Trekking again

Trip Start Mar 10, 2007
Trip End Jan 01, 2007

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Thursday, August 2, 2007

Savannakhet was to be the base for my trek into the Dong Natad NPA, so i spent the first day arranging that and killing time in the 'city that always sleeps' (there is nothing to do at all there). Thought the the dinosaur museum in town might, although very small, prove a novel and cheesy way to kill some time, so off i headed. Little did i realise until i paid for my ticket and got inside that it was literally a room about 10m square, and more importantly that all the displays were labelled in two languages only:- Lao and French. Schoolboy french wasn't enough sadly to get the gist of what they were saying so i left after about two minutes, with the rest of the day to waste still!
       The trek itself was really interesting, and far more informative than the rest of the treks i have previously been on. Our local guide for the first day spent most of the time pointing out things that were and were not edible, and giving us to try those that were. Obviously i enjoyed this trek a great deal! Notable bits of information he gave us were these huge, ugly looking spiders that you can eat, a plant that you can rub between your hands with a little water to produce natural soap (despite Chris' bad attempt in my video, it really does work!) and a piece of tree bark that tastes really really sweet and good. If they market hat here in Asia, they'd make a fortune, as the Asians love to lace everything with sugar. Our first stop on our walk was Nong Lom lake, where we were told the ancient story of the lake (I'll spare you that, its not too interesting). We also saw how the villagers cut huge holes in some of the trees, then burn the holes for about five minutes. This has the effect of making the tree secrete its natural oils, which the villagers then use as a fuel source. It was more interesting than i make it sound , ok!
        So i have photos of numerous bugs, mushrooms and nuts that i saw along the way, which I'll put up when i remember my camera lead.
     In the evening we had a traditional Baci ceremony, which is a ceremony that is performed in several occasions, notably; to welcome people into a house, at weddings and at funerals i believe. Before that though we were inevitably fed the customary shots of rice wine that you get meeting any Lao family. The baci ceremony consisted of each member of the family (from eldest to youngest) saying a short prayer/blessing to use before tying a white band round our wrist, whilst we held out an offering of food. I therefore have about twenty soggy wet smelly pieces of string round my right arm now that i really should cut off. Once again the food we were then served was amazing, and i was thoroughly stuffed, which made it easier to sleep at the ridiculous bedtime of half past eight!
        Second day contained a lot less walking, but an early wake up to take part in an alms giving ceremony at the local temple. This is the ceremony Buddhist families take part in every day which involves going to the temple and giving an offering of food to the monks, in order for the monks to share their blessings with the people. It is believed that the monks earn these blessings by studying in the temple and observing the teachings of Buddha,and as such only monks in temples gain these blessings from Buddha. Hence for the people it is very important to take part in this ceremony in order to receive these blessings themselves. Also if they didn't the monks wouldn't be able to eat!
         What it consisted of was us wearing these sash type things, then kneeling in front of the monks and performing a wai/bow three times, then walking forward on our knees and placing our food in the monks alms bowl, our food being a bizarre mix:- two balls of sticky rice and some strawberry wafer bars, then returning to the kneeling position whilst the monks shared their blessings with us by way of prayer. It was all very interesting, though since i have lost all muscle in my legs long ago i was concentrating more on not screaming sue to the pain in my knees:- i nearly fell over when we go up!
        Coffee and a mammoth breakfast followed (Yes), then a short walk around the village before walking to the 'old city'. This was where the villagers used to live before they moved to their current location and is now little more than a few piles of rubbish.
         A little walking more before lunch at turtle lake, before we exited the Protected area and visited That Ing Ha, the second most important religious monument in Laos. Buddha is believed to have stopped here when he was sick during his 'wanderings' in BC times. They believed he rested by leaning (Ing) on a hang tree, hence the name. It is a multi tiered structure, the second tier being added in the 18th century, and the stupa itself is believed to contain a replica of Buddhas spine. Gross. Thats pretty much all that happened to me in Savannakhet. Once the trek was finished i got straight onto a bus for Tha Khaek, my base for an attempted visit to Kong Lor cave.
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