20.05.2008 - 25.05.2008
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We arrived in Luang Prabang at night, around 8 pm, paid erroneous fees to get through customs and then found a hotel and began exploring the city. Luang Prabang has a huge night market, but because we got there late, it was nearly finished, AND my Visa card wouldn't work in the ATMs so we decided to call it an early night.
The next day we explored around, trying to find another brand of ATM. After 2 hours of walking around in the sweltering heat, we learned that there were no other ATMs in the city and instead ended up just getting a cash advance.
Laos money in hand, we got some food, and then after haggling with a few drivers, settled on a Tuk Tuk to take us to the waterfall with Adam and Adrian.
Welcome to our primary mode of transport: tractor/truck/moto turned taxi Tuk Tuk. Stellar.
The drive was about 45 minutes or so, and it was really pretty. Laos is such a beautiful country, with so many uninhabited areas, it is a pity there are so many UXO bombs littered throughout the forests so you can't just go aimlessly explore anymore. Keeping with Laos, the waterfall was also very beautiful and we decided to hike up one side to see the view from the top. The hike was not s fun, as it was straight up a mountain, and I was wearing flip flops. Luckily I didn't fall to hard, and we eventually made it to the top.
Testing fate as we peered over the edge at the falls below
At this point, we decided to try to get down on the other side, which was an adventure in and of itself. We actually started out the right way *shocking, but thought we were wrong so we ended up going a different way for a while. After walking for a few minutes we realized we were just walking away from the waterfall and turned around. Eventually we made it down, and the path was much easier, mainly with steps, compared to the cliff scaling of the other side.
Once at the bottom we walked down the falls a bit and went swimming in beautiful turquoise pools at the base of smaller falls. While it was gorgeous, it was also freezing. I could only stand to be in there for a bit, but enjoyed it all the same. After swimming, we returned to our Tuk Tuk driver, who, slowly, took us into town (we were passed multiple times). It was fine though, it's not like we had anywhere to be. I did however enjoy my first drink in a bag. I don't know if I was just really thirsty, but this was the best shake I think I had on my entire trip. Pineapple heavenliness really. I debated going back up to the waterfalls just to get another shake!
Beverages served in bags: another fabulous thing about Asia.
Getting passed... again.
That night we all enjoyed an Indian dinner, which of course, was delicious. Dinner was followed by a walk through of the night market. Luang Prabang has a fabulous night market, that spans down nearly 3 full city blocks, chock full of vendors and artists hawking souvenirs. I found some really cool bamboo guns. They reminded me of the rubber band guns of my youth... oh good times.
The next morning we set out to book some sort of Elephant excursion, after looking at many, we decided on a 'Mahout Trip' where we would learn how to drive the elephant as well as just ride it. I was excited, especially since riding an elephant was the main thing I wanted to do in Asia while I was there. We ended up doing little else as it was so hot, and the electricity was cut to the city (something about a big building being built that required the entire city to be without power, "or else the workers will die" they said). We spent another night at the market, buying souvenirs and such, and being disgusted by the amount of flies that were everywhere. I am pretty sure they eat them though, since all the ladies were waving bags and catching the bus, and then later I saw large piles of their wings... tasty? I think not.
The next morning we got up bright and early to feed the monks before we left for our elephant excursion. In Laos (and maybe everywhere) the monks walk around on the streets each morning to get food for the day. Apparently they eat only what they are given and only before 12 noon. Anyhow, Brooke and I had talked to a few people the day before and they had told us to get up around 5:45 and to go to the street and we would be able to buy sticky rice and banana leaves from women to give to the monks as they walked down the street. So that is exactly what we did.
It was a cool experience, we had only one issue, when a random lady tried to throw a whole lot of food on our tray and then demand we pay her money. It is sad that people are trying to rip off people that are feeding the monks. Seems like a double bad thing...
Feeding the monks... notice lady #2 about to swoop in and drop all her food...
After the monk feeding experience we got all packed up for our elephanting and headed to the agency to catch the bus. A short bus ride later (less than 20 minutes) and we were at the Mahout Camp. The camp was located across a very dirty river, so we took a rickety looking junk across the river. Upon arrival, we immediately saw the elephants. They were standing in the shade, having a morning snack of leafy goodness. Their drivers (Mahout's) were lazily napping on their backs, and it was definitely a great first view.
