MP3 track of the day: Jessie paints a picture - Joshua Kadison
Weather: Pretty cold, cloudy though no rain
I was up, ready and waiting at our meeting point at 10am … unfortunately not many of the others were. The two Fabera's were having breakfast, Mike was having a shower and the two from the 'Isle of White' weren't even up yet. To cut a long story short it was another two hours before everyone was downstairs and ready to go … I was pretty annoyed having wasted two hours of my life just waiting for others. Actually I didn't spend the whole time waiting, I took a few photos of the French-colonial style buildings that surrounded me, had a look at a pretty impressive temple and checked the local tour offices for a day trip to the 'Plan of Jars'. The up-shot is that the 'Plain of Jars' are just too far away for a day trip. I either need to do a two/three day tour or get a bus there. I wasn't really happy with either solution however the bus sounded like the best, and cheapest, option so it looks like I shall be spending a couple of days in Phonsavan, the nearest city to the 'Plain of Jars'.
Finally, at 12pm, we were all ready and we hired ourselves a truck thing, and a driver, for 190,000 kip (£15) to drive us to the waterfalls, wait for us, and then drive us back into town. The original plan was to see some caves and the waterfalls today however, due to our late start, we didn't have the daylight left to do both. As the truck was open sided smoking was allowed; we had devised a seating plan where the non-smokers got in first. The theory was that, as we drove along, the smokers could light up near the rear of the vehicle and the smoke would exit straight away meaning that I wouldn't, yet again, have to put up with a cloud of smoke in my face … it worked, but not brilliantly. The ride wasn't as bad as I was expecting, there were very few potholes – though there were a few dodgy wooden bridges – and time passed quickly due to us all chatting away. It was a pretty cold ride and I couldn't believe how many cigarettes people smoked; one after the other went into peoples mouths and it made me think why was such a disgusting habit was socially acceptable … spitting or breaking wind aren't and yet I find these two less of a health risk.
We eventually made it to a make-shift car park surrounded by food and tourist shops. It cost 20,000 kip (£1.60) to enter the waterfalls which we all paid. First thing we found was a bear enclosure, about a five minute walk from the entrance. I don't like seeing animals enclosed however this was a bear sanctuary. Within South East Asia a bears boil is used in traditional medicines which results in bears being put in cages, only just big enough for them to curl up into, and periodically injected with large needles to extract this liquid. Now there are alternatives on the market however this barbaric, and very painful, process still occurs and this sanctuary has rescued these bears and put them within this large fenced off area to protect them … it's not the perfect solution but I suppose it's better than the alternative.
We took a couple of photos before walking a further five minutes to the start of the waterfalls. One huge waterfall, and four smaller ones with pools, stretched along a ten minute walking route. The first and fourth small waterfall with pool could not be used for swimming however the other two could. It wasn't the waterfalls themselves which were interesting (I've seen much nice ones within Derbyshire) it was the water. Either crystal clear, or a very rich light blue, the water here was the cleanest that I have seen within South East Asia which lead to the group asking the question of 'why' … which was never fully answered.
The first pool was quite picturesque with the waterfall in the background and a beautiful light blue pool in front. I sat down to get my camera out to take a few shots however, before I realized it, the others were off as there wasn't any swimming … which was nice of them. The second pool was much larger than the first and it had an overhanging tree, which you could walk up, with a piece of rope attached that you could use as a rope swing. We spent ages watching young people climbing this tree and then swinging into the water below. Now I was wearing my coat at the time and so there was no way that I was going to follow other tourists plunging themselves into, what must be, the freezing waters below (plus this is Laos' dry season so I didn't know how deep the pool was). Mike, the American guy with us, was up for it and so he got changed and went in; the others, including I, waited around taking photos and chatting to others whilst watching people swing themselves into the pool (some with more grace than others). I didn't mind waiting for Mike as, out of the group, I think I liked his attitude the most and after four or five swings we were all ready to move on again.
The next pool was more picturesque than the first however, yet again, the group moved onto the main waterfall as no swimming was allowed here. This left me to photograph the area which included a massive spider just chilling on her web. I then made it to the main waterfall but instead of re-joining the group I went in search of the best photographing spots and shot away. I eventually caught up with the rest of them on a small pathway as close to the main waterfall as possible; again the falls were nice but not massively impressive.
Finally three of the guys wanted to climb as high as they could – hopefully walking over the top of the waterfall – using a set of steps to the left of the falls. I was pretty tired at this point and so I, and the rest of the group, headed out of the park to meet the guys back at the truck. We walked quite slowly, stopping occasionally along the way, before we reached the entrance. I met the couple from Essex - who were still alive - and they were having a great time. We all had a spot of lunch at the local stalls around us before getting on the truck and heading back to Louang Phabang.
The driver took us a different way back to the way we had come. Again the truck soon filled up with smoke and I reckon sticking my mouth around the trucks exhaust would have been better for my health. We were back in town at around 4:30pm and we decided to meet up, near the night market, at around 7:30pm. Not wanting to waste more of my day waiting I went back to my guesthouse to internet myself up. I was particularly glad to see that my Japanese parcel had made it home and that my younger brother had just achieved great grades for two modules at university … well done to him.
Yet again I had quite a lot to do and at 7:30pm I still wasn't finished. Due to the groups amazing record of being ready on time I decided to continue my work and I eventually left my hostel around 8pm making it to our meeting point at 8:15pm … forty-five minutes late. I waited around for a while but no one was there; I checked out the food market (and had tea at the same time) but again no one was around. I decided to have a look in the bar we were at yesterday and again the same story as above. Now I wasn't really that bothered, the last two days had been okay but pretty annoying (and I was looking forward to being on my own again) however the rest of the group were moving on tomorrow and so it would have been nice to say goodbye.
At 9:15pm I gave up looking, headed back to my hostel, and feel asleep almost immediately … I must have been pretty tired. Tomorrow the real sightseeing starts.