Posts Tagged ‘Elephant’

Four thousand islands in the Mekong river

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

On Thursday I got up early-ish, and headed out to the Thai embassy to get a visa. They are giving away 60 day visas until June 4, so I figured I’d take advantage of that. In the visa office I met a Norwegian-Swedish girl called Helena who stayed at the same guest house as me, and that I’d spoken to a bit the night before. It was a looong wait to get to the counter where I handed in my application and my passport, and then an almost equally long wait to the next counter where I got a receipt for it. We talked most of the time, and decided to do some sightseeing once we got out of there. We first went to see the golden stupa, Pha That Luang, which is a symbol of Laos both nationally and religiously, but it wasn’t all that impressive, to be honest. The best part of it was that we met a couple of monks that were sitting around studying English and Japanese, and they wanted to talk to us to practice their English. Helena had recently studied Japanese for a few months, so they accidentally got to practice their Japanese as well, while all I said was wakarimasen, I don’t understand… ๐Ÿ˜›
On the way back we went through the Patuxai, which is a symbol of peace, but looks like the Arc de Triomphe. We stopped by Wat Si Saket as well, which was the only temple to survive the Siamese sacking of Vientiane in 1828, but it was closed, so we didn’t get in. We had dinner at an outdoor restaurant by the Mekong, where I ordered Mekong fish, and got a giant barbequed fish
on my plate, with some stickyrice on the side. ๐Ÿ™‚

The next morning we met at breakfast in the guest house, and both had to go pick up our passports with the Thai visas, so we stuck together again. We stopped for lunch on the way, and almost got to the embassy to late. It was open till 3pm, and we got there at 2:59, but with the result that we were in and back out in less than a minute! That night we went out with two Brits and an Australian, to the same place at the Mekong riverfront. Me and Helena were planning to pick up dinner at the night market, but since the others were eating there, I couldn’t resist getting what they called a “hatched egg”, which basically means a boiled egg with a foetus inside… It looked thoroughly disgusting, but it tasted like a hard boiled egg. For dinner at the night market I picked up some beef jerkey, fried rice, a really nice sausage, something that turned out to be herbs and liver in an intestine, and a bag of deep fried beetles that looked like giant stink bugs… ๐Ÿ˜› The food was good, but the beetle-snack was just salty and dry as dust, so I passed the bag around, and a Swedish guy ended up finishing it!

That night I got to talking to an Australian girl, Hannah, in my dormitory, who’d lost her passport and had been in Vientiane waiting for a new one for nine days. I told her I wanted to go out to Phu Khao Khuai National Park to go Elephant spotting, and she asked if she could come, so Saturday morning the two of us took a local bus out to the park, and a Tuk-Tuk to the nearest village, Ban Na. We found the office, had lunch, and headed out into the park. After a few kilometers we reached the Elephant Observation Tower, where we were going to spend the night with our two guides. They were two “for our protection”, but armed with flip-flops and umbrellas I’m not entirely sure they could do much than try to distract any giant pachyderm trying to attack us… We had a dip in the water hole where the elephants come to drink, and then settled in for a night of Elephant spotting. The tower is built right on a salt lick where they come to add some much needed minerals to their diet, by licking the salty rocks. It was a gorgeous night in the jungle, but the closest we got to wild elephants was a prodigious snort deep in the woods.

