Luang Prabang: part deux

Trip Start Oct 03, 2011
Trip End Dec 25, 2011

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What I did
Temple, waterfalls and elephants

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Disaster strikes! Uploading the Gibbon videos has upset the memory card; the photos are still on there but can't be read which means the next 2 blogs will be without photos. Onwards with the travels...

Refreshed from our 16.5 hour "sleeper" bus we check into our hotel nice and early and set out hunting for a well-earned breakfast. We splurge in one of the up-market joints and have banana pancakes and fruit smoothies galore. Back at the hotel a quick shower sees Amy ready for bed and Michael ready to explore, the mission is simple: find a hairdressers! Success sees him feeling a fair bit cooler and $4 worse off.

The girl who runs the hotel seems really nice (if a bit crazy) and later we all get chatting. It turns out she is Vietnamese and not Lao, and is shocked we thought otherwise. Apparently Lao people are lazy; when they get a job their first priority isn't how much it pays, but how many days off they get per week. We can understand that impression. Here everything happens when it happens, no rush. Having set our clocks to "Lao time" we have easily relaxed into the native pace of things.

That afternoon we walked over to the shimmering Wat Xieng Thong, leisurely strolling around the magnificent jeweled buildings in the heat. Earlier we had shed some of the weight of our backpacks by posting some goodies home, so that evening with space to fill we once again headed to the night market with kip to burn! We had taken a shine to the various lamps and lights and managed to purchase a few; unfortunately the huge paper stars were too big to fit in. So much for the lighter backpacks!

The next day is our last full day in Laos, eager to fit in as much as possible we have signed up to a whole day tour. Our tour guides are desperately keen to improve their good English and we happily chat away (Michael has to be on his toes not to slip into his deeper- unintelligible- Bradfordian accent at times). The morning is spent at Kuang Si falls, complete with bear sanctuary and turquoise pools. We bring our swimming gear and happily splash about, jumping in down a (small) waterfall and rope swing off an over-hanging tree. Just as we are getting out a Japanese tour walks past. Paparazzi snap our every move in the pool; Michael unwisely adopts a few Baywatch poses before we head off to the next attraction.

The afternoon sees us try our hand at elephant riding. We have a quick lunch at the lodge and head over to meet our hosts. For the main event the group splits into pairs for a ride on the wooden seats attached to the elephants back. Our Mahout guide plonks himself on the neck in front and we set off. The day is sweltering and we soon feel sorry for the elephant having to carry some heavy Westerners. Our concerns aren't unfounded as she promptly stops 10 minutes down the track. The Mahout shows her the spike used to gee her along. It's at this stage we realise that we might not have ended up at the bliss-full sanctuary we wanted to visit; instead it's the more touristy, seemingly crueler park. Our Mahout comes from the nearby region the elephants are from and has worked there a few months. He seems more inclined to persuade the elephant to walk where he wants than prod it, much to our relief, but we still fell a bit uncomfortable atop of the magnificent creature. A statistic: elephants live around 100 years in the wild, these "domestic" elephants have a life expectancy of 60. It seems for all the wrong reasons this visit will be a once in a life-time experience. After the walk we get to feed the elephant some bananas which is fantastic, if a little slobbery! We then ride another set of elephants Mahout style (sat on the neck) to the river for bathing which they appear to enjoy more than the walk. Given the heat, who can blame them. Back in the swimsuits, Amy gets sprayed through the trunk of her ride, Michael is unceremoniously dunked a couple of times as his elephant submerges itself.

After a good night's sleep (for the last 2 weeks or so we seem to have been dogged with a lack of sleep (i.e. less than 9 or 10 hours) due to horrendous bus journeys, hot, sticky rooms or busy bars below our bed. Laos was no exception: obviously critters in the forest were to be expected, but the first night here the loudest thunderstorm raged for 10 hours overnight, and the previous night the monastery next door celebrated some of it's members turning 18. How did they do that you ask? By staying up all night banging a blummin' drum continuously!), anyway, we sadly leave Laos to return to the hustle of Vietnam next door, a quick "Sabaidee" outside the hotel manages to bag a final tuk-tuk ride the few km back to the airport we arrived at 8 days ago. A quick change in Hanoi should see us arrive in Hue that evening...
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