Elephants and Waterfalls

Posted by on Dec 24, 2004 in Laos | One Comment

On the way to Pakse from the islands I met up with a girl who convinced me to go with her to a little town with a waterfall in the East named Tad Lo. We had to stop for the night in a transit town name Pakse anyway, so we decided to make a quick stopover at an old Khmer-era temple on the way. What we thought would be a quick stopover turned into quite an ordeal. A few of us picked up a tuk tuk form the main highway to take us to the edge of the Mekong River. The town, Champasak, is on the other side of the river so we had to hire what turned out to be two canoes lashed together with a board across the top and a motor attached to the back. Once on the other side of the river we had to hire another tuk tuk to take us to to town and then on to the temple. After seeing so many temples in Cambodia this one was a bit of a let down, full of crumbling walls and deteriorated carvings. After getting back to the river and hiring a boat we found ourselves stuck. The only tuk tuk driver near the river asked for $5 to the highway, one mile away, or $15 (each) for the one hour ride to Pakse. Considering that a three hour trip was only $3 I refused to pay $15, no matter how much I was stuck. The three of us trying to get to Pakse started walking toward the highway. I guess we thought that another (more reasonable) tuk tuk might come along–I usually assume things will just work out in the end. After only ten minutes of walking (with our large backpacks while the sun beat down on us) a nice local in his very nice pickup let us hop in. He only took us as far as the highway but in five minutes we?d flagged down a truck carrying bamboo for the rest of the journey North. I can attest that sitting on bamboo next to a man carrying roosters does not make for the most comfortable journey.

Like usual, the next morning, the 8am bus did not exist so we walked around the dirt patch until the next bus was beginning to fill up. In Laos, like many other poor countries, the buses do not run on schedules even if there are schedules posted. A 8am bus may leave at 7:30 if it?s already full and a 9am bus may leave at 2pm if there?s not enough paying fares–you never know. There isn?t actually a town called Tad Lo, but a resort named after one of the waterfalls took the name and it stuck. I didn?t find the still pools on top of the waterfalls as enticing as the other tourists but I did enjoy myself in the local villages.

The first day I walked up along the three waterfalls and stumbled upon women bathing in the river, children playing in trees and sleepy villages full of curious children. The second day six of us, who had met over dinner the night before, hired a local to guide us around the area. He took us to villages on the other side of the highway, where they only see foreigners a few times a year (as opposed to the closer villages which see tourists every day). As we walked into a village we would often pass the school–a stilt house with open sides and a blackboard. The children, in their white shirts and blue sarongs or trousers, would stop listening to the teacher and crowd to the edge to wave to us. The villages were usually quiet as we approached, most people stay out of the harsh sun during the middle of the day. Soon a few children would peek out of a house and quickly we would be surrounded by all of the village children and a lot of the women. Our guide translated for us if we asked but the children were mostly interested in crowding into a picture and then running over to see it on our camera?s LCD screen. Because they all wanted to be in the image it was hard to take photographs of individuals or of anything but the children. When I broke away from the kids in one village to take photos of the drying crops and animals they followed, watching and talking to each other. After the large photo sessions we would leave town with as many as 40 kids running after us.

At the last village we visited a woman asked to have the photo I took of her. Fortunately, our guide was able to translate and explained that I didn?t actually have the photo and would have to make a print for her. When I explained how long it would take me to get home and print a copy the woman was a bit upset. Another girl our group took a photo to send to her because she was heading home much sooner. This happened to me a number of times–it always amazes me that some people don?t understand how a camera works.

My last day I took an elephant ride. It sounded better that it was, the jungle was dried up and elephants walk very slow! Even so, we walked up steep hills and through streams and rivers I could never cross on my own. A local dog followed us the entire way and walked up and down the shore of each river before attempting to cross. He wouldn?t dive in unless he absolutely had to and not without a lot of encouragement from the man steering my elephant. Considering how much the elephant is used in the iconography of Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, this is the only elephant I?ve come across in those three countries so I?m glad I took the opportunity while I had it.

You can see the photos from Tad Lohere.

1 Comment

  1. vlad
    February 1, 2005

    recently, in india, we’ve been experiencing people’s excitement for cameras too. *everyone* wants there photos taken. it’s practically impossible to be left alone sometimes! the funny thing though, i think, is that despite how *nobody* here has a camera and they all find them so exciting, *everybody* has a cell phone. everyone!! even in the most remote village, where everyone is poor… i still see cellphones everywhere. crazy.