Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Kuang Si falls

Kuang Si falls are absurdly beautiful. This is where inspirational calendar imagery is made. Ridiculous. Sun beams streaming through misty air as water tumbles down from impossible heights and over ledges, spilling into milky, aquamarine pools below. Lush, green forest, full of massive strangler figs and all kinds of ferns. Plus, there's a bear rescue shelter on the walk to the falls that I would have liked to explore more. I could have spent the whole day here.

Unfortunately we didn't have the whole day to spend here. Kuang Si falls are only about 35 km from Luang Prabang, but takes almost an hour to drive, so we looked around at the travel options, and the most economical option was to go by minibus, which gave us exactly 2 hours to hike around the falls and go for a quick swim. Not nearly enough time! We should have paid the extra money to rent a motorbike and spent the day there. That way we wouldn't have had to be on someone else's itinerary. An itinerary that also included a stop at an "authentic" Hmong village, which unfortunately had that hurry-up-put-that-TV-away-the-tourists-are-coming! feel... We had precisely 10 minutes to visit the village. 

As soon as we stepped off the bus, adorable children in traditional dress greeted us with you-buy-one-dollar-good-price-for-you-pretty-bracelet. As did every villager we passed on the 500 m paved circuit through the village where our bus was ready and waiting with the engine going at the other end. How do these operations start? Do we blame the first traveler/tourist who ever asked 'hey, do you make pancakes with banana?' or do we blame ourselves for thinking 'mmmm, that banana pancake sounds delish!' and perpetuating cultural sacrifices so that we can have a travel experience that doesn't challenge us too much? Or is this just an unavoidable part of a place becoming well traveled?

It's just difficult to accept a contrived situation that was created precisely for you and by you. And how am I supposed to have a meaningful encounter with anyone in 10 minutes, especially when their livelihoods depend on my buying that bracelet and moving on. They don't want a meaningful encounter with me, I'm just another tourist. But how do you support the culture but show you're not just another tourist, and that you're interested in more than just these identical souvenirs?

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that looks amazing!
    Thanks for your commentary on the authenticity of the experience. That must be frustrating.