Monday, Dec 26 – Kuang Si Waterfalls
The Kuang Si waterfalls are a trademark spot in Luang Prabang and are definitely worth a visit. There are several ways to get there and for whatever reason we decided to hike. And it was awesome.
We started the day early with a pick-up from our hotel. After a 40 minute ride in the minivan with our guide, we arrived at a Hmong village where our trekking trail started.
The small village is home to about 20 families. They are farmers and work the land during the day and sell their produce at night markets. At 9:30AM there were only school children and elderly in the village. It was quiet and sunny, roosters belting their signature cry, an old lady sifting rice, toddlers playing in the mud and giggling at us passing by. We walked by the school where all classroom doors were open and we could see how kids learn. The rooms were poorly lit, their books old and worn and a few of the kids seemed just a tiny bit bored.
The trail led us into the jungle and onto muddy paths. For three hours we hiked towards the top of the Kuang Si waterfall. We passed a buffalo enclosure (the animals were out at that time), crossed sun-lit valleys and chilly, green tunnels of trees and vegetation where the sun doesn’t break through.
It was fun as much as it was exhausting. We were very happy to arrive at the spring that is the source of the waterfall.
The waterfall – like most waterfalls – works in terraces and the first two are pretty flat. Water trickles down and merges into pools that cascade into larger ones below, only to separate and build larger streams and pools on the second level. The noise is very subtle at first and, for a while, I thought that we are still far away from the actual waterfall. The trail down to the third level, where the excitement starts, is winding and slippery and there is water flowing everywhere. The closer we got, the louder it was. When we finally arrived at the third level it was like walking into paradise. The water is a rich shade of milky blue and the air is misty from the billions of drops sprayed out of the cascading water. We went swimming for a little while – it is spring water after all, so it was not really suitable for lingering. Also, there were many people. Many. But everybody was in awe of this remarkable place and people were cheering each other to go into the water. So it was a very nice experience, albeit just a tiny bit crowded.
We finished the hike at the bear rescue center where we looked at these wonderful creatures. All of them were rescued from lives of captivity either from private owners or, worse, from circuses or other cruel entertainment venues. One of the bears is missing its entire front left leg. The only consolation was that they are safe now, and well taken care of. Although I am not sure how much they enjoy the herds of tourists every day…
Lunch was served right outside the bear center – this was part of the tour and our guide arranged it. The food was nice but forgettable. The only reason I am mentioning it is because it was the moment we realized that, although he spoke English, our guide probably didn’t understand it very well. For a big portion of our hike we talked about food. Both Andreas and I spoke highly of Laotian dishes and how we appreciate spicy and very hot foods and we prefer to eat local cuisine in its original form, unaltered for foreign palates – even if it burns sometimes. Hai – our guide – giggled and told us a story of a group of tourists he had accompanied once, who had complained about Lao food being too spicy. We replied saying that some people don´t like hot food but that we do and from there the conversation went into specific dishes like bamboo soup, etc. etc. Well, you can imagine our surprise when the fried rice that we were served for lunch was as bland as stale bread. Luckily there was chili oil and a chili paste available and we managed to mix it into something half palatable.
Hai told us proudly that he had asked the cook specifically to “make food not spicy for you”. So, yeah. Communication and stuff.
The day ended with dinner at the Bamboo Tree restaurant and the budding excitement of going to see the elephants the following day!