Sunday morning we headed out for a trek, and saw where the elephants had gone through last night. We went to a beautiful waterfall where we were playing around in the water for a while, and when we got back up, our things were literally COVERED in butterflies! I had to shake them off my camera bag to get out my camera, and it was hard to get good pictures, since they kept landing on the camera while I was trying to photograph them. When we were packing up to leave again, I had to wave the butterflies out of my backpack, camerabag and shoes… We stopped for lunch by another stream, and had another dip there to cool off in the killingly hot and damp jungle. A cool thing about that stream was that some of the water went under a ledge, and came bubbling out of a hole further down the stream, so it was like a natural jacuzzi!
We were back at Ban Na village a little before 3pm, and walked out to the river to catch a bus south to a place in the Mekong river called the four thousand islands. At a quarter to four a bus came past that was going to Pakse, and we got on it. Twelve hours later, we arrived in Pakse, where we had to wait for three hours before we could get a bus to Si Phan Don, the Four Thousand Islands. From the bus we got a ride on motorbikes down to the river, and then on a longboat across to the island of Don Det. We arrived at 11am, on Monday morning, a good 19 hours after we left… Needless to say, Monday was not a very active day on our part, we spent most of it in the hammocks on the terrace in our guest house, which is built on stilts over the edge of the Mekong. Here I met some Dutch girls that I spoke to in Vang Vieng, and that I might meet up with in Koh Panang on Sunday. This morning we’re planning to rent bicycles and go around the island of Don Det, and cross the bridge to Don Khon. Hannah has to go back to Vientiane tomorrow morning to pick up her new passport, while I’m staying another day before I head back to Thailand, and down south to the islands. The idea is to get to Koh Panang in time for the full moon party, the biggest beach party in the world. A lot of the travellers in South East Asia try to catch one of those while they’re here, and I expect to meet quite a few of the people I’ve met around the place in the past couple of months. ๐Ÿ™‚

Temples of Angkor

Friday, May 8th, 2009

I am now travelling alone again. Annikken and I spent our last night together in Vietnam in the company of Karoline, Jake and Bryan at the GO2 in Saigon. I stayed in a cheap dormitory that night, and Bryan saw what it looked like when he followed me over to get money for the bus to Cambodia. They made fun of it the whole night, but when it came down to it, I slept like a baby. ๐Ÿ™‚
Early Monday morning I went to the guest house where our three new friends were staying, had breakfast with them, and got on the bus to Phnom Penh. Later the same day, Annikken got on a plane to go to Hong Kong, then London and finally Oslo, but I didn’t see her that day, as I left too early. This goes out to you Annikken: It was really nice to see you again, and to travel with you, even though I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time with anyone in go, ever. The more I think about it, the stranger I find it that we didn’t have more fights!

On the bus, one of the bus company guys collected all our passports, and filled out our Cambodian immigration forms for us. I was going to buy my visa on the border, and the bus guy said he’d fix it for me, the price was seventyfour dollars. I got worried, because I didn’t anticipate such a high price, and told him as much. He kept sticking to his price, but I just didn’t have that much dollars on me, so I couldn’t give it to him. When we got to the border, I fixed the visa myself, for 20 dollars, and it took about five minutes. This is the kind of behavior I’m getting tired of, you ALWAYS have to be worried about getting ripped off.

Before we got to Phnom Penh, we decided to keep going directly to Siem Reap, as the others were flying out of Phnom Penh later, anyway. We arrived there in the evening, really tired, but booked a trip to Angkor the next morning anyway.

The alarm went off at 4:45am on Tuesday, and we were off at 5, in our little Tuk-tuk. The one day ticket cost 20 dollars, and was printed with our photo on it, taken at the counter! Around 5:30 we reached Angkor Wat, the temple city, itself, and together with the crowd of tourists, we watched the sun rise over the thousand year old temple complex. We spent the next couple of hours exploring the huge temple, climbing stairs and photographing bas-reliefs and fascinating architectural details. The only disappointment was that the stairs to the upper level had been closed off, because they’re so steep, and some tourists have fallen down and hurt themselves.

At the end of it we met up at the tuk-tuk, and continued to Angkor Thom, the Great City. Angkor Thom was the capitol of the great Khmer empire, and the area housed about a million people around the turn of the last millennium! Much of it was swallowed by the jungle after the fall of the empire, and some claim that there are still undiscovered structures hidden in the dense growth, even though most of the sites are overrun by tourists. We were among them, as we entered through the South Gate of Angkor Thom, over a bridge where statues of men holding the bodies of two great seven-headed Nagas formed the balustrade on each side. Once inside, the jungle still grows, but is kept at a distance, so it more closely resembles a park. The second stop inside the walls, after breakfast, was the Bayon temple, with a stunning 54 towers, each adorned by a smiling face of Avalokiteshvara, in what they say is a great likeness to the face of the king who had it built, King Jayavarman VII, who ruled from 1181-1219. Inside Angkor Thom is also the Baphuon, which was constructed by King Udayadityavarman II who ruled from 1049-65. In the 15th century parts of it was dismantled, and used to build a seventy meters long reclining Buddha, which is still part of the rear of the structure. We went to the Royal Palace with Phimeanakas, and to the Elephant terrace, where the kings would watch elephant races and acrobat shows and other entertainment. At the opposite side of the racing ground were big towers, between which long wires used to be fastened, for acrobats to “fly” through the air before the eyes of their audience. We had lunch before we left, and then headed out the east gate of Angkor Thom.

