Friday, February 22, 2013

Unforgettable elephants

Getting to Laos seemed to be a bit more complicated than we expected. Or maybe we just got spoiled by the efficient transport we had the chance to experience in Thailand. We were not really that far form Luang Prabang, which we wanted to make our next stop, but it seemed that getting there would take us some long hours no matter which option we chose, so we decided to take the most relaxed and (hopefully) most enjoyable one. We were getting on a minibus to get to the border, from where we would catch a slowboat down the Mekong River. The whole journey would take us three days (with overnight stops). It seemed a long time, but was still much more appealing than a bus ride, which would take us 30 uncomfortable hours.

Visa formalities went pretty quickly, since David as Swiss didn't need any and I simply got a 30 days visa on arrival. Although I have to admit the border was a total chaos. And so was the boat we were taking. We had seat numbers on our tickets, but we soon found out there were no seats like ours on that boat. The highest number we could see was 70 and the seat numbers of our group were somewhere between 85 and 100. And the boat was full anyway, so that we could hardly get on board, not to mention finding an empty seat. Fortunately after a few discussions and a lot of complaining form our side, a second boat was opened and we could choose whatever seats we wanted. Although few moments later both boats were filled up to the top, including additional plastic chairs and people sitting or lying on the floor right next to the engine. I guess their ride was far from enjoyable in the end. We could not really complain about ours though.

The slowboat trip took us around 7 hours on each of the two days, but although the boat was crowded and the seats were not too comfortable it was not as bad as we thought. A good book and lovely views from the river made the hours pass quickly. The nice thing was, we had enough time to meet a lot of other travelers, which we kept meeting later on everywhere we went. It gives you the feeling you're surrounded by friends no matter which city you head to.

Luang Prabang turned out to be a beautiful place with a really nice atmosphere. It is not exactly big, which allowed us to do everything on foot. And there certainly was a lot to see. The temples were again more of the shiny type. Nevertheless, we found them quite interesting since they were a bit different than the ones in Thailand we have seen so far. But walking along the river side was still our favorite activity. We decided we liked Laos a lot. The weather was nice, food was awesome and people were friendly and easygoing. It felt nice to be there.

We especially enjoyed the local night market, which was our favorite place to spent the evenings, making our wallets slimmer an our backpacks much fuller than they ever were. It is a great place, filled with local handmade products and lovely souvenirs and the prices are nearly always negotiable, especially for a trained professional like David, who was using all the experience gathered in Central Asia to get me the things I necessarily needed and desperately wanted (meaning very important items like for example an elephant pillow) for a fraction of the original price. The only thing we didn't manage to buy was a dress I was looking for for some time now. It was a simple one, nothing special, but I liked it a lot. I already saw it in Bangkok, but decided to buy it later on, as I didn't want to add extra weight to my backpack before our Myanmar trip. Unfortunately, they didn't sell it anywhere else in Thailand, so I was happy to spot it in Luang Prabang. However, the price they wanted for it was 5 times higher than in Bangkok, which we were of course not willing to pay. But every time we tried to bargain (and we did tried a few stands) they were all starting with the same story, how it is hand made in this very village using only local material, which makes it extremely valuable. Sad enough it always had a huge “made in Thailand” label on it, but they would not admit the truth even when we pointed it out to them. They were honestly trying to explain to us, that they put the label on purpose, as they were planning to sell those extra valuable dresses to their neighbouring country as well. Yeah, right... They were willing to lower the prices afterwards, but we decided buying anything from someone who lies to us while looking us straight in the eyes is not something we would like to do if we could avoid it.

Already on our first day in town we have noticed a huge poster advertising a whole day elephant experience in a nearby village. Ever since our ride in Chiang Mai we could not get those animals out of our heads and we thought we have to do something about it. The trip was not exactly cheap, but also not more expensive than it would be in Thailand and we decided it's worth the risk. We were going to All Lao Elephant Camp to learn all the commands and try riding elephants on our own. We were both totally excited and could hardly wait till we get there. The camp was set in a beautiful surroundings, right on a river in the middle of a forest, which made it all even more amazing. Our group consisted only of four people (including us two), all wearing very professional elephant trainer outfits, so the atmosphere was great from the very beginning. And the animals were as marvelous as ever. But it was a totally different experience than the one we had before. This time we were really going through the forest, there was no wide flat path like the one we went through in Chiang Mai. Now we were going up and down the hill, between the trees, through streams and mud, which made it somehow feel a lot more real. I couldn't stop smiling through the entire ride, or at least until the moment where our guide suggested for me to change places with David and get on the elephant's neck. Those of you how know me well, will be able to imagine my panic reaction. I was totally horrified! But at the end that was what we paid for and I knew I would have to try it sooner or later, so I might just as well do it immediately. It was a bit hard at the beginning, but as soon as I found the right spot to sit on and relaxed a bit more I actually started enjoying it. In the end I absolutely loved it!

It was the second part though, which we were all waiting for. After lunch each of us got his own elephant to ride, guide and bath. It was just as awesome as I imagined it to be. Getting on and off the elephant was definitely the hardest part of the task, but since I was no longer deadly scared it all went quite smoothly. And my elephant, a fantastic girl named Ping Pong, was simply the sweetest creature I have ever met. She was moving so carefully and gently, that I hardly ever noticed us going up or down. I guess she noticed she has a total coward on top of her and decided not to make things worse for both of us. She was reacting to my commands too, which made me as proud and happy as ever. And the bath was the best part of it all. Going through a river on a back of a huge creature, which splashes you with water when you least expect it is definitely an unforgettable experience. The elephants seemed to enjoy it too, as they were playing like little children, making everyone wet. David's elephant decided not to waist his time on details and simply disappeared in the river with David on his back. Not even his trunk was sticking out, which left my husband looking as if he was sitting on the surface of the water. As we rode back through the jungle, all wet and smiling we felt happier than ever. We didn't want to part from our animals at all. And I can honestly say the trip was worth every cent we've paid for it.

1 comment:

  1. Dear elephant lovers (like myself),

    Elephants are very good swimmers:) Didn't they tell you that? It must have been unforgettable to be so close to them. I am smiling all the time while reading about them.
    As you were writing the post WWF was collecting the signatures under the petition to ban the ivory trading. I am happy to report that yesterday the Prime Minister in Thailand announced that the ivory trading will become illegal and the elephants will be protected.Here's the link:

    If you see them again, please give them a big kiss on their huge heads and stroke their trunks for me. They are beautiluf and you both are too for loving and appreciating them.

    Take care,