Luang Prabang in Laos had a much more laid back feel than Hanoi. Our budget hotel contained an abundance of hard wood, which would have been considered opulent in the UK, but in the heavily forested Laos it is commonplace.
Next day we had a walk around the town to get our bearings, and met a river guide called Pet. Basically, there are quite a few guys along the riverfront, who have longboats, and will take you for a little cruise on the river for a fee. The river of course is the mighty Mekong, which runs all the way through South East Asia. Pet was quite amused that my name was Pat (Pet and Pat), and agreed to take us to the other side of the river to watch the boat race the following day with his village.
The boat race was a big deal in Luang Prabang, with teams from local villages coming to together once a year to compete. The various villages cheering their teams on from the riverbank, while drinking copious amounts of Beer Lao, which is very cheap and very popular in the country.
At first we were watching the action from Pet’s boat,
as the teams went down the river going hell for leather,
and back up the river in a more leisurely manor.
We were waiting to see the green team. Though there were a few false alarms, as green is a popular colour in Laos (possibly the greenest country on Earth). Eventually, Pet’s home village team came down the course. They seemed to be catching the reds, but not fast enough, and soon they were out of the competition.
The villagers didn’t waste much time in evacuating the scene, once there team was no longer involved. They boarded the boat which would take them one hour upstream to their home.
Next day we took a boat ride on the river. We were overtaken by some monks.
There were some charming dogs on the other side,
as well as some Wats (Buddhist Temples).
There were also many Wats in Luang Prabang. It seemed as though every other building had a religious purpose. and the whole town was gearing up for one of the most important religious festivals of the year – Loi Krathong (Festival of Lights). This mostly involved constructing boats, floats and lanterns.
All the hard work paid off, plus we were able to meet up with our friends Chris and Gemma (see Varkala Beach and Halong Bay) for a third time, though this time it was not pure chance.
We spent the evening wondering through the city’s streets and Wats savouring the mellow ambient atmosphere that had been created by the soft flickering lantern light. And then we bought our own floating candle and placed it into The Mekong with the others.
After a few days of settling into the pace of this beautiful city, we booked a day at an elephant camp. For the first part of the day we were just getting used to the scale of these wonderful creatures.
We spent a bit of time feeding them, and then had a little trip across the river to see the Pak Ou Caves which were also a Buddhist shrine.
After our lunch, we had to do some learning. These were words that we would be using to instruct the elephant, whilst we were riding them bareback.
This was called mahout training (a Mahout being a person who works with, rides, and tends an elephant).
We both got up okay, but in truth the elephants didn’t pay much attention to any of the words coming out of our mouths. Luckily they did pay attention to the real mahouts, who were walking along with us.
We rode they elephants through the forest, up and down some quite steep hills, which they handled with complete ease. Towards the end of the afternoon we went down to the Mekong, where we bathed with them. At this point the favourite command was ‘boon’, which was a request for elephant to fill it’s trunk with water and spray it all over you. We got totally drenched.