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Tracy's Journey

Laos

LAOS | Thursday, 5 May 2011 | Views [564]

So I ended up staying about a week in Luang Prabang taking it easy and slowly doing a few activities. I visited a few of the temples and ate at the night market one night. I had two excursions that I went on. First, visiting the Elephant Village to learn how to be a mahout (elephant caretaker & driver).  The Elephant Village is a sanctuary for elephants that are no longer being used in the logging industry. Elephants are on the extinct list and as logging becomes illegal in certain countries they don’t know what to do with the elephants that are no longer needed. They have been domesticated so chances are they will not survive in the wild, so hence tourist elephant camps are popping up to give the elephants a home and a way to earn their keep by working a few hours a day giving rides. Of course, some camps take better care of their elephants than others. I had the chance to spend a day and a half with the elephants. First, we had the opportunity to ride the elephant in the chair for about an hour thru the jungle and river.  Then we learned the commands for the elephant, (go right, go left, stop, forward, backwards, lift leg for mounting) and had the chance to ride on the elephant’s neck. This was a bit scary at first but once you learn how to keep your balance you feel like a pro. About 2:00, the elephant’s day is finished and we were able to ride them out to the jungle where they stay for the night.  In the afternoon, we got to relax and swim in a nice pool. As I was waiting for dinner, I was watching all the activity along the river. There was a boy about 10 years old that was fishing with a net and his little 3-year-old sister was falling him around, just playing, splashing, and swimming in the river. I don’t think he ever caught anything. Oh yeah, this river where they swim, bathe, and wash their clothes is also a place where the elephants piss & poo. Uuck! I tried not to think about it the next morning when I was in that same river giving the elephant it’s bath.  I spent the night there in a lodge and early the next morning walked out to pick up my elephant and rode him back to the river for its morning bath.  By the end, I was riding my elephant on the neck all by myself. I’m a quick learner! J

My other excursion was to Kuangsi waterfalls. It was very beautiful. When you look at the pictures, you will see many different pools.  These are the pools that were created from the falls as I walked up to the top. There were about 4 levels altogether.  The water was pretty cold but not as cold as the one I swam in at Yosemite a few years ago.

One morning I woke up early to greet the monks out on the street during their morning procession for alms. About 5:30 am, it is a custom for the monks to walk around town to gather their food for the day from the lay Buddhists.  Since the monks have taken a vow of poverty, the lay Buddhists provide food for them each morning.  Each monk carries a pot and the locals will throw a little bit of rice in each pot or give him some fruit.

On to Vang Vieng, it was about an 8-hour bus ride thru very beautiful countryside and mountains. The road was nothing but twists and turns; up and down the mountain the whole way. Luckily, our bus driver was driving slowly.  We had a very big double decker bus that took the whole road when he went around the curves. I really didn’t get nervous until we saw one bus that literally just laid down on one side along the mountain. Luckily, there was just a small gulley between the road and the mountain where it just laid down. But then we actually had to wait an hour stopped on the road for another big truck to be pulled off the side of the mountain where he ended up instead of the road after going around a curve. Vang Vieng is popular for its tubing down the river and it’s a big party place for young adults. It almost seems like the town only exists for this reason. All the restaurants in town cater to the young Western population of partying with lots of loud music and selling cheap buckets of alcohol. Also some of the bars have TV showing reruns of Friends and The Simpsons. Then along the river right on the water they have bar after bar with huge trapeze type swings that you use to swing out and jump in the river. To me it’s quite a dangerous mixture, all these people partying, getting extremely drunk, and jumping in the river. There are reports of several deaths and accidents each year.  And keep in mind, there are no emergency facilities anywhere close. I am little embarrassed how the young Western adult is portrayed here. However, I took a very nice tour of trekking, caving, and kayaking.  We hiked out to Elephant cave, which is a water cave. We sat in intertubes and floated thru the cave holding on to a rope. We also had headlamps as our only light. It was pretty cool! Quite a different experience from walking thru a cave. After lunch, we were able to kayak down the river for about two hours. We actually even had a few rapids! I was excited this was only my second time kayaking (first being in Halong Bay).  The scenery was breathtaking!

Just a couple hours to Vientiane (capital of Laos) and visit more temples. The main attraction here is about a 45-minute local bus ride out of town to Buddha Park. It is a collection of massive sculptures of Buddha and different Hindu deities.

 

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