A day on the river

Trip Start Jun 01, 2010
Trip End Mar 11, 2011

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Our plan was to see the people giving merit to the monks at seven in the morning. But we could not get ourselves to wake up this early today so we postponed this till tomorrow. Instead we have a lazy breakfast in the garden. The omelet in palm leaf is a nice variation on the usual eggs. After breakfasts we head in to town to book our stay at the Elephant Village.

We decided not to go for the more luxurious trekking offer from Shangri Lao as the tent camps were not finished yet. And it's the camp which gives the adventure the extra flair. We meet the office manager of the Elephant Village, a German botanist whom spend quite some time in the forests around the village making an inventory of hundreds of trees that are on the verge of extinction. We opt in for a hike though the jungle after our elephant experience to get some feel for the Laos jungle. Not that we are that much into trees and plants, but the idea of being out alone in the sticks for a while sounds appealing. With our accommodation for the next few days sorted we walk a bit around town before heading back to the hotel.

It was a long staircase that leads up the hill of Phu Si on top of which we found some temples and Buddha statues. From the top of the hill we have a great view of the city and the two rivers. Back at the hotel we had arranged for a private boat tour on the Mee Kong river. The destination is the Pak Ou caves. A cave filled with Buddha statues, and a sacred place for the Lao people. It is not the destination, but the journey there which entices us.

Our captain, a sixteen year old kid is waiting for us outside of the hotel. He brings us to the little dock where all the boats are parked. It is a short walk from the hotel. We get one of the boats all to ourselves. The boat could probably carry twenty people and is about twelve meters long. The captain starts the engine, and off we go, upstream on to the fabulous Mee Kong river. The views of the valley and the river are marvelous. We see numerous fishermen going about their business.

We pass small villages where the children play along the shore as women are washing the clothes along the river side. We see an occasional tourist boat making its way back downstream which is a good thing. The less people at the caves the better. The river is the life blood of the communities here. It is the main transport route, the source of water, the source of fish and the source of good soil to plant the crops.

It takes about an hour and a bit for us to reach the caves, easily recognizable by a fleet of tourist boats mored at a floating pier. It is a bit of a climb up to the cave, which is filled with thousands of little Buddha statues and of course a group of noisy French tourists.

Why is it that the presence of French tourists makes my neck hairs stand up? I notice that I rather be in the company of Germans than French, and that is an odd thing for a Dutchman. Funny how your view of people changes over time and distance. The French invasion takes the magic of the cave a bit away. But still it is an interesting site and it makes you wonder about the life of the monks whom came here to pray in days long gone.

After taking a few photos we head back again. Now our trip is down stream, so our little boat zips smoothly through the fast flowing waters. We head in to the sun which is slowly coming down to touch the hills surrounding us. Our next stop is kind of a tourist trap attraction. It is a small village along the riverside that shows the tourists, in this case us, how they make whiskey. Sort of a moonshine outfit you might say. The bottles of booze are complemented by the carcasses of creatures like snakes and scorpions. This is supposed to give the elixir some extra kick. Of course the main goal is to sell this curiosity to the tourists. But we did not feel for it too much. For one, the water which is used to make the whiskey comes directly from the muddy and questionable Mee Kong river. Second, the remains of poisonous insects or snakes stuffed into the bottles does not sound too appetizing to us.

Instead of buying the poison, we walked around the town a bit, but unfortunately the little village had been transformed in a market for silk scarfs and other souvenirs. We did get a glimpse of the village temple, which as always is shiny and the best maintained structure in the village. Back on our boat we slowly descend down the Mee Kong river.

When we reach the town of Luang Prabang the sun is just starting to touch the top of the hills. We settle down at one of the few riverside restaurants and bars. Zipping on a happy hour Gin and Tonic in a bar owned by a Californian lady we see the same spectacular scene as yesterday. This place has such a serene and peaceful feel to it, you really are in a different world here.

And then there was dinner. There are plenty of choices on the main road of town. We picked a random spot along the street. The food was good and we had a nice table out by the street. We made it an early night as for tomorrow we have a busy day. First we watch the monks, then we head out to Elephant Village to play with big gray two ton puppies.
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