A small & relaxed capital city, main reason for our visit was to get our Thai visas sorted. An easy enough process but you have to wait a while just to put your application in at one counter, then wait again to pay at a different one before coming back the next day to pick up your passport!
The city itself is nice enough set on the bank of the Mekong over looking Thailand. A great place to get a meal, shop in the night market and watch the sun set.
A stop we almost missed out on due to its reputation as a drug & alcohol fuel led party town popular with backpackers.
We decided to stop over to break the long bus ride to Luang prahbang. Which is a long & windy road through the mountains. The first part of the journey isn’t even on bitumen the whole way!
Vieng vang is small ( and deserted town while we were there) set in a beautiful valley. Apparently the authorities have cracked down on partying which was nice for us, but bad for local business there were more empty seats in countless restaurants than people I saw in the town!
The thing to do here is float down the river in a tyre tube. It is the most fun, cooling, relaxing way to appreciate the beauty of the mountains & river. We only saw a few places to stop and have a beer ( the banks use to be lined with bars apparently) the best one we almost missed had it not been for a fellow tuber up ahead. Two young guys had “set up” a rogue bar in the roots of a tree that hang out over the river. All they had was a small esky perched in between the roots. It has got to be one of the best bars I’ve ever been in!
What a bus ride, endless hairpin turns through stunning terrain! We had a couple of close calls on some blind corners with rather large trucks, I’m glad I wasn’t sitting up front!
This is a beautiful town set between two rivers ; Mekong and ………
Very relaxing, some great food & friendly people. A large population of monks & we woke early one morning to see the monks begging for alms ( where they get their food for the day from the locals).
They have a large night market with a great little lane of food including bbqs which was fun to eat at.
The highlight of course was meeting an elephant. We did a 2 day mahot training trip to elephant village. They have elephants they have rescued from logging as well as elephants they rent from the owners so they won’t send them logging. Each elephant has her own mahot that is rescued / rented with her. They had a good reputation & as far as we could tell they were doing a good job. ( though I think it would be better if the elephants & mahots could have a day off!)
The first day we learnt how to get up on the neck of the elephant by holding onto her ear and stepping up on her leg, it is a long way up! We then did a little loop to practice the commands we had learnt ( like we were ever going to remember, with the exception of stop!)
We then went in our pairs and had a ride in the howda (the elephant seat) with the mahout on their necks. When we got on our’s I noticed what looked like a dermatitis on her head & some minor scratching/bleeding behind her ears & then she started swaying side to side like she didn’t want us on. I thought my fears had been realized. But once she got going she was ok and actually seemed happier when her mahout was out in front where she could see him. It turned out that she had only been in the village a couple of months & had been rescued from logging which was the cause of her skin problems. She was still settling in and was kept separate from the other elephants to adjust slowly.
After lunch we crossed the river to a group of elephants. Here we were given one each to ride back into the jungle to their resting place for the night. We got to ride on their necks, it was such an amazing experience, and my mahout was great he spoke quite good English and had a fantastic relationship with his elephant. Her name was miecar meaning mother of gold. She was 37 and had been rescued from logging she had been his fathers elephant also.
We walked back out of the jungle and spent the afternoon cooling off in the waterfall down river!
The next morning we rose early & were back across the river walking through the jungle to meet our elephants were we had left them. We got there first standing on a small track amongst the trees waiting for our new friends. We heard them before we saw them, a slow rhythmical sound of a dragging chain ( the chain them at night for protection with a 50m chain). Then you see huge dark shadows emerge from the jungle. Next thing you know your a few feet away from them looking them in the face, incredible! The elephants then proceeded to pile the chain length the way a human would! It was serial, intimidating, humbling and absolutely amazing to be surrounded by 8 elephants in the jungle!
We all jumped on and head back down to the river. I rode solo the whole way, I couldn’t believe it. I was a bit nervous at first but she was so good & gentle I loved it. I’d like to think I got her back on track once or twice by using my knees as taught, but I’m sure she just got bored of what she had been looking at!
We got to the river & it was bath time, my mahout got back on and we headed into the water. It was so great seeing all the elephants in the river I think they enjoyed it as much as we did. We had been given a scrubbing brush and set about giving our girls a good scrub. My mahout got her to shower me with her trunk, I was soaked & happy!
We were then very lucky to ride our elephants across the river & up a very steep bank back to the village. (we’d asked our guide the night before if we could).
Everyone was so happy & couldn’t stop smiling. We all knew it was an experience of a lifetime and one we would never forget.