Bathing two ton puppies.

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


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Where I stayed
Elephant Village

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Louangphabang,
Thursday, January 27, 2011

An alarm clock is not necessary, the noise from the the other rooms woke us up just fine. When I open the curtains the view is breathtaking. A layer of fog hangs over the river. You can see the the fog clearing up minute after minute. Behind the river we see the fifteen hundred meter high mountains unfolding its splendor. You hear the elephants as they loudly trumpet whilst being ridden down from their feeding areas towards the river. The elephants are brought down to meet halfway with our group. They are going for their morning bath in the river. We asked Monkey to pick us up a bit later as the long hike up the hill did not sound too appealing to us. And we have another long hike planned for later today, so we figured it would be better to safe our energy.


For the rest of the group this is the last activity at the elephant camp, and they will be brought back to the town after breakfast. For some reason the boat driver did not come for us on the agreed upon time, so we first saw from our balcony how the group came down the mountain and washed their elephants in the river. But after whistling loud we got the attention of our guide and he quickly sent a boat over to get us. The water seemed cold and uncomfortable, and the sun just broke through the fog so it was not too hot. And we were afraid that washing the elephants would be a bit of an unpleasant experience. But surprisingly it was not at all. The water from the river was actually comfortably warm and sitting on top of the two ton animals as they walk in to the water and dip themselves under makes it all worth it. It was an absolutely awesome experience, and because we started a bit later we were the only ones in the river, so the photos that the guide took with our camera only contains us, which is great.


We were in the water for about half an hour playing around and scrubbing our elephants crispy clean. The mahouts stayed with us on the elephant to assure nothing went wrong, but I think their main objective was to make us fall off and get us as wet as possible. My mahout got the turn side of his wicked plan. As he asked me to turn around, I incidentally wiped him off the elephant with my leg. We all had a good laugh, and back on top of the animal he was clearly out for revenge. We even stood up straight on the backs of the elephants as they walked out of the water. It was absolutely an awesome experience and a must do whenever you are in the neighborhood, as long as you do it with an organization that has a responsible approach to keeping elephants and does not exploit them.


The small boat brought us back across the river to the lodge, where we quickly freshen up and take a nice shower. Well sort of nice, as our shower had no water pressure at all and was colder than the water in the river. After freshening up we head out to breakfast in the main restaurant. Simple but good food, just a couple of eggs, meats and some toast. The only thing I don't understand is that they serve nescafe 'coffee' while Loas is famous for coffee Lao. A bit disappointing I thought. It was funny to see how the two Dutch girls tried to stick to a typical Dutch breakfasts of yogurt and cereal which of course did not turn out to be that appetizing as they probably got some fruit yogurt. It was time to say goodbye to the backpackers as they had crammed their belongings in their backpacks and were loaded up in the van to be brought back to Luang Prabang. We said our goodbyes, made some happy group pictures and each went our own way. We went out with Monkey, our guide, into the jungle.


First we take the boat back to the Kouangxi waterfalls. Here we have a sanitary break and start our hike up the hill along the waterfalls. Along the way we find a collection of rare and almost extinct trees that are all marked with a card showing some facts about the tree. This is the work of the German botanist that we met in the office back in town. As we get deeper in the jungle up the waterfall the forest gets prettier and prettier. But there is little water and most of the pools of the waterfall are dried up. Half way in our hike we rest at a base camp of the Shangri Lao project. It is not much more than an open area in the woods with a little tower where you can have lunch. There was a small group of tourist that occupied the little tower so after a short break we moved on. We left the waterfall trail and went in to the forest towards a view point. Our guide brought us to another little viewpoint tower where we enjoyed our packed lunch.


The tower was not in the best state and had no shade as the canvas roof had collapsed. But the view over the valley and the river was amazing. The packed lunch was some rice with chicken packed in a banana leaf. A nice meal, but way too filling for us. As we headed on we passed through several teak plantations before we reached the elephant trails that led back to the river. This last part of the hike was not too interesting, as the plantations are just fields of young trees. Also our guide was kind of occupied with his cellphone, constantly sending SMS messages to his girlfriend, which became a bit on an annoyance after a while. Back at the river we hitch a ride back to the lodge on a passing boat, as again our boat driver did not show up as scheduled.


This morning after breakfast we arranged to change rooms to a room with a shower that actually works, so back at the lodge we checked to which room to move. But again some communication problem. The people at the lodge were not informed and the whole lodge was booked for the night, so we could not change room. After stressing our point that we did need a shower that works, we could use a public shower that had a bit more power. All this mis-communications got us a bit worried about our pick up for the next morning.


Tomorrow we need to catch our flight to Cambodia, and we cannot be late, and we cannot get our luggage back to the resort on the small boat, we would need the raft to come and pick us up. Our guide told us it was taken care of, but he also said this about the room, and the pick up for the elephant bathing this morning, and on both of these promises he could not deliver, so now we get a bit anxious about tomorrow. On top of all of this we asked for a boat transport back to the elephant village as we did not feel like hiking back over the elephant trails after freshening up.


We just wanted to lounge by the pool and relax for the afternoon. But this seemed to be impossible to arrange. But when I came out of the public shower and walked back to our unit I saw our guide waving from a boat that he arranged for himself disappearing back to the elephant village leaving us behind.

There was no other option than to hike back to the village over the elephant trails again. The hike turned out not to be as bad in daylight. At the village there was no sign of Monkey our guide, I guess he ran off to his girlfriend, back in Luang Prabang as his shift was done. We settled down in a canopy by the river side and tried to order a beer from the bar. But again a nice surprise, the bar / restaurant was closed. Fortunately some man, we assume another tour operator, approached us to ask if we wanted a drink. And a few minutes later he returned with some nice cold beer Laos that he got from the town nearby. And surprisingly these beers turned out to be cheaper than the ones that were sold at the village bar, what a world. We chilled by the river for a bit, enjoying the scenery and atmosphere. It was quiet in the village, all the elephants were back at their grazing grounds and the day tourists where gone. All you heard was the 'loud' radio of the farmer in the village on the other side of the river playing Loas tunes.


Later we got some company from the newly hired operational manager of the elephant village asking us for feedback on our experience. The guy is an Englishman that drove a motor bike through Laos for a couple of months. After doing this he could not let go of the country, and decided to move here with his sixteen year old daughter. The German owner of the Elephant Village asked him to manage the operations of the village, and obviously in our experience, it does need some western management. Especially if they want to make the high end Shangri Lao a success. But the good man is in for a big challenge, as the way of life, and the way of business, is just very different in Laos.

That evening we had an early dinner and an early night as we would have to wake up at dawn again. After speaking to another guide, whom was noticeably more in control of the situation than our previous guide, we arranged for a car to pick the luggage up at the lodge for the next morning.
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