The first place we stopped at once outside, was Ta Keo, which is almost devoid of carvings. Lightning struck the temple before it was finished, and this was considered such a bad omen that construction was just left as it was, and to this day the place looks like it’s almost done, and is only lacking decoration.

Our last stop was Ta Prohm. This temple is the only one close to Siem Reap that is still partly overgrown, but even here the growth is kept down, and only the biggest trees with the largest roots are left standing. King Jayavarman VII, who also built Bayon, built this temple dedicated to his mother, and it contained massive treasures. Some of the many Sanskrit inscriptions apparently state that there used to be thousands of pearls and precious stones, and golden dishes weighing more than half a ton each! The one thing that the temple is most known for today, however, is that Angelina Jolie was here as Lara Croft for the filming of a couple of scenes for Tomb Raider… By the time we were done sneaking through dark galleries and climbing over roots and fallen pillars like Indiana Jones, it was getting late, and we headed over to Phnom Bakheng, a temple on top of a hill, where we watched the sunset before heading home for dinner. By the time we got back to our hotel, we’d been walking around for 14 hours, and my feet were sore in my new sneakers.

The last couple of days, I’ve been taking it easy, reading and relaxing. Jake, Bryan and Karol left for Phnom Penh on Wednesday, and went looking for a cheap hotel. I ended up in a place called Sakura Village, where I’m staying in a double room with aircon, my own bathroom, cable TV and minibar for 5 dollars per night. One of the things that are peculiar about Cambodia, is that the ATM machine only dispense US dollars… To change to Riel, the local currency, you need to go to street-side exchange operations or banks! The Riel is used instead of cents, so that one dollar divides into 4000 riel of small change, but price is almost always given in dollars. Across the street from where I stay, is a hotel called Soria Moria. Because of the name, a palace in the clouds from a Norwegian fairy tale, and because it had a Norwegian flag, and promised Scandinavian food, I went there Wednesday night. It was run by a couple from Sandefjord, and I spoke briefly with the wife. It was one dollar night, with tapas at a buck a piece, so I stayed a while, and sampled amongst other things the Swedish meat balls… They also had free Wifi, and when I got online, I found that there was to be a small Couchsurfers’ meeting that night, at a place called… Soria Moria! I kept hanging around, and eventually met up with a group of surfers. After dinner, three of us went to the Bar Street to play pool, and after several rounds eventually ended up playing Wii Sports in a bar until time came to head off to bed. ๐Ÿ™‚
Yesterday I sat in a garden restaurant reading all day, just enjoying life, and today I am meeting with a German guy Annikken and I met in Hoi An. First though, I am planning to go see if I can find this place that’s supposed to have some nice miniature landscapes, copies of the Angkor areas, and get some nice bird’s eye view photos. ๐Ÿ˜‰

PS: It’s REALLY IS a small world. On my last day in Vietnam, I walked into a restaurant to have an iced coffee, and I started talking to some of the other patrons. Two of them were Swedes, and the third was a Norwegian they’d met and travelled with for a couple of days. His name was Jostein, and he went to school with one of my best friends, Hallgeir…

Elephants, Rhinos and Crocodiles

Friday, March 27th, 2009

19. March
The medicine against my amoebas has not presented any side effects so far, for which I am very grateful! I had a pizza night with the teenagers at KICC on Saturday. 11 people had said they’d come for sure, 5 that they might show up. We were 25! It was a great evening, and I had six people say they’d like to organize the next Social! For this I am very grateful. The bandh in the Terai area ended on Sunday, and I got the opportunity to go to Chitwan National Park after all! For this I am immensely grateful! ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€

On Monday I got up at 5am, to go take the bus. The bus left at 7am, and we arrived in time for lunch at around 1pm. After lunch, we walked around the village, looking at how the Theru people still live in a very traditional environment, albeit with some modern improvements (and drawbacks) to their lifestyles. The most obvious improvement was tin roofs on some of the houses, instead of the thatch, which leaks and needs changing very often. The most obvious drawback was the everpresent non-biodegradable garbage.

