Things start looking up again when we go to Kuang Si falls. Go to the waterfall, everyone says. We’re skeptical, but ready for a change from wandering the hot streets.

We start by hiring a minivan and driving through curvy streets, swerving to avoid chicken & ducks in the road. We see people hauling around cows & buffalo. Water buffalo wallow in the mud.

The falls live up to their billing. Layer after layer of turquoise pools. The guidebooks warn about freshwater & leeches, but I decide fuck it, I’ll go for a swim. Jane comes with me. The water is cool & refreshing, invigorating. Fish nibble our toes. I sit under the falls and feel the water pounding my back. I swim and float and finally feel happy again.

At dinner we watch the sun set over the Mekong. We go to the Night Market. Rows upon rows of cotton pants printed with elephants — or elephant pants, as we like to call them. Jane buys a sarong, mercifully free of elephants.

Writing about the third world is hard. If you romanticize, you run the risk of rendering the poverty in the area insignificant, or of justifying it. But if you don’t, you’re a grumpy Westerner who can’t see your own privilege. The truth, I guess, is somewhere in between.