After another fried egg breakfast, we took the ferry back to the mainland and drove to Khon Phapheng Falls, the largest on the Mekong (and one of the reasons why you can’t take a boat straight into Cambodia). It’s no Yosemite Falls, but was impressively raging. More interesting to us were the fishermen building elaborate bamboo fishing traps that use the rapids to force the fish out of the water.

Once the fish are propelled up onto the dry part of the trap, the fishermen must climb out and retrieve them. Very sketchy in early June, and in a few months when the water level is much higher, very dangerous.

From the falls, we drove back through Pakse to get to the Bolaven Plateau, an area known for its fertile soil, cooler climate and huge amount of unexploded ordnance still lying around after the Vietnam War. (Stay on the paths!)

Most of Laos’ premium coffee and tea is grown on the Plateau, and we stopped to visit a few plantations.

Pakxong tea plantation

yes, tea grows on trees

where the leaves are sorted and dried

We would’ve had a cup of tea with the elderly Mr. Pakxong (whose hilariously dumbstruck face adorns every bag of the plantation’s tea), but he was taking a nap. The plantation has been in the family for generations.

Just down the road was a coffee plantation teeming with ducks, geese and turkeys whose job was to eat the pesky bugs off the coffee plants and eliminate the need for pesticides. They’re like employees, really. They also poop all over, and voila! you’ve got your fertilizer. Zoological note: Laotian ducks have really short legs.

what raw coffee beans look like

don’t forget to wash

We had lunch overlooking the Dong Hua Sao National Protected Area – 1,100 sq km of dense, tiger-filled, tropical jungle. The open-air restaurant where we ate was part of an ecotourism operation that takes tourists around the edge of the NPA, which, to my sister’s chagrin, we didn’t do. Too muddy in wet season, To said. I was happy to sit among the other diners in the restaurant (a French motorcycling couple, a German woman, and a couple of American grad students) and breathe in the cool air. Did I mention how much cooler it was there? At least 10 degrees, and it felt like heaven. Also, much less sweating.

bastardized tractor/people cart parked outside the restaurant (and surrounded by teak trees) – a very common mode of transport

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