The usual cacophony of contrapuntal cadences rising from the throats of free-roaming roosters welcomes in the morning.
At least we’re grateful it’s not the barking of dogs.
It’s earlier than I first realise; perhaps because I’m looking at my watch through super-blurry eyes having found it difficult to get off to sleep last night at any time before midnight; or maybe my body clock’s been thrown out of skew after being perhaps otherwise over-stimulated by the amount of goods available at the hundreds of stalls – & the brilliant prettiness of colour & lights – experienced along the length of the night Market in Sasavangvong Road some hours ago.
Though my eyes begin to focus on the new carry bag I’d purchased for 155,000 kip ($20 Australian) that’s now standing as a less-than-rustic adaptation of a more serious piece of Hmong checkerboard needlecraft at the bottom of my bed, & I’m pleased with my decision to choose it rather than any other less individualistic version.
And while it’s now filled with other former & more recent purchases I realise I’m choosing to buy a selection of orange tonings this journey rather than perhaps the blues I gathered in Hoi An in 2008.
Ben didn’t buy much at all at the Markets. He’d said – & shown by his disinterested ambling at close-enough proximity to the rear of my right shoulder, though never-ever-close-enough-to-touch; nor-too-distant-to-lose-visual-contact – he’s ‘over the buying experience’ he’d so looked forward to; the one I’d been preparing him for in this ‘best of all places’ to splurge tourist dollars.
Though today he may approach things differently. He’s certain to feel the niggling pressure of the wad of American greenbacks at his belly.
I let him sleep while I spend time on the communal computer, catching up on the news from home.
He eventually joins me while I’m enjoying an omelette & baguette in the breakfast pavilion.
He appears to be in a much brighter mood. He orders his meal, eats, & slurps his Lipton tea from a white cup.
Breakfasts over, we cruise past the raucous classrooms up from the guesthouse, in Chao Tonkham Road,
then turn right into Setthalath Road
to find the more established stalls of the Dala Market shopping complex. And though there’s nothing that really interests us ( other than the cute shenanigans of an adorable toddler with a makeshift pram) …
Ben does manage to buy a navy cap though I decline buying the collection of ten little pouches I gather from a basket of hundreds that are similar in concept to my Cambodian hand-stitched camera case; because, firstly, I can’t negotiate a low enough price to please; & secondly, I have no spare kip in my money belt to offer any more.
So we walk away. And I can only but presume I’ve not caused any serious loss of face since I’m not encouraged back with a lowered price that could better close the deal in this cut-throat tourist haven, for both of us.
Nonetheless I walk on with a slightly heavy heart knowing we’ve both lost out in one way or another; when transactions might perhaps have ended as a win/win, for business & for tourism.
Yet there’s time enough to gather different glimpses of Luang Prabang on the way that help brighten my thoughts:
even the ‘tuck shop’ at the local primary school we’d passed earlier in the day;
the gathering of sons at the family BBQ, street-side, …
and the extensive range of goodies available at the shop across the road.
At eleven o’clock, eight of us tumble into the pre-ordered tuk-tuk & head south for 28 kms towards the picturesque Kuang Si Falls, agreeing to share the 20,000 kip fare between us when we’re returned later in the afternoon.
The tuk-tuk mostly putters along for about an hour as it winds through hills with spectacular views – including terraced rice fields, & road-hugging villages – though it occasionally belts along at top speed – guesstimated to be ‘around 50-60 km/h’ according to both Karl & Roly – only slowing down to almost-a-dead-stop so as to negotiate a one-lane wooden bridge, or two; or for the driver to pay over money at a tuk-tuk checkpoint.
Once past the parking point & ticket buying booth, following along well-trodden pathways & across solid bridges
we find the falls become incrementally more beautiful & photogenic the higher we trace its tiers.
The pools are peacock blue, & clear. The water is mountain-chill cool. And there are so many opportunities for our cameras to be engaged capturing the wonderful displays of Mother Nature at her best that my memory card is soon full so I have to then erase some to make space for something even better.
We stop short of the final section because it requires time spent negotiating the ‘Trekking Way,’ & and anyway I’ve possibly been that way before in 2010 (though from the opposite direction, & starting in the village of Ban Long).
It’s when the young girls tell me about balancing their way across a length of bamboo spanning the spillway I know it’s definitely the place I’d visited during a cross-country trek towards the Falls & our final meeting point – the swimming hole with the ladder built onto the slippery-smooth tree limb & the notched rope suspended somewhat out of reach – except for those endangering life & limb with an elongated precarious stretch, risking immersion in the waters below before one’s even touched the swing.
After taking too many photos from every possible angle – & more that will become reminders of our presence in yet-another Paradise abroad –
Ben’s camera-finger similarly turns busier than a beaver building a dam of sticks …
everything reflecting the blue-tinged existence he generally inhabits, until I bend his actions to my will & urge that he adds a touch of colour – & frivolity – to his compositions
Of course, otherwise & elsewhere there’s also the relatively-free-roaming bears to see : the Malayan Moon Bears & the Laotian Sun Bears;
those rescued from poachers possibly seeking bile to extract for medicine, perhaps merely as a remedy for headaches.
Both species are relatively small in size compared to other Asiatic Black bears, as a row of replica figurines demonstrate.
We gather a few snack items at one of the marketplace stalls set up on the periphery of the parking area; though not the chicken bits we notice grilling on bamboo skewers.
Ben buys a long-sleeved tan shirt for 35,000 kip that’s similar to one purchased in Byron Bay. There’s even enough time to check out some impressive craftsmanship at one of the nearby artisans’ galleries.
After the allocated two hours we gather at the tuk-tuk ready for the return journey; and all filled with stories to tell, the youngsters still dripping wet & chilled to the bone by the time we reach our Luang Prabang guesthouse & part with our requisite cash portions, each according to Karl’s calculations.
We make a quick dash through the temple grounds to the Joma Bakery for a very late snack round three, then set off to peruse the shops on Setthalath Road seeking out a place to burn my photos onto a DVD. Each place we locate finds the task impossible. I begin to think it might be time to upgrade my camera to one with a more-easily-recognisable memory card. Still we overcome the problem by transferring Ben’s photos onto a disc for 30,000 kip at a recommended DVD-burning joint on Phommathat Road, so freeing up his camera for our sunset viewing on Mount Phu Si, & in preparation for the up-coming Mekong journey.
We find ourselves at the rear entrance to the mountain, & walking up & along a path I never knew existed. What a serendipitous find! This is by far the more beautiful climb of Phu Si Mountain. Take a look at the wonderful variety of impressive Buddhas we found along the way: