Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Motorbikes, Waterfalls and Bears....Oh My!

After a couple days of culture, I was ready to explore the wilderness and have some fun. I met an American couple the previous night as we bonded over the spiciness of Lao food. Laughter turned into a conversation and we realized we had all grown up in the Midwest. We enjoyed a Beerlao and laughed over travel stories. One thing led to another and they invited me to go with them out to visit Kuang Si waterfall. When they mentioned they were renting a motorbike (scooter) and driving out, I was in! You know how I love the motorbikes!! We made plans to meet in the morning. I found a place in town and rented an automatic bike for $20 for the day. After a quick lesson in how to start, stop, lock the front wheel and store the helmet I was ready to go! I was a little nervous at first but all those years of riding a moped came back to me. I figured it would be a success as long as I made it back in one piece and got to swim at the waterfall. Driving was easy as the traffic was light and much less congested than Vietnam. We headed out of Luang Prabang 30 km to the falls. It was a beautiful ride on paved roads through Hmong villages and farms. The rolling hillside made for a relaxing drive. We arrived at the waterfalls and bear rescue center. That's right, Laos has black bears! Oh my! I had forgotten about it until we arrived. We parked the motorbikes and paid $3 for parking and entrance to the falls. We decided to hike to the waterfalls, swim and then make our way back to the bear rescue center.

The turquois water made me feel like I was in a magical jungle setting. It was so beautiful, we were all eager to touch the water. Wow! It was freezing! Hopefully, it will feel great after some hiking and as the day gets warmer. There were several levels for swimming.  We walked further along the trail to the large Kuang Si waterfall. It was spectacular. As I watched I noticed there were three levels of waterfalls here. But swimming was not allowed in the upper levels. 

We had a sandwich and sat in the sun waiting to get warm. It eventually became time to take the plunge. I walked to the side of the water, stuck my toe in and it still felt freezing cold. I knew it was a matter of just jumping in. I leaned forward and jumped. Brrrrr! I lost my breath. I kept moving, waiting to get numb. I swam to the waterfall and stood on a rock, enjoying the scenery. It was tranquil and wonderful. I noticed something tickling my foot. I asked James if he felt something and he thought it was little fish eating the dead skin on our feet. Just like the Mr. Fish pedicures! It tickled. I looked down and could see little fish. An added bonus at the falls!

We walked down to the lower level and could hear the tour bus had arrived with people. At this level there is a rope swing that is the center of attraction. You just walk out on the tree, use a stick to grab the rope, hold on and play Tarzan as you swing through the jungle.

We continued down the path to the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center. There was no fee and the bears appeared happy. Most of the bears were rescued or confiscated from illegal poaching and trading. They are Moon Bears and look similar to the US Black Bear. They put food in different toys for the bears to keep them entertained. Most of the bears were taking naps. 

We jumped on our motorbikes and headed back to Luang Prabang. Everything was going well until we had to cross a bridge. Ann and James went first. They were almost across the bridge when they went off one of the boards and the scooter went over. They were both fine. Just a little scratched and bleeding. Everyone that came by stopped to off their help. People offered to give them a hide back to town, German tourists offered medications and others stayed to make sure they were fine. One Lao man walked down to the ditch and grabbed a handful of leaves. He chewed them and started rubbing them on Ann's leg. He handed some to James also. We don't know what it was but they said it stung! We made it back to town safely and decided to get cleaned up and meet for dinner. 

We decided to walk across the bamboo bridge over the Nam Khan River. It is a little scary. It is made entirely of bamboo and there were a few spots that seemed rickety. I grabbed the side rail and realized it was a little wobbly also. The bridge bounces as you walk. I was excited when I made it across and decided I had earned my Beerlao for the night. We ate dinner at Dyen Sabai. We started with a Lao platter for an appetizer. It was delicious. The platter included
eggplant, pork with sesame seeds, jaew bong , Luang Prabang Sausage and fried seaweed with lemongrass roasted peanuts. It is accompanied by lots of black sticky rice. 
For the main course, we ordered the Lao Fondue with chicken, buffalo and an extra side of vegetables. The fondue was fun. They bring a large bucket of hot coals and put it in a hole in the middle of the table. Then a grill is added to the top. We ordered chicken and buffalo meat which came with a large bowl of chopped vegetables, herbs, and a couple whole eggs. You start by pouring in water around the edge and add the vegetables. The meat goes on the grill at the top and the juices run down to flavor the soup around the edges. We added noodles and broke an egg into the soup. You then eat it up until you are full. DELICIOUS! I was full and happy for my walk back across the bamboo bridge. Another wonderful day in Luang Prabang. 

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