Sound familiar? This is the second installment in our Bear Sanctuary travels – the first being back from our first trip in the Balkans last October. I’d say I’d think it’s the last, but there’s a magnetic power of attraction between David and me and orphan bear sanctuaries. And no, I’m not complaining.
The Kuang Si Falls, about 25km outside of Luang Prabang, Laos, are a staple on the town’s tourist circuit. A lesser known attraction at the falls, however, is the Sun and Moon bear sanctuary. Sad facts alert: In many parts of Asia (looking at you, China and Vietnam), bear bile (warning: GRAPHIC) is a prized ingredient thought to increase male virility and sexual prowess. Thus, native bears (Sun Bears and Moon Bears are the only species left indigenous to Southeast Asia) and often poached and kept in inhumane conditions in order to harvest the bile they produce.
Look, I’m not saying sex isn’t important. But if you can’t get it up, take a pill or talk to a shrink.
Back to the matter at hand – bears. The bear sanctuary is located directly inside the gate to the Kuang Si Falls park. In fact, tourists have to walk through it in order to get to the falls’ many swimming holes. There, like in the Bulgarian bear sanctuary that we visited, you can learn about the individual bears being rehabilitated there, the history of bear poaching in the area, and lots of other random facts about the bears native to the region.
I have conflicted feelings about the way the bears are on display at Kuang Si. My one concern, that of the bears being in too close of contact with too many tourists on any given day, is trumped heavily by the fact that those same tourists bring in revenue that help the plight of the bears – both in the sanctuary, and those still being poached from the wild. There are ample donation opportunities, as well, and a chart on display is transparent about where the money goes when you purchase a T-shirt or calendar from the sanctuary.
Ultimately, we enjoyed our stroll through the sanctuary, despite being surrounded by more tourists than we’d like (we can’t help being misanthropes, OK?). It’s encouraging to know that there are people in the world devoting themselves to these causes, and that tourists can make small gestures of understanding and appreciation through simple monetary donations – something we can feel good about after maybe drinking a cocktail bucket or two too many the night before.
You can get to the Bear Sanctuary from Luang Prabang either by hired share tuk tuk or motorbike. To get our own tuk tuk, it cost about $30 round trip, but it’s also easy to arrange a group to get a cheaper individual price. The trip is on winding roads and is hilly, so take Dramamine if you need it.
You can also rent motorbikes in town for about $10-$15 a day. Don’t take Dramamine and operate heavy machinery.