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Published: November 15th 2009
Scenery during our hike
The three-day mahout course isn't actually three full days of elephant training. This is smart because after one day you are pretty sore and after two days you are walking funny. Today we have three non-elephant entertainment options:
1. Trek to a nearby Khmu village and then on to a waterfall
2. Kayak to the waterfall
3. Take an air-conditioned minivan to the waterfall
We woke up around 7am. It was a beautiful foggy, cool morning with the mist settling over the trees. Angelique was interested in learning more about the various ethnic groups; Adrian loves waterfalls. So we went with Option #1. Bad idea.
Angelique woke up with a stomach ache which was annoying at first and certainly not horrible when we began our trek. However, by 10am the fog burned off and the temperature rose to about 95F. The heat made the trek (about 4 hours total walking time) a bit painful since most of the walking was on dirt roads with very little shade. We coould elaborate regarding Angelique's upset stomach and how she felt about hiking in 95F weather but instead we'll tell you a little bit about what we saw during our hike.
Mountains outside Luang Prabang.
The scenery in the area just outside Luang Prabang is absolutely stunning. We were in an upland valley surrounded by large green mountains (~3,000-4,000 feet high). The Khmu village we visited is called "Hoify" and it's quite large with about 50 families in residence. The only way in or out of the village is a rocky dirt road that snakes through rice paddies. We walked past people harvesting both rice and hops (for BeerLao). It is hard work and every family member helps out. We passed a mother with her daughters, including one that could not have been older than four, carrying huge, heavy bags filled with rice back to the village. They were partially supporting the weight by tying a rope around their foreheads and they were all absolutely staggering under their loads. There couldn't be a greater contrast between their lives and ours. It makes mild GI problems seem very trivial.
Most of the residents of Hoify live in houses made of woven palm leaves with thatched roofs. The homes are built on the ground (not up on stilts like many of the buildings that we've seen near the rivers). A few buildings in Hoify have
concrete walls and thatched roofs and one or two (including the school) have iron roofs.
Since it's harvest time, most of the adults were working in the fields when we happened upon the village. The locals harvest two kinds of rice: dry rice (regular steamed rice that we're familiar with) and sticky rice (a special kind that is popular in Laos). It's more profitable to harvest sticky rice but it can only be grown in "wet" rice paddies (irrigated areas or paddies near the edge of the river). The dry rice is grown on hillsides and the quality varies. In Laos there is a much bigger market for sticky rice (and, of course, hops) but some farmers can't grow either if they don't have the right plot of land.
We were a little disappointed that our interaction with the villagers was so limited. We were taken to a building with picnic tables (shade!!) and our guide gave us some sandwiches and told us that we had about an hour to walk around after we finished eating. He then disappeared into a hut to talk with people and we were on our own. It's a pretty typical set up.
Tat Sae waterfall.
The tour companies pay the village for access for their tour groups but the villagers usually don't go out of their way to interact with the tour groups unless they are staying overnight. And can you really blame them? So we walked around a bit, snapped a few photos and chatted with some kids. People were generally friendly and responded with smiles but we couldn't communicate much with them. We thought about giving the school our books from Big Brother Mouse, but Sang told us that they already have hundreds of books from tourists. We have decided to donate our books to children living in the region near the Plain of Jars.
The hike to the waterfall, Tat Sae, took about one hour. The hike was extremely hot but the waterfall is definitely worth seeing. The water tumbles over a series of natural limestone "steps" or shelves, creating several swimming holes. The limestone is a greenish white and the water is very clear so it's a great place to swim, play, and picnic. Some tourists ride elephants to this waterfall; locals come to picnic. It's a popular place and very pretty.
The trip back to Luang Prabang was
Another view of Tat Sae waterfall.
a bit more complicated than it needed to be. First we walked to the Nam Khan river, then took a boat across to the other side, then walked about 20 minutes down a dirt (but driveable) road to the main road. After about 20 minutes of waiting, a van picked us up (AC!!). But the driver didn't have our luggage so we had to drive back to the elephant camp to pick up our bags and then into town to pay for the trip. So, finally, around 4:30pm, we were delivered to Le Bel Air, where our luggage and ourselves were immediately whisked off to a lovely, luxurious bungalow.
Angelique stayed in for the night, talking a cold bath and drinking tons of bottled water to prevent or reduce what is probably some form of dehydration/heat stroke. Adrian went for dinner at the hotel's restaurant and was instantly adopted by a group of retired American teachers who had just arrived. The teachers peppered Adrian with questions about Luang Prabang, Siem Reap, the elephants, etc. Two hours later he managed to escape and return to the bungalow.
We are both relieved to be back in civilization in a comfortable
Boys fishing in the Nam Khan river.
bed with air-con and we slept very, very well.
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