Monthly Archives: December 2011

Dec 29th 2011 – Leaving Louang Prabang

Sniff….sniff…. well it had to come sometime, but we have to leave Louang Prabang tomorrow morning. We will be gutted. It is an exceptionally beautiful place. And I think you all need to go there now. Go on. Get packed. So a last look at LP follows…

Goodbye lush streets…

The Streets of Louang Prabang image

The Streets of Louang Prabang

Goodbye vintage cars…

Vintage Car image

Mercedes 280s (1965 - 1971) in great form.

Goodbye fantastic views…

View of LP from Temple Hill image

View of LP from Temple Hill

And finally a last sunset…

A final sunset

Our final sunset over the Mekong river in Louang Prabang, Laos


Dec 25th 2011 – Merry Christmas from S.E. Asia

Happy Christmas to all family and friends and the very best for the New Year!

Santa in Hanoi image

Santa says hello in Hanoi

Jane in Vientiane, Laos

Jane in Vientiane, Laos

Louang Prabang, Laos

Guest house lobby, Louang Prabang, Laos

Louang Prabang, Laos

On the riverside in Louang Prabang, Laos

Louang Prabang, Laos

Hotel on the riverside in Louang Prabang, Laos

Louang Prabang, Laos

Posh restaurant in Louang Prabang, Laos

Dec 19th 2011 – Elephant Day, Mahout Training

There’s not words to describe how incredible this day was. There were some people on facebook who were worried about this because of the reputation of SOME elephant parks in Thailand… but I can assure you all that this was a well run place, with happy, playful and fat elephants, who work no longer than 6 hours a day (and that includes the standing around waiting for us)… so for you people, read on…

An Elephant image

An Elephant at the park... Note food... there was lots of it.

We signed on for a days Mahout (meaning “Elephant driver”) training. The day started with a trek on the elephants around the park area, so we could get a feel for them. At this point the elephants are carrying wooden seating strapped to them like a saddle. At first it looks a little heavy, but I can assure you these ladies of the forest can carry far more than you can imagine… in fact to give you an idea of the strength these animals have, there was a young one (previously trained for the logging industry) trying to be guided by the Mahout down a track in the forest. She missed the pathway and so the Mahout tried to reverse her and set her on the right path. She just got a little bored I think and instead of reversing, she just decided to push a tree down and make her own way. I’m not kidding… it was amazing to watch and looked like nothing to her. This proved to me that if they want to go somewhere, then they bloody well go there.

Elephant in Laos image

Me on Bogan, Jane is behind me seething cause I was first 🙂

After the first trek we adjourned for lunch and chatted among ourselves for a while until the guide arrived with our “fashionable clothing” for the day. Denim knee shorts and a denim top (and I’m not talking Levis here people!). After kitting up we were led to a building with walls adorned with images and writings about the care of these animals. From medical procedures to calming techniques (for when they are hormonal and angry – you’ll have seen a lot of this on TV when they run amock… because their owners don’t know enough NOT to use the elephant that week).

Elephant feeding image

Feeding time... and fly swatting time.

Anyway after this it was “learn to speak elephant” time, which is not really true cause it’s actually the Laos language. But anyway we were rushed through a list of simple commands such as “Phai” which means “Go” and “Hao” which means “Stop”, then there was “Khai” which means “Left” and “Quoa” which means “Right” and the rest of them I can’t remember.

OK it was now our turn to drive the elephants. This was the best part, because the “saddles” are removed and we end up just sitting on the elephants bare back.. much better! The Mahouts sit behind you (because the elephant is used to them) and still use the commands just in case your elephant ignores you because they don’t really know you! Except for Jane who fell out with her Mahout and was riding bare back on her own, with the disgraced Mahout walking behind her (this was because earlier Jane had a disagreement with him about the strap position when her elephant was wearing her “saddle” because “Bogan” (her elephant) had given a loud trumpet and refused to walk any further because the strap was nipping her underbelly) – they made up (Jane and the Mahout) later though.

Elephant in water.

Me and my girl 🙂 Jane's around somewhere!

I am always amazed by the effect Jane has on animals… and I mean ANY animal. Bogan absolutely took to her straight away… amazing to watch, not just for me but the Mahout also… “she never do that with any tourist” he said as Bogan explored Janes face with her huge trunk. She is a true ANIMAL WHISPERER. I can confidently say that if there were no Mahouts around at all Jane would have got on fine and coped the whole day with all 11 of them. She’s the kind of person that if she fell into a shark infested pool, she’d have them doing syncronised swimming by the end of the day!!

Elephant image

Jane and me getting a soaking from Bogan

The day ended with a trek down to the river where we trainees are supposed to wash the elephants. However the reverse is true… You get completely soaked by them… They plodge into deep water and for a moment you think you have lost your elephant in the water. Until she surfaces, and blows gallons of water in your face… absolutley hilarious. They loved it as much as we did. There’s a command the mahouts use “Boun Boun!” which means “blow water”. So of course everyone gets a soaking. Except for me. No matter how many times the mahout tried to get my elephant to soak me she just wouldn’t do it! Bless her 🙂

Elephant in the water in Laos

Jane getting a tenth soaking... another 40 to go...

Absolutely amazing day spent with amazing animals… I think we’ll do this again when we get to Chiang Mai’s Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand. Absolutely knackered now though. No drink tonight, just sleep.

