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Posts Tagged ‘luang prabang’

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The second week in Laos was just as stimulatingly colorful as the first. We spent two days at the Tiger Trail Elephant Park Project. When we first arrived, we rode in the chair on the back of the elephant and I clung onto the wood with every muscle fiber in my body. I felt like we could slide down the side of the animal at any moment, but we didn’t. The Mahout (elephant trainer) led the elephant through the water and without asking, hopped off the two-ton grayish-pink animal to take pictures of us. Back at the main camp, we practiced mounting and riding an elephant…on her neck (all of the elephants at this camp are female). What I thought would be more unnerving than the sitting in the chair, was actually quite comfortable. I rode horses for the first half of my life and it was just like getting back in the saddle. But without the saddle, replaced with thick, wrinkled skin that felt like a worn leather chair covered in nylon bristles.

After practice, we each mounted our own elephant (with a Mahout sitting behind us). I rested my hands on Mae Pua’s enormous, whiskered head as the gentle giant led me into the jungle. A few steps into the woods, my Mahout jumped off and asked me if I was okay to ride alone. You Tarzan, me Jane. She slowly put one foot in front of the other on the mud path. I knew she was happy from reading the sign posted at the main camp because she flapped her ears back and forth against my legs, which felt like giant rubber mats stretched over canvas. I was sad to leave her after the 20-minute expedition; riding an elephant may be one of the most thrilling adventures I have been a part of so far. Both my husband and our friend Craig loved the elephants as well and Craig can now say he’s rode an elephant but not a horse!

We stayed the night in the lodge and early the next morning ventured back into the bush. We picked up our elephants (once again, I rode alone while my Mahout walked in front of us) and headed for the water. Mae Pua reached the river’s edge and apprehensively entered while dipping her long trunk below to spray a waterfall into her mouth. Quickly we found ourselves in the middle of the waterway, the elephants routinely submerging themselves while we squeezed our legs tightly not to slide off. Then we scrubbed. Using a handled cleaning brush, I rubbed meticulously around her head, reached forward down her snout and turned to wash her back. The village sign that informed me of what makes elephants happy, also warned never to trust an elephant. But at that moment, all I knew was trust.

Instead of taking a van back 15km to Luang Prabang, we kayaked down the lazy river for three hours. Ben and I only tipped once, but that was his fault. The following day we shuttled for six hours to Vang Vieng, a backpacker’s haven filled with pizza joints featuring TVs with your choice of “Friends,” “Family Guy” or “The Simpsons.” Totally random, but surprisingly fun, even though we were considered “over the hill” in comparison to the other Falang in town. We went to a bar for the first time on the trip and getting to it consisted of walking over a shabbily constructed bamboo bridge to a nearly deserted Cancun-like bar on the party island. The people who worked there were mostly tourists who were paid in drinks, food and accommodations. How they stayed a month in Vang Vieng, I’ll never understand. The main attraction of the town is tubing down the river while stopping at riverside bars for BeerLao and to test your luck on a rope swing. We had watched the rope swing videos on Youtube.com and had decided unanimously that it looked too dangerous. Once there, all three of us took several swings off the wooden platform and flung ourselves into the water. Never say never. The ride home on the bus was far worse than any rope swing could ever be. The road between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang climbs steadily up the mountain along a narrow pathway that they call a two-lane road. I would say it’s more like one-and-a-half at best. After the bus broke down, it was quickly fixed and we managed to make it home alive. We were reminded of our luck when we passed a construction truck that had tipped over coming around a sketchy curve in the mountaintop pass. To celebrate the end of one of the best trips of our lives, we dined for a second time at our favorite restaurant in Luang Prabang, Tamarind.

As I sit in my new digs in Shanghai, I miss the laid-back vibe of Laos. It’s a country that I hope to visit again in my lifetime and you should too!

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Lao Lao, Yummy Yummy

IMG_0810Laos is the most laid-back country I have visited. The people, the culture, the landscape is uniquely and beautifully exquisite. Right now, we’re in Luang Prabang, a bustling city surrounded by tropical rain forest, the Mekong River, mountains and temples. Compared to any other city, this is quaint, quiet, slow, reserved. But compared to where we have been the last five days, it is an oasis of action.

We spent the past five days biking and hiking through northern Laos. For reference, the country is pronounced “louse” and the people and language and religion is Lao (no “s”). All are Buddhist, but the people are split into three, agreeable tribes: Lao, Hmong and Kamu. Intermarriage between the tribes is now widely accepted.

Initially, I was petrified of biking next to traffic, but the further we made our way north, the traffic gave way to scenery sprawled outward and upward in lime, hunter, and teal greens. Mountains line the river and the dusty, paved road is the only means of travel. We did not see another Falang (non-native) the entire two days of biking, which was close to 120 km. The Lao children are especially friendly, and run IMG_0708from the cover of their village huts to the edge of the roads to wave Sabai Dii (meaning hello) and holding their hands out for high fives.

Our third night was the most unusual. We hiked six hours into the mountains to stay in a village. Along the way, we were unexpectantly accompanied by three young girls who lived in the village. They giggled and talked just like 15 and 16 year old girls would (keep in mind, they had already hiked to our starting point). We also encountered another type of company, but this unwelcome – leaches!! I now completely understand the saying: “You’re being such a leach!”

Just 30 minutes from the Kamu mountain village, it started to rain. A hurricane-like down pour. We arrived soaking wet and muddy to a village as remote as they come – no electricity, bamboo frames and livestock everywhere. Then came the fun part. As we warmed up around the kitchen fire, I witnessed my first chicken slaughter. The same 16 year old girl, Jan, who already IMG_0877walked 10 hours to sell some goods, then made up our beds (mats and mosquito nets on the floor of what looked like a human chicken coup, with dividers between made of woven bamboo), was carrying around a live chicken by its feet. Jan giggled when I took a picture of her and the chicken and then proceeded to kill it, de-feather it and cook it.

We ate our chicken soup on the floor of the deputy chief’s floor, Lao style. We also ate a chicken stir-fry made of ALL of the organs of the chicken as well as its neck and head, mixed with garlic and ginger. Yum, tastes like chicken!

The following day, Jan let me braid her long, dark hair, which the other girls admired but were too shy to let me braid their hair as well. I also tried squirrel, which was what our guide and Jan were eating for breakfast. Tasted like dark meat chicken, but a bit more chewy. Along this trip, I have sampled several unusual foods – buffalo blood and cow’s stomach – local delights.

A long boat ride down the Mekong brought us back to Luang Prabang to hotel Sala Prabang. Showering with soap and shampoo was such a treat! We even splurged and ate dinner at La Residence Phou Vao, the most high-end hotel in all of Laos, located outside of the main Luang Prabang city. However, the meals in the villages have been amazing but our fancy dinner will be remembered for the bread, not the dishes. The best meal was our first night in Luang Prabang at Tamarind, a tiny outpost serving traditional Lao food infused with chic presentation and a multitude of flavors. The icy drinks are the perfect way to cool down from the intense heat and sharing is the only way, the Lao way, to eat!

Tomorrow we head to the Elephant Refuge…more to come!

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