The baskets are secured with multiple ropes...
Because we had booked the Mahout package, we had to change into fabulously hideous elephant driving clothes, which were quite stylish to say the least. It beat getting our regular clothes all gross though.
Of the 12 people who had rode with us to the camp, only 5 of us were doing the Mahout portion, with the remainder doing only a day trip. Since there were only 6 elephants, we doubled up and started back across the river, this time in the basket on top of our elephants.
Crossing the river was an adventure, it felt like we were going to fall off some times though, which would have been less than enjoyable. After riding for about 10 minutes, our Mahout, perched on the elephants head, turned around and said to me in broken English, "You drive now." I was a bit taken back, as we were moving and I didn't really know how I was going to get out of the basket and onto the head of the elephant without falling, but not to be outdone, I nodded and haphazardly maneuvered myself from the basket to the head. Now this was cool. A bit freaky, but really cool. Or Mahout was teaching me the words to use to get the elephant to go, "Bpa" or something meant GO, "Qua" meant right, "Sai" left, and "YA" no. I really don't think the elephant listened to me at all, as the driver just kicked from the basket, but it was still cool nonetheless. After 'driving' for about 15 minutes, the driver turned to Brooke and said "Now you drive." I thought getting into the driving position was difficult, but it turned out to be much harder to get back into the basket from the head. Pretty much the Mahout ended up just picking me up off the head and placing me in the basket... good thing I am so little.
Brooke drove us to the lunch area, where we had a meager and mostly tasteless lunch.
At least the elephants enjoyed their lunch
After lunch we went back to the elephants, this time starting on the heads as the drivers, each of us on our own elephant. We ended up driving the elephant back all the way to the camp, through the river, and bathing the elephants in the river... or were bathed by our elephants, which was more of the case with Brooke. Fun though.
Brooke had a submarine elephant
Exiting the bath
After getting soaked we took tubes out and floated down the river. It was more like we paddled down the river since it was so calm, but it was pretty hot outside, so it actually felt pretty good. I just had to not look at the water, or think about how all of the elephants had poo'd in it as we had crossed... so nice. Dinner was amazing, again, when local people are cooking you the food, it is so tasty! Of course I gorged myself nearly to the point of pain, but it was so worth it. Because the bugs were out in full force and we were nearly out of our bug spray, we decided to turn in early for the night, and avoid getting completely eaten.
The next morning we got up bright and early to eat breakfast before we drove the elephants back to the lunch area. Driving the elephants was fun again, but my legs were getting sore as the elephants rough skin and prickly hair were rubbing them raw.
Chillin on the elephant, trying to keep my legs off of the prickly skin.
I was happy to be off in the end, but it was worth it for sure. After we dismounted our elephants (which was also an adventure, as I was trying to get off mine without falling in a river of pee from the elephant in front of me, it could have been tragic, but somehow I managed to not fall in the pee) we went out 'bamboo rafting'.
See the pee river?
Look at me! I'm on an elephant (note the enthusiasm, this photo was taken early in the day)
While bamboo rafting sounds cool, it turned out to be not so great, as we were stuck on a tiny raft that didn't go very fast with tons of spiders. I don't know if the spiders were just living in the raft and then when we put it in the water they all came out or what, but for the first 45 minutes of the rafting we kept getting bombarded by huge nasty looking spiders. Gross.
Rafting was followed by another bland lunch which was followed by a 2 hour trek through villages, across rivers, through fields and finally through the forest. It was a beautiful trek, albeit scorching. I wrapped my sarong around my shoulders to avoid getting burnt, and sometimes I actually had it over my head as well.
It was definitely a sweaty experience to say the least. After the trek we were taken by bus back to Luang Prabang, where we randomly ran into Leigh (he had come up through Laos and had just arrived from Vang Vieng) and had dinner and did one last pass through of the night market.
Our hiking trail
I really enjoyed Luang Prabang. Granted it is very hot, but the people are fabulous, and they make a mean smoothie (unlike the crappy ones of Vietnam... but I'm not bitter). I would have liked to spend more time here, but as it always goes, time is always short and we had to fly out from Bangkok one week later, so we weren't really able to stay any longer. It is definitely a must see though for any SE Asia trip for sure though.