Sunday, February 10, 2013

Elephants in Pakse

Friday 8th and Saturday 9th February

Pakse is in southern Laos and is only an hour’s flight from Siem Reap in Cambodia. Pakse is a “small” town of about 400 000 people, and like many of the important towns and cities in Indo China is located on the Mekong River. Although Pakse is a long way from the end of the Mekong it is still a sizeable river, and has its source in the Himalayas. Its flow has been reduced in recent years by the construction of dams in China.
Sunset over the Mekong from the 10th floor of the hotel

Pakse seems to be slightly more prosperous than other places we have visited, and has fewer bicycles than we’ve seen before. Tour buses seem to rule the roads, at the expense of other traffic, and our driver has shown a love of speed , sometimes to the point of being a bit crazy. He does stop for cows, goats, water buffalo and the occasional vehicle he can’t intimidate into submission.

A lot of our trip so far seems to centre on eating, and the exposure to new culinary experiences has had a few humorous moments. Last night Di had a great adventure cooking and eating Pork Sukiyaki, which in true Lao style arrived when everyone else had finished eating, providing entertainment for the rest of us. Food and drink are cheap. A restaurant meal including drinks costs less than $20 per couple, or 160 000 Kip.
Di having a culinary adventure with Pork Sukiyaki

Today’s adventure was an elephant ride. The elephants live in Xe Pian Animal sanctuary. The ride took about an hour, during which time I discovered that elephant hair is quite stiff and bristly, and felt as if half my leg was getting a great exfoliation. I also discovered how strong and dextrous the trunk is as we had to purchase bamboo and feed it to them before and after the ride. The ride was quite restful and ponderous as we lumbered along through the jungle. The quiet was disturbed by those behind us to "Control your elephant" as they endured its extended bursts of intestinal backfiring.

Our group sets off through the jungle, Di ad Jim in the lead

Tony and Jenny aboard their elephant

This elephant montage is a decorative facade on the wall of the best toilets we have seen so far.
Our final stop was at a 5th century temple at Vat Phou. This temple is not as decorative as the later ones at Angkor, but it was interesting to see the process of restoration of this temple. It is in a beautiful setting next to a mountain, and the setting embodies all the attributes of Hindu symbolism.
Rice padi fields near the temple with their second crop of the season, made possible by irrigation
Looking uphill towards the sacred mountain...

...and downhill towards the sacred water.
The gnarled trees are frangipannis

Part of the temple under re-construction, pieces numbered and in place

Re-constructing a 5th century temple with 21st century technology
Our hotel, the slightly mis-named Champasak Grand, overlooks the bridge over the Mekong and it has been interesting to watch the action below and the different moods of the river.
Crossing the bridge over the Mekong

A better sunset over the Mekong

Our final night was Chinese New Year's eve, with appropriate decorations. Apparently there were fireworks at midnight but I was oblivious and slept through them.

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