Yesterday morning we traveled by boat up the Mekong River to a cave filled with Buddha statues. It was mildly interesting. We did see all the river traffic and commerce. On a couple of the sandbars there were local people digging up the sand and panning it for gold. Considering the size of some of the sandbars, it must be a difficult task to find much gold. The afternoon trip was to a waterfall southwest of town. This waterfall is unique in that the water comes down from the mountains of limestone above and picks up minerals, so the water is a light aquamarine blue. The minerals in the water have been deposited in the lower river bed over the centuries, so you have flowstone coming down the falls and mineral-walled pools in the river below the falls. These are some of the formations we’ve seen in limestone caves, but we’ve never seen it in a waterfall before. There were a lot of people there, but it spite of that it was very pleasant and quite interesting. And Deni liked the water for a cooling swim.
Last night we had a special Lao fish dinner featuring tilapia cooked in banana leaves eaten with many kinds of cutup vegetables and a garlic peanut sauce to put on it. The dinner was finished with a local fruit sampler. The sweet tamarind was quite good. It’s kind of like dried plums and honey.
Today we went out to a small village just across the river from the Buddha cave we visited yesterday. They have five adult female Asian elephants and a three year old youngster. We rode first in a howdah sedan chair to get used to the elephants. They are big and move slowly and are quite strong. Then we rode bareback down a steep bank to the river. Deni was behind me hanging on for dear life. The elephant’s backs are bony. Oh, and their skin is covered with stiff prickly hairs kind of like pig bristles. (Deni: I have serious bruises on the insides of my thighs from their bristles. It hurt!!) We had our swimming suits on for this ride since the elephants went out into the river and played for awhile. We all got wet and had a good time. (Deni: Well, yes, we had fun. But it is sort of scary to fall off an elephant into a pod of pushing pachyderms. Not something that happens every day and just on the edge of being dangerous.) Then it was back up the bank for lunch. The last ride was back down the bank for the elephants to have their lunch. Earlier they had each had a few bananas for treats. They eat 200 lbs. of roughage a day, so they have to be eating pretty constantly. (Deni: And pooping pretty constantly. An interesting fact: elephant poop floats and looks like neatly packed bundles of grass as it bobs past you in the water.) Deni opted to ride in a howdah this time. I and the other two guys with us rode bareback again. The mahouts are young men that lead and take care of the elephants. They are young and have been dealing with elephants since they were tiny boys. So they sit in the middle of their elephant’s back, on its head, or even stand up on its back while we’re hanging on the best we can riding right behind the elephant’s ears. From time to time, they even stretch out on their elephant for a little rest.
After that experience, we returned to town and went back to the hotel to shower off the dirty Mekong River water. (We’ve seen what goes into the river from the “sewer systems” in town – and now we know about the elephant poop packages.)
Tomorrow we fly to Chiang Mai for five days of exploring northern Thailand and the last stage of our trip.
Deni observation: I meant to mention this in Bangladesh and now I’ve observed it in S.E. Asia, too. There are numerous products available for skin whitening. I first noticed it on huge billboards in Bangladesh that were advertising a Pond’s beauty cream. As we were stopped in traffic (as usual), I read the billboard’s text and was shocked to learn that it was to make your skin lighter! The same sorts of products are on the shelves here. Our friend Miriam is in Phnom Phen right now, and she has seen the same fixation with white skin there. Check out her blog at http://miriamfeder.com.