Up the Mekong River – in Laos

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Through a Lonely Planet recommendation, I went on a White Elephant Adventures tour that took me on a one day kayak ride down the Mekong River, where the group could visit a local village, ride on elephants, and/or go on zip lines through the forest. I’ve heard a lot of great things about Lao tours. Unlike Thailand that has a reputation for abusing the animals and not having very culturally-sensitive treks, Laos tours are known to be much more socially aware, less touristy — and more fun.

My group was actually just three people (including me) plus our tour guide. He was this young Khmu kid from Laos named “Nick”; I think he was just about 22 years old. The couple with me was a Sweedish couple (?) that were pretty nice – I think that they were studying at a university in Singapore. After stopping by someone’s house in small town to load up the kayaks, we were transported by an open air truck to the start of our tour on the Mekong river. The drive there was absolutely gorgeous – sorry, I just can’t get over how pretty Laos is! After getting our truck unstuck in the sand, we got into our double kayaks (I kayaked with our guide), and took off down the river.

The Mekong  river is a must-see. It’s completely surrounded by lush green jungles and farmland on both sides of its banks. After a half-hour of kayaking down the river, we stopped off on the side to visit a local village. I was kinda hesitant at first to “see a village” – it seems pretty superficial, intrusive and exploitative, but it was part of the package, so I was down.

The village has a center where all the local folks gather to do spiritual and Buddhist community events. Nick’s talk about the village was pretty interesting, actually. I also found out that I knew a lot of what he said already from 1) visiting Thailand, and 2) working with Southeast Asian folks in the Bay. The village, interestingly enough, is made up of three different communities – a Lao minority (that I don’t remember), Hmong folks, and Khmu folks. Couples actually intermarry a good amount since each ethnic group is so small. The couple tends to take on the husband’s religion (whether animism or Buddhism), but all religions are respected and can be practiced (so even if you’re husband is into animism, you can still practice Buddhism as his wife). I just think it’s really interesting that the communities are down to intermarry…unlike in the states where Asian parents really want you to marry someone of the same ethnicity.

We walked around the village to continue our tour, which was educational but a little bit awkward because we didn’t get to meet the people there. I think that could be changed — as long as the local folks there are cool with it (unless they’re not down with the tour, which would mean that we probably shouldn’t be there in the first place). However, the guides say that the people in the villages are welcoming of tourists and are cool with community tourism. The local kids from the village were cool though, they kicked it with us for a bit and giggling behind us wherever we went. They were probably fascinated by who we were and what we were doing.

After getting back into our kayaks we paddled down to the Tet Si waterfalls area, where tourists can either ride elephants or go on zip lines though the forest (the Sweedish couple chose the former, I chose the latter). It looked like a jungle wonderland when we arrived at the cascade area. So lush and green, with locals and tourists alike hanging out by the waters and swinging on rope swings. I was about to go use the facilities nearby when I stopped and looked down at myself – I was only wearing a bikini (in a country that’s very Buddhist and values more modest dress). I asked Nick whether or not I needed to get more clothed before I entered the building and he laughed and nodded, very amused.

The zip lines were pretty fun – kinda scary, kinda silly. It was just me and a couple from Australia – an ethnically Middle Eastern guy who’s originally from the Midwest in the US, and some European girl who barely spoke English. The girl and I practically screamed throughout the whole tour. While riding on baby elephants that dunk you in the water looks pretty cool (again, I do think they treat the elephants better in Laos), I hella recommend the zip lines.

On the last leg of our kayak trip, I asked Nick if I could jump out for a little swim. The river was gorgeous and was calling to me to jump in, so I was juiced when he said it was cool. He steadied the boat with his paddle while I jumped in the cool waters below. However, when I resurfaced, I was puzzled to see the Sweedish couple’s shocked looks on their faces. I quickly looked over to my kayak and saw that it had completely flipped over! Everything – including my guide – was now in the water. Nick and I scrambled to turn the kayak over and get all of our belongings and stuff back into the boat. Luckily, everything was returned except for my sunglasses! And my camera still worked (it was in a small plastic bag).

After swimming down the river for a little while, I got back in the boat and apologized profusely to Nick for dunking him in the water, but he seemed to be okay with it. Nice guy – what a good sport!

While I loved the peace and quiet of kayaking down the river, I started talking to Nick more towards the end of the trip. I learned that his parents are farmers, that he came to Luang Prabang to get a job and was fortunate enough to land a gig at his company, since it’s a pretty cool place to work. He works A LOT though. He sometimes leads kayak tours down class 2, 3 and even class 4 rapids. I can’t even imagine taking tourists down crazy ass shit like that! That would never happen in the states, it’s too much of a liability! We traded crazy kayaking and rafting stories for a bit, and talked about what he wanted to do with his life – which he’s not sure about. Sounds just like the rest of us.

At the end of the day, we loaded all the boats back into the truck and took off down the road as light rain began to fall. When we got back to town and said our good-byes, I went to shake Nick’s hand and gave him a tip for the day (which was well-deserved after all his work, especially after I dunked him into the water by accident). PLUS, I have to say that he was hella cute with his Evisu shorts and his curly black hair (the young guys out here really know how to dress).Ooooh! If I wasn’t like 10 years older than him I probably woulda said something.

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Posted: January 30, 2012

Author: Tiffany

Category: Asia, Blog, Laos

Tags: , , , , ,

  1. Brett says:

    Good fun to come across your blog about your tour with White Elephant Adventures. I’ll pass on the link to Nick some time. He should get a kick to read the great review. Visit again if you ever make it back to Luang Prabang, Laos.

    White Elephant Adventures

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