The second part of my trip to Laos is here, (check the 1st part here) this time with the beauty of nature around Luang Prabang region. We did a boat cruise at Mekong river, we went to a natural park with waterfalls, we fed elephants and visited a traditional village alongside the river!
Laos is the only country in Indochina that has no contact with the sea. It has a lot of mountains, with half of the country covered by them. However, it has a lot of rivers, with Mekong River being the most important of them. Mekong is actually one of the biggest rivers in the world (4,5km) and in Laos there are about 1,8km of them. At Luang Prabang, Mekong river is 400m large so boats can cross him very easily. Life of course, is very affected by it as a lot of works are based in the river.
Laos is actually a quite poor country with a high level of illiteracy. Τhe turmoil in the country and the wider region, the lack of know-how and the centralized economy have created many problems in the development of the country. The majority of their economy is agriculture that is still based in traditional methods, and mostly in rice cultivation.
So, the second day we were at Luang Prabang, we boarded an upstream cruise on the Mekong River, which gave us a panoramic view of the tranquil countryside. It was almost 1,5 hours to go and about 1 hour to return and with the stops it took us the whole morning. It was so peaceful and beautiful that no pictures can depict it I think. We saw elephants and buffalos alongside the river, the vigorous vegetation of the mountains and people working on the coasts, it was very interesting.
Our first stop was after 25km at the Pak Ou Caves, where sanctuaries consisting of two large caverns, both repositories for thousands of mini Buddha sculptures. It was so strange and unique place that impressed me a lot but unfortunately I don’t remember how it was started in the beggining, with some old tribes living there and something like that.
Every year the villages deposit one Buddha miniature as an offering and that’s why there are so many today…they say there are almost 4.000 pieces!!
Little Buddhas take many different positions, included meditation, teaching, peace, raining and reclining.
After the lower cave Tham Ting, we took some steps towards the upper cave Tham Theung. I was so tired in these steps that couldn’t believe it!! The combination of heat, humidity and my sleepless situation of 2 nights in a row exhaust me so much that I needed 3 stops to catch my breath until the top!!
However, the scenery was unbelievable, and the cave very unique too. That one was very big, with a crafted wooden door at the entrance, walking inside in the dark for a long time, enough to start the imagination about people living there etc…
After the Pak Ou Caves we boarded again to continue the cruise. Of course, we were so relaxed and tired that took an opportunity to lay down at the comfortable cushions of the boat and take a nap! While the cool breeze of the river, the sun and the sweet boat rocking was lulling us…
The last stop was a traditional village alongside the river, famous for their whiskey. There are small traditional villages along the river that are self-managed and self-sufficient and the people who live there don’t have to pay taxes. They live a simple life, their houses are mostly wooden, they build them themselves with bricks they make from scratch, they work for the community, whatever they need they produce it.
We saw there also, the traditional distillery of the rice whiskey – we tasted it also, very very strong! – that was very interesting!
We walked around the village and learnt about their life, the works that people do there, men the heavier works as building etc and women the weaving etc. Children go to school there, with an intermission at noon to eat and I imagine because of the difficulty to concentrate with that heat… It was very calm, simple, tidy and clean and very interesting to see it.
Our last day in Laos we had a few hours to spent so we decided to go to a natural park with a famous waterfall that we’ve been told there. On the route, we stopped at an elephant park, the Luang Prabang Elephant Camp, to see some elephants that were looked after there and to feed them. At least, this is what we’ve been told, because from what we saw the lovely animals were chained and gathered to a limited area. I’m not sure about their situation because it didn’t feel very good I must say. Though, it supposed to be a sanctuary for them, be protected and looked after there.
However, the elephants were the cutest, wanted to grab whatever we had in our hands to eat it and asking us for more with their trunk! We fed them bananas and squash slices and they sucked them up like a vacuum cleaner, to bring the food to their mouth!
So, finally we arrived at the Tat Kuang Si Waterfall park, 30km southwest of Luang Prabang! At first, we walked inside a forest, through paths, shelters and picnic tables admiring nature as much possible. We saw also a shelter with bears that was very funny because the time we’re passing by two cute bears were playing in a wooden platform for so much time! It reminded me my two cats, playing together, they seemed so carefree and happy! This is the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre, where wild Asiatic Moon bears, confiscated from poachers, are given a new lease of life.
And then…we faced this!
At first a series of cool, swimmable turquoise pools, with small waterfalls and thought that that was it, we were after all very impressed…but then we saw the big one!! Oh my god, I can’t describe how beautiful and unreal spectacle it was!!
Actually, from what I read in a sign there, the water flows over many limestone rocks on its journey from the spring, over the main falls and then the stepped travertine cascades. Limestone particles, containing high levels of calcium carbonate, collected along the way reflect light making the water appear to us as stunning turquoise blue color.
So, it was indeed a special effect, I wasn’t hallucinating from the lack of sleep…
Then, our guide had the bright idea to tell us that we could climb to the top if we wanted, to see the view from the mountain and where the water comes…and of course my brother found this idea very enticing… My mother lay on a bench, looked the trees and what else, she slept as we were going to check that challenge! While me and D. took the “certain” path to the top… I tell you now, if I knew it was so difficult, tiring and scary I wouldn’t do it!!! I started healthy and I descended sick, imagine that.
However, being inside such a forest, with all these exotic trees and plants, having this view from the top and the contradictory scenery of the calm water before the falling was very nice. But just nice!!
So, after descending and be in a safe environment, we enjoyed a little more the natural pools, D. actually swam in one of them and was very excited. I was feeling already sick so I didn’t want to risk it more.
Having this amazing experience as our last from Laos, we left very excited, with the best impression of that country, excited even more for out next stop: Cambodia!!
Stay tuned for the next post about the 2nd country of our trip!