Koang Si Waterfall and BEARS!

Another post by Mila as we catch up with a good internet connection again. We’ll continue our time travel back to Laos – about three weeks ago!

One of the best days we had in Laos was spent at Koang Si waterfall, about 29km south of the center of town in Luang Prabang. Transportation is a booming business for many in the more visited towns in Laos. Pricing is rarely posted, and always negotiable for rides on tuk-tuks, taxis and vans. We decided to opt for a private tuk-tuk as the distance from town was relatively short and because we wanted to stay for several hours; after having discovered that most people opt for a quick round trip. After dodging a few very pushy drivers, we found someone we could talk to.

Declining his repeated requests for highly inflated “tourist-pricing”, we struck a “fair” deal (in his favor, of course) and waited to get on the road. And waited. And waited. And waited for what must have been twenty minutes, but felt like an eternity. We had been waiting on the concrete and were starting to melt. Our driver, as it turned out, had been on the phone with a friend (another tuk-tuk driver) trying to combine passengers as a means to make even more profit. Our patience with our business-minded driver was wearing down, the hot sun was heating us up, and we started to walk away to find another ride. This of course, kicked our driver into a frenzy and his friend magically appeared to pick us up. Happy to get on the road, the three of us jumped in his tuk-tuk and started to drive away. But wait, we weren’t going south to the waterfall, but north instead. Hmmm.

The “friend” parked his tuk-tuk at a travel agency back at the center of town and came around to the passenger area where we sat in sweaty confusion. Our blank stares were apparently an invitation to re-negotiate for a higher fare. When we vociferously declined, his cool response was “Ok, then we just need to wait for a few more people”. That was it. We had been strung along long enough. We jumped out, fuming at the delay and bravado and sheer gall of the two drivers and started walking hearing calls behind us, “Ok, ok, we go now”, “Ok, now”, “Your price”. But after so many shenanigans, we were finished. We walked a nice long block or two as we cooled a bit from the frustration hardly noticing that yet another tuk-tuk driver was calling to us and following us down the road. Realizing that we didn’t hear him, he drove ahead of us, parked and allowed us to walk a short feet towards him.

He seemed likable and honest, and like he genuinely wanted our business. But we had to be sure after so much wasted time. We wanted to get on the road. A short conversation later:

“Are you going to take us now?!” — “Yes.”
“Same price?!” — “Yes.”
“You’re sure?!” — “Yes.”
“Yes?!” — “Yes.”
“We go NOW?!” — “Yes.”
“You’re sure?!” — “Yes.”
“YES?!” — “Yes.”
“No more passengers?!” — “No.”
“You’re sure?!” — “Yes.”
“Ok.”

With each of his responses, I could feel the smile return to my face as negotiations finished. We all climbed in the back of his tuk-tuk, made another u-turn and started south to Koang Si.

Our ride

Our ride

Road to Koang Si

Road to Koang Si

Arrival

Arrival

Just past this sign, before the falls is an area that has been converted to an Asian bear rescue called Free the Bears. It was a nicely organized and well-presented educational exhibit about the plight of the Asian black bear. Bears kept captive for many reasons, one of which is for extraction of their bile for use in some traditional medicines in some Asian countries. They are sometimes kept in tiny cages and suffer immensely.

Awful conditions

Jette’s sad for the bears who have to live in cages

One of the bears

One of the rescued bears

Reading about bears

Learning about the bears

This girl is ready to save bears

Ready to save bears

Threats

The bears have a beautiful place to live

Rescued bears have a beautiful place to live

Raised walkway through the bear rescue center

Bear rescue path

We were impressed with Free the Bears and Jette found a new tank top, being sold there, whose purchase supports the organization.

The transition from the bear habitat to the falls was seamless as the sound of the crashing water was all around us, so we walked a bit as the decibel level increased and finally saw the beginning of Koung Si.

The water is a pretty blue and a bit milky from limestone deposits

The water is a pretty blue and a bit milky from limestone deposits

I love it here already

I love it here!

soft blue pool

soft blue pool

Other admirers

Time for a swim

Can you see the adventurous jump?

Can you see the adventurous jump?

The scene

another adventurer

Slippery rocks

Tiers

Ahhh...

Ahhh…

Climbed slippery rocks to get here!

Climbed slippery rocks to get here!

One thing we had read about the falls was that the fish species garra rufa naturally inhabit the waters at the falls. Garra rufa are otherwise known as “nibble fish” aka the fish in tanks at “fish pedicure” spas. We couldn’t stand for more than ten seconds in place without having groups of fish come lightly peck at our feet. It tickled!

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Hi! I’m getting my feet nibbled!

Natural fish pedicure pool

Natural fish pedicure pool

Time for a dip

I kind of like it in here

There was a hill to climb from the lower falls to the upper falls…

Happy muddy feet

Happy muddy feet

Super mudster

Super mudster

Just a regular day in the rainforest

Just a regular day in the rainforest

Walking path to upper falls

Walking path to upper falls

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So pretty

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Majestic

A very popular spot

Selfie moment

But first…a selfie!

