The Xishuangbanna Region, in the deep south of Yunnan, is next to the Myanmar (Burma) and Laos borders. This fascinating cross-cultural area has a real laid-back feel to it and it's easy to slowly visit small towns; the Dai Buddhist temples and surrounding villages of the Hani, Lisu, Yao, Jinuo people. Xishuangbanna Region is home to many endemic species of plants and wildlife and has an ever diminishing number of wild tigers, leopards, elephants and golden-haired monkeys. We weren't fortunate enough to encounter any wild creatures face to face and we chose not to pay great sums for a 'wild' tourist experience.
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280 Kms from Xishuangbanna
Where: Laos What to do: Hike to Mount Phou Si, then take the steep staircase to the Wat Chom Si shrine that overlooks the network of rivers flowing through the city. Have a French style breakfast with delicious coffee at Joma Cafe, a popular local cafe chain in Laos. Wake up early to witness the fantastic morning market in its full fervour. Head to any of the many natural attractions, such as Kuang Si Falls, Tat Sae Waterfalls or Pak Ou Caves.
258 Kms from Xishuangbanna
When we arrive in Nong Kiaow, we realise that to see a place so beautiful, sometimes you have to suffer to be deserving of the view. Nong Kiaow is separated in two. One area for locals, the other seemingly built of guesthouses. We make our way across the bridge on foot to our designated Falang bungalow, and begin to drink in slowly, the view with a beer Lao on Laos time.
99 Kms from Xishuangbanna
At 3.30am my alarm rings in to the deep dark, reminding us to dress warmly for the early morning trek through mountain roads bordering China. In convoy we set off out of Luang Nam Tha for the two hour journey to Muang Sing. The promise there is of hidden cultures, away from any Westernisation, where there are no routes for eighteen year olds searching for a drink in a car tire. Up and up through darkness that relaxes in to mountain mist and morning dew we climb. Eventually we find our way to the market, a melting pot of Hmong, Akha and Black Thai women selling vegetables, home made clothing and eels that try to escape their plastic bowls. The freshest of fresh produce here. While visiting a beautiful waterfall, just outside of Muang Sing in the golden triangle, I am met with a scene from Stig of the Dump. As we walk to the falls a narrow trail stretches in front of us, leading us up the side of the river. Suddenly the sound of a log crashing through the trees falling behind us breaks our chatter and I look up to see forest debris tumbling after an unknown entity causing this wake of destruction. We look in unison at the river a few feet below. An enormous dark green python slithers off the rocks and in to the river. At the waterfall we are greeted by a small, and dry-season-depleted, green rocky resting point. Water splashes down in to a shallow pool creating a miniature cooling breath and the accompanying view of the golden triangle and it's mountains hold our imaginations. Until I look back to the waterfall and logs for a seat. White plastic food dishes, wrappers, torn chocolate cases and plastic bags litter and mar the scene. My heart sinks and I lose my patience at the rattan sack serving as a bin sits impotently next to the debris. These places will not last if they are not looked after and by the locals too. It doesn't take infrastructure to put rubbish in a bin. Taking matters in to my own hands I set about clearing the rubbish heap while my fellow travellers look on.
238 Kms from Xishuangbanna
The one thing I remember clearly when talking about Pak Beng is the warning in the Lonely PLanet that Pak Beng is mostly famous for the fact that bags get stolen out of the hotelrooms…. Stuff like that always makes me nervous. Carrying a lot of camera gear around is not always good for your sanity and/or your back.. ;) If you take the slow boat from Chiang Khong (Thailand) to Luang Prabang you’re most likely to have a stop over in Pak Beng. It’s an uneventful little town, with a few guesthouses and a few restaurants and that’s about it. Good enough for one night but not something you want to stay any longer!