After dinner, there was a dance show, where a local group of men(!) danced traditional dances.

On Tuesday I got up early as well, at 6.30am, and immediately after breakfast, I headed off ride an elephant into the park proper to look for wild animals. We saw a couple of really big deer, but all in all it was a disappointingly devoid of life. Riding an elephant was awesome, but even more awesome was bathing with them! Wearing our bathing shorts, me and one of the French guys who were also doing the elephant ride at the same time got on an elephant without a saddle, and it walked into the river. The mahout (rider) got him to shake us off. When we were getting back on, we stood right in front of the elephant and stretched up. The elephent let his head down so we could grab his ears and stand on his trunk, and then he lifted us up on his back! ๐Ÿ˜€ When we were on his back, he continuously splashed us with water from his trunk, and eventually the mahout made him lie down on his side to be scrubbed. ๐Ÿ™‚ It seemed a bit brutal when the mahout slapped the animal with a stick when it didn’t pay attention, but apparently their hide is so thick that it’s the sound, not the pain, that gets their attention to the mahout’s shouted commands.

After the swimming there was lunch, and and after lunch I decided to take another elephant ride, this time in the so called Community Forests that surround the park. My guide told me that we were almost guaranteed to see rhinos there, because it was a rather small habitat, with a population of about 20 rhinos. In the north side of the park, the water holes were filled in with silt, by a flood 15 years ago. After that the rhinos migrated south to the other water holes, or north to the community forests. The water holes in the community forests were also destroyed by the flood, but since it’s not protected, the local community dug them out again. In the park, ironically, that’s not legal, and thus there is less wildlife… When we came to get an elephant (me and the guide, the French guys, who were the ones who had insisted on going to the park proper that morning, didn’t want to come) the elephants were all busy. We considered waiting, but the schedule for the day being rather packed, there was no time to wait, so we decided to go on foot.

Not long after entering the community forest, we smelled fresh rhino dung, saw tracks so fresh that water was still seeping into them, and trees with their lower trunks covered in mud where the rhinos had rubbed up against them. A few minutes after that, we found the first rhinoceros unicornis (one-horned rhino) in a clearing. There was an elephant nearby, that we had allied ourselves with for protection, and we called them over. We got closer and closer to the rhino, with the elephant between us and it. Soon we were less than ten meters away from this massive, wild rhino bull, when the mahout on the elephant says he’s spotted one more. “No, wait TWO more in the bushes!” One of the ones in the bushes came out, and we could see the last one standing in the shadows, looking at us.

Suddenly the second rhino looks like he’s about to charge us, and we sprint behind the elephant, while throwing sticks at the rhino to make him think twice. The mahout charges the elephant toward the rhino to deterr it from attacking us. He successfully chases it away, but that leaves the two of us vulnerable from the other two, so we leg it out of there before we get completely surrounded! Not thirty seconds later, my guide spots another rhino in the dense undergrowth of the jungle, and the elephant is once more called in as a body guard. We reach the next waterhole, where two grown rhinos are wallowing in the mud, a mother with calf is grazing, and two more adults come out of the brush opposite from where we are! Again the situation suddenly goes from interesting to dangerous, and we decide that it’s time to get out of there before we’re surrounded!
On less than an hour’s walk through the community forest, I saw a total of ten rhinos, and the guide saw eleven!

