Friday, February 24, 2012

Indochine Adventure pt.4 - Adventures with Ellies

          After our busy teaching day, and on our last full day in Laos, we decided to have some real fun - elephant riding, jungle hiking, riverboat riding, zip lining, waterfall cliff jumping kind of fun!!*  We spent our entire day in a nature reserve along the Mae Kok river, a tributary to the Mekong, about a one-hour drive outside of Luang Prabang, and where we had about half-a-dozen mini-adventures planned throughout the day.

          First we visited an elephant camp, where we met some Asian elephants and then climbed up onto them for a 90-minute ride up into the surrounding hills and jungle.  Instead of saddles, they had custom-fit little wooden benches set onto thick blankets and burlap on their backs. First we forged across a river, then up into the wild unknown. The swift current and deep water of the river crossing provided our first adrenalin rush of the day - especially when our mahouts (elephant drivers) told us not to be afraid if the elephants decided to start swimming in the deep center channel! A mahout and the elephant they work with are essentially together for life, or at least for the working life of the elephant. They are together every day and the mahout cares for and feeds the elephant. Most working elephants in Southeast Asia (some 95% of all elephants in SE Asia are privately owned and working) work in the forest industry and there is minimal protection and welfare for them, but these particular elephants are well cared for and only work (walk) about 4 hours a day. Our ellies seemed happy and calm, and their mahouts let us ride them alone, sitting up on the elephants neck with our legs tucked behind their ears - we even wandered off a bit in different directions, so each ellie could search for her favorite foods along the way. Claira especially loved riding her elephant and rode on her elephant's neck for the entire journey, but she said that the coarse, wiry hairs on the top of her head (the elephant's!) made it difficult to stay in a comfortable position.*

          After our long climb through the jungle, we arrived at the elephant outpost. Now we had to continue on foot. After the elephants departed, it was time to start the trekking part of our day and we had a fairly rigorous hike through the jungle, but were rewarded with lunch in one of the most beautiful settings we've ever experienced, completely secluded, miles away from anyone else. We dined in a bamboo structure with a table and chairs that was built right next to a beautiful waterfall. It was stunning. How they got all that building material deep into the jungle I'll never know, but it was definitely not with the elephants (the terrain was way too steep and overgrown for them).

          After lunch, we continued the jungle-trek with our guide for around an hour and a half, and, for the last part of the trek, we had a pack horse available to carry our gear down a steep grade....but, before we could load our gear, he was reallocated to the riding team as Claira was quickly aboard the saddle! After the steep downhill climb, we arrived back at the Mae Kok river and were picked up by a boat. But not just any boat, a bamboo boat, well it was more of a bamboo hut with floats beneath. It took us around 15 minutes to float down river. We then pulled up to a little dock, and took a short walk to a series of waterfalls - actually, it was several acres of wide, tiered waterfalls with beautiful blue water and dozens of swimming holes. The area was fairly developed, with shops and open areas to swim. While my dad and sisters explored the waterfalls - cliff jumping from pool-to-pool, I discovered that there was a zip line course, and was quickly off with two guides for a 15 minute hike to the launch point. There were around 10 lines on the course, and they were all great. (at some point, I'll load some zip-lining video here). We then re-boarded our floating hut and drifted back to the elephant camp where we ended our fun filled day.

       Our time in Laos was now coming to an end. On our 6th and final day in LP, we had a relaxing walk around town in the morning and a really good lunch at a French restaurant (where my sisters were both served wine by our waiter, despite the bemused look on my dad's face). At 2 o’clock, we boarded our flight back to Hanoi. Emily and my mom were flying straight back to California, so we said goodbye at the airport. But my dad and Claira were staying on in Hanoi with me for another couple of days. The big surprise upon my return to Hanoi was how shockingly cold it had become while we were away - Winter had arrived! The evening I got back the temperature was in the low 50s, whereas I had not experienced anything below the high-70s in my four prior months here.

Wintertime is Cold in Hanoi!

          For the last couple days of my break, we stayed at the fancy Metropole hotel, located in the Hoan Kiem (old town) district. It was nice to have a couple of relaxing days with nothing to do or places to go. On Sunday, January 8th, it was time for my dad and Claira to depart Vietnam, but rather than head back over the Pacific, they had purchased an around-the-world ticket (with is just about the same price as a round-trip to Vietnam) and continued west to Europe, where they had a whirlwind train-tour of Florence, Paris, Amsterdam, and Dusseldorf, before heading over the pond to New York.

          We had an awesome Indochine adventure, and I was sad that it was over, but I am also excited to be looking towards the new school semester in Hanoi.

* Once again, thanks to my dad for the text and pictures I just stole off his facebook page!


  1. Wow! Every where you travel is awesome! Looked fun!

  2. wow a whole day in the jungle and riding elephants! sounds so fun!

  3. That swimming hole looks amazing!!!!!!
    -SBMS student from jim's geography class

  4. that is so cool! I have always wanted to ride a elephant befor.
    -SBMS geography Chloe

  5. I love elephants and have always want to ride them. Thats awesome!

  6. elephants are one of my favorite animals1 it is now on my bucket list to ride one!

  7. that must have been so cool to ride on an elephant