Elephant Village

One of the key activities we had on our list for things that had to be done during our trip was to get an elephant ride in.  Booking this trip was done through our guy Mr. Un at the hotel.  We specifically wanted to go to the Elephant Village because this sanctuary is government run and the animals are treated humanely, unlike at other places in SE Asia (and the world for that matter).  They offer full, half, and two day tours; we opted for the half day tour (as we were going to see the Kuang Si Falls in the afternoon).  I apologize that I don’t have the price because we put together a package for the Elephant Village and the Kuang Si Falls that had a negotiated price.  However, it’s Laos and the price for the Elephant Village is most likely going to be pretty good for you no matter what option you want to go with.   Getting there requires a bit of a trip, it’s about a 30-minute drive from Luang Prabang.

The elephants are as cool as you think they would be.  These creatures slowly roam around the sanctuary, allowing visitors to come up (do this with caution of course) and feed/pet them.  The Village only keeps females around as the males can tend to be lazy and/or aggressive (sounds like another species we know, right?).  After a short orientation, you begin your elephant ride with a designated mahout (the elephant guide).  It’s a much more relaxing and enjoyable experience than a camel or horse because the elephants are so big and slow.  The elephants can fit two people on their backs along with the mahout up on their necks.  The convoy of elephants walk around the village, through a river (which was the coolest part) and back up around the town.  During the ride, each person is given the chance to ride on the front on the neck and the guide will climb off and take pictures.  Trust me, it’s a little unnerving at first riding on the animal without a guide, but you quickly get comfortable with being on her.

After the ride, the tour takes you on a traditional Lao long boat to Tad Sae Falls.  Tad Sae Falls itself is like the less impressive version of Kuang Si Falls, which we will be going to in the next post, and it was even more so not impressive because there was no water from it being the dry season.  But the main highlight of taking this side excursion was not the falls, but to see the baby elephant and to get a chance to bathe with an elephant.  The baby elephant is adorable; they keep him in a pen with his mother.  You can’t help but think of the little guy as Dumbo.  He’s playful, curious, and from what our guide says, very mischievous.  We were warned not to get too close because he had a habit of stealing cameras.  We were also warned that if we get too close or too touchy, the mother would get really pissed.  That being said, it still didn’t stop anyone from giving the little guy’s trunk a pet when he reached out of his cage for us.

The tour also offers an option to bathe with an elephant.  Do it.  Bring your bathing suit and pay the extra $30.  You’ll sit atop the elephant while it goes into the river and plays around.  The guide will also give you a bushel of bananas to feed the animal as reward for diving under and cooling everyone off.  It was such a fun experience, and not one that I’ll soon be able to do again any time soon I’m sure.

 

After our elephant bath time, the long boat takes everyone back to the main camp and the Elephant Village provides its guests with lunch.  For those that book the full day tour, they stay to learn how to be a mahout — the practices, commands and such.  For us, we headed our way to Kuang Si Falls, one of the signature sights of SE Asia.  That’s next up on Here and There Travel.

Luang Prabang, Laos

Our next stop was the country of Laos to a little city called Luang Prabang.  If you’re heading there from Bangkok, leave plenty of time to get to the airport and deal with all the flight check in and security (2-3 hours).  The flight is only a few hours and remember to bring cash for the arrival visa ($36).  You’ll also need a photo for the visa which you can either bring with you or they’ll copy one out of your passport for $1.

You’ll immediately notice the difference between Luang Prabang and Bangkok as you drive away from the airport.  Luang Prabang is less busy, less modern, and noticeably more peaceful.  The people are also more friendly, and not in the way that they’re trying to sell you something.  They have more of a quiet politeness that isn’t overbearing, but accommodating at the same time.

Of the three countries, Laos was hands-down my favorite part.  It’s impossible not to feel relaxed in the zen-like ambiance of the town.  It’s a backpacker’s paradise, and while there are tourists there, it’s not overrun with them.  And those tourists that are there tend to be the hippie, mix in with the culture type.  With the 11 PM curfew in the country, there isn’t a huge draw for the spring break party crowd.  Note: The curfew doesn’t mean that you can’t be outside past 11 PM.  It just means that businesses have to closed by then.

Businesses and people in Laos accept Thai baht, but it is a little bit of pain, so try and use whatever baht you have quickly and head to the ATM.  The Laotian money is the kip ($1 = 8,000 kip).  It’ll probably take you a little while to get used doing conversions with thousands at first.

Our hotel was The Le Bel Air Resort.  This is place is really nice; we arrived to a refreshing cold towel and lemongrass tea.  Located a quick 10-15 minute drive from the airport, the Le Bel Air sits on the bank of the Nam Khan River.  The resort itself is made up of several bungalows of varying sizes depending on what you want to pay for, but all the options are very affordable.  And while the bungalows themselves look rustic, they’re actually quite modern.  Each are equipped with A/C, HD TVs, and patios overlooking the river.  The hotel offers free shuttles to the center of town as well as free bikes to borrow.  The service there is also exceptional.  We essentially had our own personal staff member, Mr. Un, who was attentive and helpful.

 

Getting into town is quick, it’s about a 15 minute walk, but there is one drawback to The Le Bel Air.  In order to get to town, you have to cross a very scary, rickety wooden bridge.  The center of the bridge is for bikes only, and the pedestrians have to walk on the side.  It’s a straight-up Indiana Jones crossing.  I’m not afraid of heights, but this bridge is very unnerving (especially at night).  The planks aren’t very stable and will move when you step on them.  Here’s a little video to show you what the walk is like:

Bamboo bridge
Bamboo bridge

Alternatively, there is a bamboo walking bridge that you can cross, but it costs 500 kip, and is only available during the dry season when the river is low.  So as much as I hate to say this, I would recommend staying at a place closer to town if you don’t like heights.  Again, I hate to say that because The Le Bel Air is such a nice place and the hotel does offer a free shuttle, but that is a bit of pain because the shuttle isn’t run regularly and it has to take a major detour around the river to get to the center of town.  So from a time-saving standpoint just walking to town is a lot quicker and easier, but a lot of people would not be comfortable with that bridge.

My next few posts will cover the sights and sounds of beautiful Luang Prabang, including elephant riding, Kuang Si falls, and rice whiskey tastings.