Here’s another video for your viewing pleasure…

And just in case you’re wondering… the chains you see around thier necks are only there because it was the end of the day and the elephants were to be tethered for the evening in the forest, so they carry them for the final walk (after dropping us off). The chains are 35 metres long and they are only tethered to stop them wandering onto farm land and destroying crops… for which the farmers would shoot them.

Dec 14th 2011 – Louang Prabang

Finally a good bus journey brought us to Louang Prabang through one fantastic mountain range after another. It was like the bus driver and his cohort were Frodo and Sam taking us Orcs to Rivendell to be re-programmed.

Football on the Mekong image

Football on the Mekong River

Louang Prabang (LP) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the minute you step off the bus you know why. They must have known we were coming, the firework display began immediately and continued for most of the evening. Thanks LP! The fireworks seemed to be made from old military ordinance because they were so loud they nearly blew your eardrums out! We assumed our arrival coincided with some kind of festival… pretty cool!

Nam Kan River image

Bridge over ther River Nam Kan

We’re staying here for a while, definately until after Christmas. So we’ll get to know this place really well. So far our first mooch around town has shown we are sitting in a forest covered hill valley. Sandwiched between 2 rivers… The Mekong and the Nam Kan. It’s really beautiful here. The town is a little like Hoi Han (remember that? the lanterns? in Vietnam?). It still has some ancient buildings, and is a nice mix of family homes, small businesses, markets, bars and restaurants.

A small business in LP

The Local Shop, for Local People.

Doug counting money image

Me counting the cash... what's left of it 🙂

Should be a nice place to chill for a while. And maybe look at more bloomin temples…

A Temple in Louang Prabang

Another bloody temple 🙂

Dec 12th 2011 – Balloon Day.

This is our last day in Veng Viang, and we thought we would do it in style.  So,  one of our ‘things to do before you die’ was ticked off the list.  We blew our shoestring budget and went up in a  hot air balloon! Oh yes!

Balloon Start image

4pm and ready to rock! Well, when the balloon's filled up!

There’s not a lot to say except the whole experience from start to finish, watching them filling it up with hot air, taking off at high speeds…

The Ascent image

The ascent - The heat from the burner nearly burnt what's left of my hair off!

…getting up 400 metres to watch the sun set…

Sundown in Vang Vieng image

Sundown in Vang Vieng - just incredible!

View over Vang Vieng

View over Vang Vieng - Note the other balloon (which took off after us).

…then swooping down to the homesteads, schools and farms so we could actually wave to the kids below, to crashing into a farmers field, or rather BOUNCING into his field and shooting back up and then finally resting in a scrubland to be taken via a nice car back to our hotel.

EVERYONE should do a balloon ride I have decided. It is now law, so go on get out and do it. Here’s a video  snippet of our trip…

Dec 11th – Vang Vieng – ROCK Climbing

We headed out tiday over the river and through the rice fields towards a landmark limestone outcrop (or hill). It looked like it was going to be a doddle.

Hill climb image

The task for today...

At foot of the hill is a small cave system, that without a guide we would never have gone in, because you had to squeeze through small gaps and crevices. And even though we have lost weight, we still would not have believed we wouldn’t get stuck or trapped – but to save face we had to follow him!

Cave in Laos image

It was a tight squeeze to get in this cave. No comments on the socks ok? It was cold 🙂

So, after exploring the cave we left the guide behind and headed up to the red flag. The ascent was pretty precarious, given that it consisted of bamboo ladders and jagged sharp limestone, with split crevices down to the ground below.

Summit image

Douglas "Shackleton" Brown I presume? Note flag pole!!

The view from the top was spectacular and made the hard climb worthe the effort we put in.

View of Vang Vieng image

This is the view from the top!

Anyway, we made it safely to the top and coming back down again took a lot of concentration, because one slip and you’re toast.

The Descent image

Same way down as up!

Good day, time for a well earned drinky.

Dec 7th 2011 – Vang Vieng, Laos

This was a really pleasant bus journey even though the bus  broke down (again!) on the way.  We got off the bus in a nice setting and chilled with the other passengers for an hour while  the driver fixed the brakes.   A couple of passengers (Aussies) decided to thumb a lift and paid extra for the privilege to a guy in a truck, and  they would have got into Vang Vieng  only about 40 minutes before us.

Vang Vieng is a really beautiful village flanked by mountains and sitting next to the Nam Song river. The view from our “guesthouse”  (we are in a bamboo hut) is amazing.  We have explored the place, and found that the centre is a grid of bars and hostels teeming with drunken gap year students, here to do the “tubing” which is basically a tractor tyre innertube on which they float down the river, stopping off at the various riverside bars to get drunk on buckets of cheap alcohol (yes I said “buckets”) – so its pretty lively – too lively, makes me proud to be British… NOT!  The outskirts are much quieter, with really cool, atmospheric restaurants and great views of the mountains and the evening sunset.

View from the guesthouse

View from the guesthouse/hut in Vang Vieng

Our first trek out took us over a rickety bridge, across fields to a limestone cave, which we explored on our own for the most part. What a find! Usually these places have guides that show you around, but we pretty much had the place to ourselves… and it was here that we discovered true silence for the first time since we can remember. So we sat down with no sound except our own heartbeats. I felt like a buddhist monk 🙂

Vang Vieng Cave View

View from the cave entrance - click this image for a panoramic view!

The view from the cave entrance was really cool. We looked over the whole of the Vang Vieng valley and down on to a freshwater pool, where a couple of tourists swam in the midday sun.

Swimming in the mountain pool

Couple of tourists swimming in the mountain pools at the foot of the caves

Great day this is a really cool place.