Monks, elephants and a midnight hike
Trip Start Jun 01, 2010
158Trip End Mar 11, 2011
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Of course there are some tourists with little to no affinity to Buddhism that partake in this ritual, giving the monks things like candy or other things they cannot or will not consume. And then there are the people that come from posh hotels in golf carts to point a long lensed Canon camera at the monks and flash away with no respects for the ritual and the people. But still, despite the upcoming tourism and odd visitors, every day the monks come out. They give merit to the local people whom generously share their food with their sons and brothers. It has been like this for many years, and hopefully will remain this way for many years to come.
We decide not to partake in the ritual as we are just observers whom like to see the world as it passes by without interfering with its way of life. Wow do I sound like Captain Picard now? Anyhow, from a silent corner across the street we see how a local woman and presumably her granddaughter, not older than five, take their place on a mat across their store and home. The woman has a basket of home made sticky rice, and the little girl has an empty basket. Next door is our hotel, here we see three tourists that follow some organized tour taking place on a more comfortable mat with nice cushions. They are given some baskets by the organizer of the tour whom stay in our hotel. The world of opposites appears in front of our eyes. And then in the corner the extreme occurs, a golf cart from a posh hotel pushes up with two obnoxiously obese Americans armed with a half a meter zoom lens. You hear the woman making disrespect remarks about the hygiene of the people as the man points his Canon to the monks that slowly make their way down the street. They shoot a couple of pictures and then they disappear in their golf cart, mission accomplished, itinerary item checked off.
As the monks pass by they collect the food and put it in their baskets, and surprisingly, along the way they get rid of the candy given by the tourists. The little girl smiles as monk after monk deposit some candies in her empty basket. And after a couple of groups of monks passing by, her empty basket has filled up with sweets. It is quite an interesting ritual to see, and I hope the rapidly upcoming tourism industry here will not spoil this over time.
After watching a couple of groups pass by we have to get back to the hotel to pack up as we are leaving for the Elephant Camp a bit later this morning. We enjoy another breakfast in the lovely garden of the hotel and head out. The driver of the van that picked us up managed to squeeze our luggage into the back of the little bus. We feel a bit out of place, as everyone is carrying a back pack as we bring along four Samsonites of exact airline protocol dimensions. Our group consists of a couple of Dutch girls and a couple from New Zealand. Our little van makes our way to the elephant camp about half an hour outside of the town. The surroundings of the camp are beautiful. It is located at the shore of the small Nam Khan river. Across the water there is a small fishing and farming community. The camp itself is quite new and well organized, we see about a dozen of elephants walking around with tourists on their back.
Soon it will be our turn to play. But first there is the little issue of luggage and accommodation. We have to drag our suitcases down the steep slope onto a raft. There is no real staircase, just a path formed by the elephants that make their way down to the water. The raft takes us up the river for about a kilometer. Here we find our accommodation for the coming days. It looks very charming, a sort of a inn in the middle of the jungle. The house has six or seven rooms, spread over two floors. We move in to one of the units on the bottom floor where we have a nice terrace with two comfy chairs., From here we have a grand view over the river and the mountains and jungle behind it.
The view is breathtaking, the whole location really gives you the feeling like you are in the middle of nowhere. But when we move our luggage in we discover the down side of this little apartment. It is noisy as hell, we can literally hear people breathe on the other side of the paper thin walls. We feel that this is going to be a problem for the night. But unfortunately there is not much we can do. Our camp guide calls himself Monkey, and he is downstairs with a small river boat to pick the six of us up. We climb down the steep slope again and head back to the main camp. Here we get our first introduction to the elephants. First a short lecture on the mission of the camp which is quite noble. The owner wants to free elephants out of the harsh logging industry. In the camp they only have to 'work' for five hours a day and have their freedom in the jungle hills where they rest and feed. Of course it is a business as well, as the money from the tourists pay for food, medical attention and staff. This makes the stay at the elephant village a bit more expensive then the other companies that offer similar experiences. But at these other companies the care for the elephants is highly questionable.
After our introduction to the camp and the navigational commands we got our first little trip on the elephant. All of us take a turn on walking a round along the grounds in the neck of the elephant. We do this together with the mahout who helps us control the elephant. It was a fun thing to climb up the big animal and wobble around. After our first little walk, each couple gets their own elephant. Now we have a basket on top where we take place for a walk of about forty five minutes. The elephants make a round and walk down the slope in to the river for a bit. Back from our walk we are served a buffet lunch at the camp restaurant. The food was not too bad, but far from great. With lunch done we now each individually mount an elephant to bring back to the Jungle. Well we did not really get to bring the elephants to their resting area, as promised in the itinerary, as this is about three hours away from the camp. We walk the elephants for about an hour, and then leave them with the mahouts whom bring them further up the hill. We all walk back to the river where we get back on a small river boat.
For the rest of the afternoon we make a short visit to the Kouangxi waterfalls. They are about fifteen minutes up the river in the small boat. It is a wonderful boat ride through the calm river. It is the dry season, so the water is now and does not flow too vigorously. But as it is the dry season, the waterfalls are mostly dried up. Normally this falls have a number of pools from where the water flows down onto another. But now there is not much water, most pools are dried up and there is little waterfall left. We stay for about half an hour, make a few photos and walk around a bit. After the little exploration we head back to the lodge to rest a bit and clean up for dinner.
After a couple of hours the riverboat picks us up for our dinner. At dinner we get to know our fellow travelers a bit better. The two Dutch girls were noticeably not too happy with the food. They kept silent for most of the evening and if they spoke they talked in Dutch among each other, not to social. The Kiwis were entertaining as most kiwis are. The guy had a way with alcohol and rapidly worked his way through a couple of Beer Lao. These bottles are half a liter each, so they add up quickly. After dinner we were up for a surprise. We had to walk back to the hotel through the bushes in the pitch black night.
We were only armed with a little led torch. Luckily we went with the whole group, including the guide, as our torch gave just little more light than a match. We had to walk through the elephant tracks and climb over wildlife fences in the dark. Linda had dressed in a nice dress for the evening, so was totally not prepared for this unexpected adventure. Efin, after about twenty minutes of night hiking we reached our little hotel, and prepared for bed. As expected the place was incredibly noisy and it took us a bit before we caught our sleep. Tomorrow we have to wake up early, as we have to bathe the elephants. The rest of the group is hiking up the hill to actually collect the elephants at the point where we dropped them off this afternoon. But as we are planning to do a hike through the jungle after the elephant itinerary we opted out on the early morning hike.