We had agreed that now the rainy season has begun, we needed to be strategic and set about doing all the outdoorsy activities that we wanted to do, while the weather was fine. We opened our eyes, decided today was the day for our visit to the much acclaimed Kuang Si Waterfall and the Bear Rescue Centre. These are set in the same location, 29 klms south of Luang Prabang. We had been hounded for over a week, by drivers desperate to have a driving job for the day, so off we went to choose a trusty and reliable driver.
Mrs Wombat's criteria is- the vehicle MUST be late model, clean, well maintained and not a tuk tuk! We decided on a driver with a nice looking songthaew style vehicle, had a chat with him and he assured us he was a good driver. We had priced up private minivans etc and we definitely didn't want to go in a group visit. It's a 45 minute trip and after a quick discussion, we jumped in, armed with swimmers, towel, mosquito repellent, hat, camera, water and money. We loved our wind blown trip through the Laos countryside and enjoying views of lush green vegetation that I would call jungle, rural villages and working rice fields being a highlight.
We stopped for some photo opportunities along the way and arrived at our destination well ahead of the Chinese laden minivans that we knew would arrive, later in the morning.
Our driver directed us to the ticket booth, 20,000 Kip each and off we went exploring.
The waterfall is just spectacular, much more impressive than we expected and we changed and headed in for a swim. It was freezing old but invigorating and after a while we were enjoying relaxing amongst the rapids. Mr Wombat had been for a big swim and was so surprised to have fish nibbling his feet, similar to a fish spa, however he quickly moved on as it felt so weird.
This 3 tier waterfall originates from a spring and the main fall is a 60 m drop over limestone formations, just so beautiful. There are a number of swimming places, well maintained paths and bridges, some toilets and changing rooms and plenty of seating. It is low season which means much fewer tourists, so we enjoyed chatting with people from all over the world, as we lazed around in rock pools. Eventually it became quite cool as our core body temperature dropped, so out and dressed and off for a walk. We passed a group of Chinese women on a bridge, who were busy setting up posed photos, Mr Wombat had a brain snap and thought it would be funny to jump into their photo with them!!
They were suitably horrified and outraged, giving him glaring looks and then totally ignoring him, but very eager to get me to have my photo with them. Mr Wombat had been banished!!! We were then interviewed by a young Thai lady who was keen to hear our thoughts on Laos. She came complete with video camera and microphone.
We wandered down to visit the Asiatic Black Bear Rescue Centre and whilst we are very wary of any animal related activities in S E Asia, we knew this place tried its best to provide a loving home for Sun Bears and Moon Bears, who have been rescued from the appalling practice of bile harvesting. I won't go into the distressing facts surrounding this barbaric practice, you can google for more information. The bears looked to be well cared for, with a lot of resources to keep them stimulated and challenged. Whilst the enclosures looked small to me, I feel comforted by the fact that the care and love they receive, is enabling a future free from cruelty and pain.
Sadly, despite paying our entrance fee, I have since learned that the centre receives none of that money, it all goes into the upkeep of the facilities at the waterfall. They rely purely on donations, and whilst we did make a donation, we would have paid more had we known.
After learning all about the various bear species and taking some great photos ( thanks Mr Wombat ), it was time to head back to our driver for the drive back to town. We would absolutely travel to the waterfall and Bear Centre on any future visits to Laos, just a wonderful day out. The road there and back is rough in places, but we were glad of our decision to use local transport and give someone a job for the day. Travelling in these songthaews is probably not the safest method of transport, but it is certainly fun and affordable, adding to the experience and it is normally our vehicle of choice.
Once back in town, we bid our driver farewell and headed off for a late lunch, where we browsed our photos and rehashed our day.