Supermodel

a small quiet spot just

a small quiet spot just

under the bridge

under the bridge

Under the bridge

Although there were many others at the falls, we think we found the prettiest spot of all, UNDER the bridge where others were snapping selfies. I think the beautiful photo below, that Waco captured, is my absolute favorite.

The mist!

There were plenty of vendors selling snacks. Jette settled on a crepe for the short ride back.

 

Snack vendors

Snack vendors

Crepe!

Crepe!

Exhausted

Post-crepe nap

Post waterfall chic

Post-waterfall fashion

Luang Prabang

NOTE: This post is a few days old now, but our internet connections have been so bad that I have not been able to get photos uploaded and finish the post. I managed to get a few photos uploaded so I’ve decided to publish this one without the other photos for now. (Here are some photos on Google that will give you some idea what this place looks like). When we have a functional connection again I’ll edit this post and add the other photos and also add a post or two about the weaving class and our trip to the waterfall.

Temple in Luang Prabang, Laos

We’ve been in Luang Prabang, Laos for a week. Jette and I have been fighting colds. Despite being run-down, snotty-nosed, sneezy, sore-throated kids, we have still been exploring a bit and having fun. Of course we’ve spent quite a bit of time just resting and healing too. Yesterday Jette woke up feeling really rotten with an upset tummy. She opened her eyes, rolled over, and puked. Yep, as we used to say in fifth grade, she puked, barfed, blew chow, spewed stew, revealed her meal.

I just puked

I just puked

Thankfully by the end of the day she was feeling much better. Today both Jette and I are feeling good, almost back to normal aside from a bit of lingering nasal congestion, but Mila woke up with a sore throat! Oy vey! That’s how it started for us.

Luang Prabang is the second largest city in Laos. It has a small, sleepy feel, especially in the neighborhood of the “old city.” The quaint old city harkens back to French Indochina with lots of villas and shophouses dating back to the 1930’s and earlier, all fairly well preserved (or at least still standing and in use). It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old city sits on a small peninsula about 1 km long and 300m wide, at the intersection of the Mekong River and the Nam Kham River. There are four streets that run the length of the peninsula and a mix of cross streets and small alleys that connect them. Overall, it’s a cute little place that is all about tourism now. Despite the fact this it is so touristy, it has its charms. For us it has been a comfortable place to slow down and rest a bit.

Having ridden and studied the Rhine, it is interesting to now be on the Mekong and to see the similarities and differences. There are common needs and patterns that have driven human’s use of the rivers and settlement throughout history. It’s no surprise that Luang Prabang sits on a peninsula at the confluence of two rivers. It’s a position that has economic, transportation, military, and general resource benefits, and a settlement and development pattern that we have now seen the world over.

Since the French colonial days, the town has expanded beyond the peninsula. The new part of town looks like a typical SE Asian town, perhaps a Thai town from 20 years ago. It is not touristy at all. While Mila and Jette were doing their weaving class last week, I walked through that part of town and one of the markets there and didn’t see another gringo. I also bought an umbrella in the market, which was apparently quite a novelty as my friendly negotiations with the seller quickly drew an audience, LOL. I ended up paying 20,000 KIP for the umbrella. Do you think I got a good deal?

Enjoying some shade

Enjoying some shade

Lao people and culture are very interesting. The stamp of communism is evident everywhere, something I may elaborate on in a future post. Culturally it is quite a contrast to Thailand, though the languages are quite similar.

Anyway, we’ve been enjoying the town’s sleepy vibe and many cafes. Mila and Jette took a full-day weaving class, and we all took a trip to a nearby waterfall. We’ll tell you about these in upcoming blog posts.

The Lake

The Dam

About an hour and half North of Chaing Mai is Si Lanna National Park. In the park is a large lake called Mae Ngat Somboon Cham, known to many of the locals as “The Dam.” It is a bit off the beaten path and we thought it would be a nice escape for a few days. We called around and found a “floating guesthouse” with an opening, hired a songthaew, and headed North.  We didn’t know quite what to expect.

Our songthaew

Our songthaew

On the way out of town we stopped at a market for a few provisions. We’d read that food at the lake was quite basic and thought it would be good to take some fruit and snacks just in case.

Fruit

Fruit

Seaweed chips

Seaweed chips

We arrived at the lake. The songthaew stopped right next to the dam in an area where the longtail boats dock for passengers and supplies. We unloaded our stuff and when our songthaew driver told the guys gathered the name of our floating guesthouse, one of the boat drivers came forward and led us to his boat.

Our songthaew and driver

Our songthaew and driver

Longtail boats at the lake

Longtail boats at the lake

Loading the longtail boat

Loading the longtail boat

Away we go

Away we go

We hopped in and away we went across the lake. Ten or fifteen minutes later we pulled up to a group of floating structures – our home away from home.

