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Breakfast on the river terrace as usual, then we got in a pre-arranged mini-van for a 45 minute drive to the Kuang Si Waterfall park and, more importantly, the Bear Rescue Centre near its entrance. This amazing Australian charity was set up by a Perth grandmother after she watched a TV programme about the horrific treatment of bears in SE Asia and China, especially their exploitation for bloody Chinese medicine, a process too horrifically cruel to describe. My god, human beings are utter bottom-feeding scum sometimes.

The bears can’t be released into the wild in Laos, but the charity is taking care of previously ill-treated bears (mostly moonbears) here, and at a new centre under construction. There are other centres in Vietnam and Cambodia too, and the work they’ve done has been amazing—they’ve also managed to wipe out the cruel tradition of ‘dancing bears’ in India.

So we donated US$100 and Nikki, an English woman who runs the place, gave us a tour from 10am-12pm and 2-3pm. It was just wonderful. After lots of information about the centre, we hid the bears’ food all around one of the outdoor enclosures, and then I wiped shrimp paste over tree trunks and put gobs of it into knot holes with a stick, while Carol sprayed garlic juice around. The bears came out and spread out to find their food. The shrimp paste is like catnip to them and they licked it off the wood and rubbed their heads and necks in it.

Nikki told us all their names and histories and described their individual personalities; they also each have a uniquely-shaped collar of white fur which is individual to each bear.

At midday we walked up to the falls, which were a very pleasant series of light turquoise pools fed by a spectacular waterfall. Lots of tourists about of course, as it’s a popular day trip from Luang Prabang, and several tourists—mostly in their 20s—ignored the signs expressly requesting modesty and wore bikinis or, if male, went bare-chested. More cultural insensitivity. As always, people took pictures of each other with narcissistic fervour, arranging themselves in ridiculous glamour poses for Instagram posts. We ate some chips for lunch, and I waded in the water up to my ankles.

Back to the bears! We made parcels of dog biscuits, peanuts, and sunflower seeds wrapped in big palm leaves and tied with thin strips of bamboo, then threw these into the enclosures, making sure every bear got their own parcel. In the upper enclosure, where there were just males and the viewing platform was raised above ground level, they got very excited and all ran towards us up on their hind legs—a wonderful sight to see. They are such beautiful animals and it was such a privilege to help feed them and contribute to their care for a day.

It took us a while to find our driver—he had been waiting up by the park entrance while we passed him and went to the car—but he finally appeared and we headed back, stopping on the way at a buffalo dairy (also run by Australians, funnily enough). However they were swamped with a school travel group so we got sick of waiting to try a bowl of buffalo milk ice cream and left.

Back in the city, we got the driver to drop us at a supermarket and got some more bug spray, then walked back to the hotel and had a drink on the river terrace. Dinner at Tamarind, which was full of people; not surprising as the food and service are excellent.

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