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May 1, 2007

A Couple of New Experiences

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Fishing with a Net

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Fishing with a Net

 

Well it was another gorgeous drive to up to Luang Prabang.  The whole trip was through the mountains and windy roads.  About halfway there clouds rolled in and covered the mountain tops making it that much more unique.  I still couldn’t keep my eyes open the whole way and snuck in a couple of quick naps.  Because of the steep grades and turns we weren’t moving too fast and it took almost 7 hours to go less than 200 miles.  Knowing this and that I would be heading back south instead of north after this town I decided then to fly most of the way south when I leave so that I wouldn’t loose a day.

The next morning I headed down to the main strip to figure out what and when to see everything here.  The road is lined with travel agencies offering their tours so I picked one and set up to do an elephant trek and bamboo raft trip for the following day.  I also bought my plane ticket then and was off to see all of the temples and museums around town.  The town here is easily one of the prettiest I have ever been in.  The Mekong river comes down and makes a u-turn around town so that it is set out on a peninsula.  There is a big hill in the middle which has a few temples on and around it.  The peninsula is only a couple hundred yards across and the banks of the river are covered in trees and gardens.  Everywhere you look you see green since the mountains rise back up on the other side of the river.  The houses all seem to be in good shape and still have some character.  I found out after I got here that the UN named this the best preserved city in Southeast Asia and has funding that goes to it to preserve what they have.

So I went up the hill to see the temple there and a the view of town.  Just as I started up it began sprinkling rain, but there were trees covering me and I went on up.  There was a small temple and statue there, but the view was worth it.  As I described above everywhere is green with temples dotted here and there throughout the city.  Of course the rain picked up right as I got ducked into a covered spot.  One Laos family joined me in there and we spent the next hour watching the rain and staying dry.  I’d planned on heading to a waterfall that afternoon, but was getting off the hill when the van was leaving so that had to wait.

Instead I wandered around town and at about 5 they block off the main street and all of the street vendors put up tarps and start laying out their goods.  This was by far the best market I’d been to as far as stuff that I was interested in buying (and as it turned out the prices weren’t bad either).  I had bought a water bottle holder and was just bending over to look at another stall when I got pushed from behind.  I turn around and there was my friends Tamzin and Phoebe that I met in Singapore and saw and Angkor Wat.  They had gone to Vietnam after Cambodia and were working their way back to Thailand.  Naturally, the shopping ended then and we headed off for some beers and to catch up again.  It turned out being a good thing that the bars shut down at 11:30 otherwise it would have been even tougher to get up for my tour the next day.

Elephant Waving Hi

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Elephant Waving Hi

 

I hadn’t done many set tours since I’ve been over here, but all of them that I have done I’ve enjoyed and this was no exception.  They drove us out and took us to the elephants.  They weren’t huge, but the one male was a still a good size.  There were wooden benches placed on their back while the driver sat on the back of the elephant’s head.  They put a little stick across the front of us as a seatbelt which I thought was quite funny.  About three minutes later as soon as we started going downhill I realized you would fall out right away without it since you just had to push against it to hold yourself up.  The big male in front used the tour as an all you can eat buffet grabbing anything green along the way and digging in.  My elephant thought it should be in front so she would just keep looking to the side to get around whenever the one in front stopped.

We went on a nice walk through some forest area over a dry riverbed and down to the river where we took a little wander through the water all the way up to were our feet were hanging in it.  The elephants were very well behaved and never tried to blow water back on themselves like I kept expecting them to.  During the deep water portion my camera batteries decided to die so I was trying to change them, pay attention, and not drop anything.  The guides grabbed our cameras a couple of times to get pictures for us although while you were waiting in the sun you wondered if it was worth it.

Still On

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Still On

 

We made it back to our starting point and fed the elephants some bananas and leaves.  Then it was our turn to eat.  We relaxed for  a while then drove up to the river and our bamboo rafts.  They originally loaded us all on one of the smaller rafts which ended up sitting about 2 inches below the water when we were all on.  We moved to a bigger raft with no problems and off we went.  There were three inner tubes for the six of us to sit on with a guide at each end of the raft.  The guides had bamboo poles and would put them on the river bottom and push us along.

Fishing with a Net

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Fishing with a Net

 

  There was a fair amount of activity on the water with people fishing, moving cut trees to the bank that had been floated downstream, a group of water buffalo, and kids playing in the river here and there.

About 45 minutes downstream the guides said we could jump in and cool off.  The water was brown for all the dirt it is carrying, but was still refreshing compared to sitting in the sun and we could grab our inner tubes to float downstream in.  I spent the rest of the trip doing that and the guide grabbed my camera and got a few shots for me.  When I signed up they said we would leave at 9:30 and be done around 3.  We didn’t get off the water until 4 and then had to load up and drive back so I felt like I got my monies worth.

Back in town I had to get to the market and get some souvenirs and had plans to meet Tamzin and Phoebe later on.  My shopping was taking a while as you can’t just find something and buy it.  You have to find stuff you want, in good shape, and then do the bargaining.  I kept walking buy the place I was supposed to meet up, but turns out I never found them.  It wasn’t a total loss as I did get a bunch of things to bring back.  I just can’t go to anymore markets until I’m ready to fly back as my back is pretty much filled.  We’ll see how long my two dollar beerlao tshirt lasts.  It seems like every traveler here buys one, but I like the beer and wanted one too.

I’m finally going to make it to the water fall this afternoon and I think its going to be a good one.  It seems like every tuk tuk driver I pass asks if I want a ride there and all the tour agencies include it in many tours.  After that I’ll be on the plane to Vientiane for the night and get on a bus to southern Laos in the morning.  Until then …

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