Hope you are all well, I smell and my arms are KILLING me but have had the best few days here in Luang Prabang. The city is really small but very pretty, and has a real "Frenchy" feel about it. Lots of baguettes, frogs and "Bon appetites"! We chilled for the first few days, checked out some stunning temples and visited the Luang Prabang National Museum, which was quite impressive, and displayed gifts that Laos has received from many other countries.
We spent a memorable few hours one morning at a place called Big Brother Mouse. They are pretty much the only publishing company in Laos as books are a rare (And I think they're thought of as needless) commodity. The place in run by an American guy who noticed that Laos schools are bookless! Kids don't read AT ALL and neither do adults. The charity is fab but they obviously rely on donations to publish and distribute the books to the people of Laos. They do "Book Parties" which involves going into village schools and talking about books, playing games and leaving every child with a brand new book at the end...quite often their very first (And only) book. The whole idea was fab and I really wanted to go in and see what I could do to help. Every morning they run informal classes for local college students and novice monks who want to improve their English, but they need the "Falang" (Foreigners!) to be there to help. Myself and Kim spent 3 hours working with students doing loads of speaking and listening stuff and helping them with their vocabulary. Although their English wasn't great, they could all ask the following...
"Are you married?"
"Do you have a boyfriend?"
"Can I see you tonight ?" It was very amusing. We left feeling pretty good and hope we were of some help, would've been great to spend longer but unfortunately the same people don't come every day so it's hard to get a rhythm going! Was nice to be a teacher again for a short while anyway!
The next day we had booked a "Mahout" experience, which in Laos means Elephant Keeper! We spent 2 days riding and looking after these massive elephants and it was SO much fun! The first day we started riding Mae Son but on a big seat, we felt like princesses (For the first time ever I might add). We walked (Well the elephant walked) us through the river and then returned us to the camp! After that we took a boat to the other side of the river and rode right on the elephant's neck, this in itself was not difficult, but actually getting on the thing was the challenge. I think both Kim and myself can admit that we went from princess to undignified idiots in the space of 2 hours! The elephant lifted up it's leg, we had to stand on it and then leap onto it's neck! We got there eventually but not without some VERY unflattering pictures taken by our guide of us floundering on our bellies with our arses in the air on top of these huge elephants. Very funny though!
We spent last night in a local village and were asleep by about 9pm! Elephant keeping is hard work! This morning was fantastic. We were up at around half 6 and went over to the other side of the river again to pick up our elephants (They sleep in the jungle, not at the camp) and bath them in the river. I know it's hard to believe that a two tonne creature is cute but we had so much fun! We rode them right into a deep part of the river and the Mahouts made them kneel down to get wet (Soaking us in the process of course!) we had to scrub their heads whilst they blew bubbles in the river and shook their heads around! They looked like they were having so much fun and we both agreed it was a real highlight of our trip so far.
After the fun with bathtime we kayaked 26 km back to Luang Prabang. My arms are aching like you wouldn't believe! It was great fun but I got stuck with the novice guide who had only kayaked once before...I felt like his teacher! He didn't understand much English so through a mixture of telepathy and sign language I got him to stroke the oar at the same time as me and avoid rocks sticking out of the river in the rapids! Great fun but I was REALLY relieved when we'd finished!
We leave Luang Prabang tomorrow and head off on a 24 hour bus to Pakse which is right in the South of Laos.
Hope you are all well