Here’s a rough video of the trip. Of course the camera battery died just as we arrived at the floating guesthouse. We need to get a new battery.

We unloaded our stuff and checked in with the lady that ran the joint. No one spoke English, which was fine with us. There were about a half-dozen thatched “huts” with tin roofs floating on wooden platforms or decks. They were all linked by wooden decks. At one end was the office/restaurant which was essentially a big covered porch. We were the only gringos. The other rooms were occupied by Thai families or groups of young Thais.

The new digs

The new digs

Our room

Our room

Bathroom facilities

Bathroom facilities

Hello fish!

Hello fish!

We could see the water through the slats of the bathroom floor. It did look like there was a tank beneath the toilet. That was good. Water for the shower and the flush bucket was from the lake. I never used the shower, I just jumped in the lake!

The facilities were very basic but clean, and hey, this is what they should be like on a lake in a national park in Northern Thailand. These are the local rustic cabins!

View of other rooms from our porch

View of other rooms from our porch

The walkway connecting everything

The walkway connecting everything

Jette standing by the restaurant

Jette standing by the restaurant

The view down to the restaurant

The view down to the restaurant

Taking a dip

Taking a dip

We could swim right off the deck in front of our room, and the water temperature was perfect. The water was green and somewhat clear. You could see about 4 feet before the green haziness obscured everything. We saw lots of minnows and some bigger fish, but no giant snakeheads, and nothing nibbled our toes.

Green water

Green water

The high dive

The high dive

The canoe

The canoe

The restaurant had a selection of basic dishes, centered mostly around local fish. Our favorite was the fish fried with garlic. It was tasty, especially with the lime and hot chilli sauce. We ended up eating it at almost every meal!

Breakfast lunch and dinner

Breakfast lunch and dinner

We relaxed, swam, ate, paddled around in the canoe, read, and did some math.

Math work

Math work

On the second day, we heard voices, kids voices, speaking English. They were coming from another group of guesthouses, next door, so we jumped in the canoe and went to see who it might be. We paddled over and met a couple of really nice Kiwi families who live in Chiang Mai. They too had come to the lake for a couple days of fun and relaxation. Mila and I enjoyed visiting with them, and Jette spent the rest of the day playing with her five new friends. They had a blast, and we barely saw Jette again until sundown!

Fun with the Kiwis

Fun with the Kiwis

Jette had wanted to jump off the high dive but had been too apprehensive to do it. With her new friends encouraging her, she quickly conquered that fear! I happened to catch it from a distance:

Jette does the high dive

Jette does the high dive.

The kids also had a fun time finding frog eggs, which to be found in long, gelatinous tubes stuck to the floats of the guesthouses.

Frog eggs

Frog eggs

Aside from swimming or the canoe, the only way to cross from their guesthouse and our guesthouse was to climb along the edge of one the buildings and then cross on a “balance beam” of loosely lashed, wiggly bamboo. It was a bit of an adventure going back and forth.

Crossing the bamboo balance beam

Crossing the bamboo balance beam

Go Mila!

Go Mila!

The next day Jette and the Kiwi kids played all morning. What a treat. Just before lunch we jumped back in a longtail boat and headed back towards civilization.

The boat back to civilization

The boat back to civilization

Headed "home"

Headed “home”

We had a great time at the lake. It was nice to get off the beaten path and just relax for a couple of days. It was especially nice for Jette who got to swim, conquer the high-dive, and make some new friends!

 

 

The swimming pool

The swimming pool

A quick post with photos of the awesome public swimming pool next to our camping spot on the edge of town here in Chur, Switzerland. We spent a good chunk of the day here. Jette and I swam and Mila relaxed in the shade at a picnic table by the fancy and very popular charcoal grills.

Stick-in-the-ground ashtrays at the pool.  Yes this is Europe and seemingly everyone still smokes. Yuck.

Stick-in-the-ground ashtrays at the pool.
Yes this is Europe and seemingly everyone still smokes. Yuck!

Cartwheels under the waterslide.

Cartwheels under the waterslide.

It is hard to tell from the photos, but the whole giant pool was an “infinity edge” style pool with an elevated edge and drain assembly with water up to the top and spilling over the edge. The pool was not concrete, but enameled or plastic coated steel! It had a smoooooth surface and everything was super, spotlessly clean.

The culture was very different and much more permissive than in the U.S. There were lifeguards, but they were not very obvious. They walked around and watched things from a distance. There was no one staffing the waterslides, even at the very top of the tall, steep stairs. There was never a whistle blown, never a reprimand. Everyone was very well-behaved, but the range of permissible behavior was much greater than at home. Kids ran  freely (yes, ran), dove into “shallow” water, went down the waterslides on their knees, backwards, head-first, whatever. Little kids ran around naked. Old grannies wore teeny tiny bikinis and had belly button piercings. No one was injured and everyone seemed to be having fun.