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Luang Prabang

March 28, 2011

On its way to the Mekong, the stream drops 30 metres down a limestone cliff before flowing over a forested giant staircase of cascades separated by turquoise pools, such as the one pictured above. This is Kuang Si Falls, near Luang Prabang in Laos. Despite the many visitors, it is possible to find secluded spots to contemplate the water. The pools, milky blue-green from the limestone, are chilly but perfect for swimming on a hot day.

Near the falls is a sanctuary for rescued bears. Most are Asiatic Black Bears who were illegally captured as cubs, usually for the traditional medicine trade, ending up unable to move in small cages on “bile farms”. Free the Bears Fund Inc. (website here) does good work throughout the world, particularly in Asia, and deserves our support.

Colin Cotterill describes the cruel imprisonment and subsequent rescue of a black bear in Thirty-Three Teeth (my review here). He enters the bear’s point of view to express how much she loves her new life. I couldn’t find my way into the heads of the bears glimpsed at Tat Kuang Si, but they looked fit and healthy and seemed to be enjoying each other’s company.

Two days in Luang Prabang are not enough. It would be easy to spend a month or a lifetime in this UNESCO World Heritage town. It was the primary seat of the Lao kingdom that lasted for 620 years until the Communist Pathet Lao dispensed with the king’s services in 1975. There are must-sees, such as the royal palace and ancient temples, but the real attraction is just walking around, admiring the French colonial architecture, or breakfasting at an open air restaurant while looking down at the Mekong and up at the surrounding mountains. Time slows down.

Every morning hundreds of barefoot monks walk quietly along the street, their bowls gradually filling with sticky rice donated by devout citizens and, increasingly, tourists. The Pathet Lao tried to stop people supporting monks but Lao belief in Buddhism was too strong, so now they just go with the flow.

Luang Prabang is packed with excellent restaurants and many provide Lao cooking lessons. At Tamarind Restaurant

Deep Frying Stuffed Lemon Grass

outside the city, I learnt to make a dish I would never have thought possible – stuffed lemon grass. The stems are slit many times to form a cage, which is filled with a minced chicken-spice paste mixture and deep fried. Scrumptious.

Monks' Alms Procession

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ann Alcock permalink
    March 28, 2011 6:25 pm

    Nice photos.

  2. Claire Wood permalink
    March 30, 2011 12:30 pm

    Great description Bryce. I felt I was there. Liked the touch of irony and the added depth of your book review link.

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