We experienced two notable waterfalls today; only one was intentional.
After breakfast, we strolled aside the morning commuters to the local ecotour office, where we met our guide Mui for the day’s adventure. Mui loaded us into another “passenger pickup” taxi, and this time we slid east out of town, up roads aside the Nam Khan river. A quick stop to pick up three kayaks, and 45 minutes later we bumped our way down to the river’s edge, where a novice team wobbled us across the Nam Khan to our first experience – a guided tour of an integrated village.
Laos is arguably the most culturally diverse country per capita or area… the official language is Lao and that group is politically dominant, but 40% of the population is made up of Mon-Khmer groups, the Hmong, and other indigenous hill tribes: we’re told there are ~80 tribes and tongues. China has as many, but spread across 1.4 billion tongues… about 20x that of Laos. I guess when you’ve been bombed and invaded as much as Laos has, it’s easy to be chill about diversity.
The village is quite modest and we’re glad for the boys to see it – I only wish they’d ask more questions and talk less about video games. Sue and I make a point to ask about inter-tribe relationships, architecture, animals… anything to get them engaged. I hope for intellectual osmosis.
Beyond the village we hike through a teak tree farm and a rubber tree forest, then down a Romancing the Stone slope to the Nam Khan’s shore. Ben creates a bit of drama when his Crock sandal tumbles into the river and begins to drift downstream. Fortunately they float, and with a quick cellphone call our guide speed-dials a ferryman who fires up his longboat across the river and returns the wet sandal. Technology does make travel easier….
Ben and I then Sue and Max pair and paddle downstream to the landing for the Tad Sae waterfall resort. Most travelers take a motor longboat here and our kayaks appear to be a novelty… we’ll be in a lot of pictures. Entering the resort, we deem the ziplines too short and sketchy and opt for an “elephant bathing” adventure… but first the falls. They’re not as tall as Kuang Si, but they are better developed, safer and sunnier, and the boys and I enjoy a swim and throwing our well-traveled plastic football around for a bit before exploring the trails and lunch. After a bit of sunning we arrange for the boys’ “elephant swim,” which is great fun to watch. They’re trunk tips act like opposable digits, and the deftly take bananas from our hands and toss them in their mouth. Once the boys are on board the trainers navigate into the water, where the beasts submerge and re-emerge like a landlubbing leviathan. The boys will remember that swim!
Today the skies are crystal clear and it’s dry, so we’re happy to return to our kayaks and bake our way downstream. It’s a lazy river and as Ben and I float I’m scanning for any kind of water feature that might let me hark back to my glory days of closed-hull whitewater paddling. I poke into an eddy behind the only rock on the river and Sue expresses concern – good. About 30 minutes later I cross another sloppy eddy line where the river narrows and the current quickens… three wobbles in we flip. It’s completely my fault – sit on top boats just aren’t built for this kind of maneuver, but Ben is a good sport about it and after some serious ribbing from everyone (“Dad flipped on a Class 0 Rapid!”), we’re back on our way with a second water-fall story for the blog.
Tired from the active day, a power nap sets us up for a saunter down to the historic district where we find an upscale café in the expensive stretch of the peninsula. The broad menu pleases all, but we still suffer from second hand smoke… strange that the French are so particular about what goes into their stomachs and so unconcerned about what goes into their lungs.