Immediately after the intense jungle walk, we headed over to the river to go canoeing. The canoe was a hollowed out log, and we were seven people in it, including the guide and the guy poleing us down the gentle stream. The first croc we saw was submerged, with only it’s nose and eyes sticking out of the crystal clear water. Soon after we got ashore to look at another great big rhino bull, this time from a safer distance. Back in the canoe we saw a half dozen more crocs, before we reached the place where we got out to go to an elephant breeding centre. In november one of the elephants had twins, according to the guide the only time such an event has happened! One of the older elephant calves was very curious, and being no bigger than a pony, he wasn’t tied up, so he walked over to everyone and smelled their stuff, and tried to take the things that smelled good! ๐Ÿ˜€ He was about one year old, but a bit sickly, so he was smaller than the other one year olds. When a tame elephant gets pregnant, it takes 2-3 years before it can work again, so wild elephant bulls mating with the tame cows is actually quite a problem! It is also very expensive, and takes a lot of work to raise and train an elephant. The training can’t start before the elephant is about 2-3 years old, and it can’t do any work until it’s about ten. Between the age of 16 and 18 they reach maturity and become able to breed.

We were picked up at the breeding centre by a jeep from the resort, and inย  the sunset on our way back, we saw another group of rhinos, and stopped. It turned out to be a group of five, led by a huge bull. I got some awesome pictures, and ended up having seen 16 rhinos in one day!

Wednesday Morning I got up at 5.30am, for an hour and a half of bird spotting, before breakfast and the bus ride home. I was home at 3.45pm, and at four I met up with some of the Norwegians for a going-away-dinner. Immediately after dinner, we had a final meeting between me and the church board, and I was given a very nice letter of thank you for the work I’d done. This morning I was up at 4am, to do some laundry while there was electricity… I went back to bed at five, however, and slept till seven thirty. I packed, returned the bicycle I’ve been borrowing, and then one of my “bosses” was very kind and drove me to the airport. It’s been great, and Ive felt very welcome in the community of expats in Kathmandu. ๐Ÿ˜€

It is now just past midnight, I am in New Delhi, and will soon be boarding my flight to Bangkok. I’ve been upgraded to first class on this flight, so I might actually look forward to some sleep tonigh, which is more than I expected. The flight leaves at 1am Indian time, and arrives four and a half hours later, at 7am Thai time. There I will wait nine hours before I fly the last hour and a half to Ho Chi Minh City.

20 March

13 hours later… I am waiting for my flight to Ho Chi Minh, boarding starts in 50 minutes. The plane saved up a good half an hour on the flight to Bangkok, so I arrived before 6.30am. First class was brilliant, but I still didn’t fall asleep before we had started the descent, and woke with a start as we touched down. I’ve slept about 5 minutes in the past thirty hours. I tried to lie down for a bit on a row of seats here at the airport, but the world was spinning so bad I started to get nauseated, so I dropped it. I guess I’ll sleep like a baby before we take off from Bangkok…
When I got here, I went directly to the transfer station, at the other end of the airport. There I was told I had to pick up my luggage myself, which meant going through immigration in Thailand. Baggage claim was of course at the end of the airport where I’d arrived, so I walked back. Immigration, which was almost deserted when I arrived, was by then crowded to the point of bursting. By the time I got my luggage it was 9 o’clock, and I headed directly for check in, so I could go back through customs and immigration, and find a place to crash. The problem was that it was too early, check in for myย  flight didn’t start till 12, so I had to hang around for three hours. When I finally got to check in, the woman at the counter started asking for some letter from Vietnam that she meant I had to have to get into the country, but I’ve double checked that I, as a Norwegian citizen, don’t need that letter unless I’m staying in Vietnam for more than 30 days. I guess I was pretty convincing, in my rather reduced and sleep deprived state, because she then proceeded to check me in. By the time I got back to the place I’d been at 6.45am, it was 1pm. I can’t fall asleep now, because then I suspect I will oversleep the boarding call, even though I’m sitting right next to the gate. I decided to write this in order to stay awake, so bear with me if I’m not making any sense. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I sincerely hope they won’t make any trouble at the airport in Saigon, and claim like the clerk here that I need some extra letter, because I’m so worn out I’m not sure I’ll be able to explain that I’m Norwegian, and don’t need their stupid piece of paper! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

I also hope Annikken is not as beat as I am, because then finding a hotel to stay until I can check for answers from the CS’ers I have sent couch requests to might prove to be a daunting task… ๐Ÿ˜› (By the time you read this, things will probably be in order, though, and I have slept enough to be coherent again)