Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Kayaking on the Nam Hou and Mekong Rivers

The last two days have been spent drifting down some of the mightiest rivers in the world, from the Nam Hou into the Mekong.  The Mekong is in the top ten rivers of the world in terms of flow rate.  It is wide and swift with rocks jutting out everywhere.  We had to navigate rapids at various points of the trip.  Don't worry mom, they weren't too scary.

Scary rocks along Mekong River, Laos
We spent five hours paddling on the first day until we got to a towering limestone cliff that threw its shadow over the river.  It was such a powerful spectacle.  Jevin has some photos so go to facebook and see it once they're up.  There were trees growing right out of the rock and points where it seemed to be raining from their roots.  There must have been some sort of cave or crack that water flowed through but it looked like the tree was leaking like a wet sponge.  

From the cliff, we paddled across the river to the Pak Ou caves.  The upper cave was about 54 meters deep with a 25 meter high ceiling and stalactites hanging from it.  It was packed with Buddha statues of all sizes, from 3 meters high to only a few centimetres.  The lower cave was similar, less deep though, and more statues.  There were a few locals there burning incense at the altar.  

Our last stop for the night was an elephant camp.  A family of elephant trainers lived here along with three elephants.  The elephants weren't there when we arrived because they are taken into the jungle every evening where they get a couple hours of sleep and spend the rest of the night eating eating eating with the predictable result...

It's not hard to tell what's in an elephant's diet.
Supper was served Lao-style and prepared by the family.  We all ate together, sticky rice, buffalo, mixed veggies, and a few other things I couldn't identify.  The Lao style of eating is to take sticky rice from the communal basket, form it into a little ball, and then add some meat or vegetable to it and eat it with your hands.  There are no personal plates so I had to come to terms with sharing microbes.  I enjoyed the meal thoroughly, tasting all of the dishes.  I scooped up a mouthful of random paste and put into my mouth, only asking what is was after I swallowed.  This was a mistake.  It was raw seasoned buffalo.  Now, I've been pretty lucky so far health-wise.  Most travellers have to stay close to the toilet for a few days at some point but Robyn, Jevin, and I have all been so-far-so-good.  It's been almost 24 hours since I've eaten the buffalo and I still feel fine but I am worried now about parasites and things (Theresa, please advise).  The situation is complicated further by the fact that we are not planning on being in a country with a decent hospital for over a month.  Hope for the best, I guess.  *Gulp*

Other than the risk to my health, the meal was very enjoyable and it was nice to see an honest Lao family at meal time.  Lao people typically eat at home and since all we do is eat out, we don't have many chances to interact.

We slept well at the camp, the three of us lined up under a mosquito net.  The jungle around us was alive with activity at night.  It sounded like a legion of frogs were all lost and trying to find each other in the dark, we could hear bats above us, and the night isn't the night without thousands of crickets playing their creaky one-stringed violins in the dark.

The next morning heralded the return of the elephants!  I heard them before I saw them, tromping their way through camp and down the hill on their way to bathe in the river.  At the time of their return, Jevin was down by the river, doing yoga, getting zen.  He was also directly in the path of the elephants and didn't know that they were coming.  The first one lumbered along alone, being sent ahead by his trainer.  I watched as it got closer and closer to Jevin until he noticed and they came face to face.

Jevin stares down an elephant.
They stared at eachother for the better part of a minute until the elephant decided it was thirsty and continued along.  When I thought it was safe, I followed behind.  Jevin and I watched as the trainers shouted commands and the elephants bathed.  It was neat to see.

View from the elephant camp across the Mekong River to the Pak Ou Caves

We left the camp just before noon and continued downstream.  Soon, we came upon a group of women panning for gold.  We stopped to watch the process and they showed us what they had collected in the last few days, a few small nuggets formed from the bits of gold flecks found in the sand.  The process is interesting.  They put loads of sand in buckets and bring them down to the water.  A bucket is emptied into a sieve and the rocks are discarded.  The remaining sediment is swished around in a pan.  Muddy water is removed and the heavier grains remain.  After about 20 minutes you can see many gold flecks in the remaining sand.  This is poured into another container to be sorted carefully later.  A whole day's panning might yield about $14 worth of gold, sold at market.

Our last stop was the Whisky Village where we saw the process by which sticky rice is made into Lao-style moonshine.  Rice whisky, 110 proof.  It is cheap and horrible.  We didn't buy any but it was good to try.  Some whisky bottles had creatures stuffed inside of them, snakes, scorpions, centipedes, and some even had bear paws, a pile of geckos, cobras, elephant penis.... we didn't try those ones.  As we left the village, we saw old ladies making blankets and scarves on looms.  Jevin bought a nice scarf, handmade in the village, for $1.35.

Survived the kayaking! I'm not sure where we're going to go next, but I'll keep you posted!


  The spiders here are so scary, I could die.

Spider bigger than my hand...just hanging out near an old wat.


1 comment:

  1. Awesome photos, videos and story telling! Keep up the good work and stay safe!