiâs success. They deserve it. Itâs an incredible venue. In celebration of the Spicy success Pong has very generously bought in a huge banquet of traditional Lao dishes for a meal for all the guests and staff of Spicy Laos which we all happily sit down too. Itâs all beautiful stuff, although I take it in slowly of course. After offering my congrats, I crawl off to die in bed.
* For the sake of thoroughness, the two other principle prize winners in the region were Siem Reap Backpackers in Cambodia and Hanoi Backpackers in Vietnam.