111021 Luan 21 October

 

We decided we would like to finish our holiday with something different so went to The Elephant Village some 20 kms north from Luan Prabang in the jungle. We arrived at this meticulously prepared resort where the mission statement is ‘saving elephants is our mission’. Laos was known as the Land of the Million Elephants but the elephant in Laos is now an endangered species.  Some 1,600 remain of which an estimated 560 still work in the forest harvesting timber.  These elephants face a bleak future of hard work and abandonment.  The aim of The Elephant Village is not only to rescue working elephants from the harsh abusive environment in which they must make a living, but give them a brighter future, allowing them to roam freely in the jungle, group together in herds, mate and start families. The activities with the animals plus the accommodation at the resort, provide funds to support the elephants.

When we arrived, we were taken by boat to the other side of the river.  There we took part in the morning wash.  The elephant lifts one leg which acts as a step, then you hold onto the ears and haul yourself up to sit right under the ears.  We can tell you that it made us quite nervous being so high up just hanging onto the ears.  The Mahout (trainer/handler) sits behind.  The elephant lumbers into the river and is instructed to sit down. Then you are given a scrubbing brush and you have to wash and scrub the elephant clean whilst sitting on top.  The younger, more lithe backpackers stood up, slid down to the tail and also, sat on the trunk.  We were quite happy to stay in one place! Michael lost his scrubbing brush and his Mahout went diving in the river to find it which left Michael alone on his elephant holding onto his Mahout’s mobile phone. A nervous experience. Afterwards a seat was tied on the Val’s cleaned elephant, and we went for a ride through the jungle.

We spent the rest of the morning exploring the resort and pool, finding out about the vet hospital and relaxing under a hut which had a wonderful view of the river, mountains, jungle and the village gardens.  A delightful lunch capped off the morning.

It was then back to Hanoi, Singapore and home, sweet home.

We had a wonderful time. Thanks to Yarra Travel Junction for the marvellous organisation. We had lots of fun and made new friends.

20 October, 2011 Thursday Luan Prabang

We think it’s Thursday but without the carpet in the lift at Hanoi we’re kind of not sure!  This hotel is in the French Colonial style and has some very beautiful gardens, lily ponds and our room overlooks the Mekong River.  It is very peaceful with a special ambience.  Strange also to see the Mekong River in another country after having boated on it on the Delta in Vietnam.  According to the guide, the Mekong is about 4,500 kms long and starts high up in the Tibetan Plateau.  We haven’t actually checked this out but everywhere we go there is the Mekong.

We were up at 5:00 this morning to see the parade of monks in the main street of Luan Prabang.  We had organised a bus from the hotel to take us there but soon found out we had paid for more than expected. We had just arrived in the bus when a man on a motor bike pulled up beside us, laid out a prayer mat, placed a carpet runner over the top of the mat then put a basket of sticky rice on the mat.  Over the top of the basket was a long shawl.  The driver indicated that it was for us.  We had only wanted to go to photograph the parade but now we were expected to be part of the giving of rice.  The driver placed the shawl over one shoulder and told us to kneel on the carpet runner. We later learned that the scarves represent the asking of the monks to intercede for a better future life. No way could we kneel on our wonky arthritic  knees.  I sat side saddle and Michael sat cross legged. We think this must have been a disrespectful position as at this, the bus driver was most upset and indicated that if we couldn’t kneel we should stand. All this happened by gestures, as the driver couldn’t speak English.

Every morning, over 200 orange-clad, barefooted monks come from every monastery in the city and join together to make one long queue. They carry containers and receive alms in the form of sticky rice from the people kneeling on prayer mats laid out on the pavement of the main street. The rice is taken back to the monasteries and offered as food and intercession to the ancestors of the alms givers.  Some of the rice is eaten by the monks.  We have trouble with this as the sticky rice, by this time, is handled by hundreds of people.  Our guide later told us that people have to have clean hands because if dirty rice is given, bad things will happen to the alms-giver.  This made us worry about how well we had cleaned our hands that morning!! After a few minutes, Michael decided that his ancestors had been appeased and that he was now allowed to take the promised photos, so I ended with 2 baskets of sticky rice.  One is supposed to roll only a small amount into a small ball but this was beyond me, so a few monks got a lot of rice, and the rest had to rely on the others who had more aptitude with the rolling thing.

We then returned to the hotel for breakfast and appreciated the chance to relax outside in the colourful gardens overlooking the river.

We then spent the morning in the Historical Old Town. We started at the fresh food market checking out the exotic fruits and vegetables, visited the National Museum which was once the Royal Palace of the King and visited more temples with lots of gold.  In the afternoon we took a leisurely 2 hour ride up the Mekong river to some caves containing thousands of gold lacquered Buddha statues. The caves are a destination for local pilgrimages, especially during the Lao New Year.

Over the past 4 weeks we have been on many different styles of boats but this was the most plush and comfortable.  It is called a “long tail boat”, 24 metres long, only 1.5 metres wide and finished in highly polished teak with intricate carvings.  Very comfortable for a nap after the early morning start!

Val forgot to mention the village we were taken to on the way to the caves, perhaps because it wasn’t imprinted on her mind like it was imprinted on mine. This village produces Meekong Whiskey, and it was pretty good stuff.  I had to taste all three varieties and the walk back to the boat, through lanes lined with ladies weaving and wood carvers, was a delight.

She also forgot to mention the sunset over the mighty Meekong on the way back.

111019 Luan Prabang October 19

Glad to be reminded that it was Wednesday by the carpet on the lift floor as we rode down to breakfast this morning.  Not sure how we’ll cope when we change hotels.  We also had our usual army escort.  The generals are having a long “conference”.  They are not very friendly and never smile or say hello.

Whilst waiting at the airport for our flight to, the Ancient Capital of Laos and a UNESCO preserved city, we did consider that it might have been quicker and more interesting to drive but after learning that it is a 10 hour ride up and down mountains we decided that flying is certainly an easier option even if less adventurous.

Luan Prabang is nestled in the valley of the Mekong River in norther Laos.  It is surrounded by beautiful country and many high mountains. Our new guide kept us busy the whole afternoon.  We visited Wat Mai, a temple renown for its golden statues and Wat Sensoukarahm which feathures a dazzling golden facade.  We finished the afternoon tour by climbing 400 steps to the top of Mount Phousi and enjoyed the panoramic if rather hazy views.  The night market had some handicrafts sold be Lao hill tribes and we found the quality and colours superior to Vietnam.  We wished we had saved our buying until Laos.

We found out that both our Vientiene and Luan Prabang guides are hoping to get married in two years.  They are busy saving as it is very expensive, what with paying dowries to the bride’s family and the huge guest list as everyone from past and present acquaintances must be invited and transport paid for if they are coming from a long distance.  As you can see we are quite nosy about our guides personal lives!

Dinner was at the Roots and Leaves restaurant and we were quite overwhelmed. Picture a deck floating on a lily pond, with a floodlit island covered by a big umbrella reflecting in the pool.  Add dancers plus musicians and you get the idea.  It was simply perfection. Food was good too.  A wonderful end to the day.