Hi Travelfish Mates!
I have several questions I hope you can answer for me before I set off for Luang Prabang on December 2/11, staying in Laos for 15 or 16 days before heading off to Camboda for 9 or 10 days. I'd really appreciate any help/advice/suggestions you can please give me as I am going google-eyed looking things up on the internet and have masses of information from guidebooks messing up my head. So here goes:
1) I really want to spend some quality time with elephants, bathing and "playing" with them rather than riding them. Which is the best place to do that - All Lao Elephant Camp or Elephant Village? Eco-tourism and my bucks being spent in the best way to benefit the community are priorities, along with avoiding seeing elephants mistreated in any way by the mahouts. Have read a shocking account of that happening.
2) Do I have to take organized tours to the elephants and if so, what are the best tour companies? I read conflicting things about Tiger Trails. What should I expect to pay?
3) Other things I want to do while in Laos are:
- an "easy" hill tribe trek as I'm not in the best of shape OR hire a driver to take me around to the less travelled villages rather than the tourist traps? And how would the latter be arranged and cost?
- a beautiful boat trip - where do I start from and end up without backtracking too much? How much time should I budget for that?
4) What do you consider some other "must do's" around LP, besides visit the temples which is already a must for me? I'm open to just about everything.
5) I'm considering taking the bus from LP to VV just because I've read the scenery along the route is meant to be spectacular. Is that true? How long is the bus trip?
6) I thought I would just stay 2 days max in VV, then head to Vientiene and stay 2 days before my flight to Cambodia, but then I've been reading here and there that there are interesting things to do around Pakse. What are they? Are there even flights from there to Siem Reap or Pnomh Penh? I'm not married to the above itinerary, just want to get from L to C most efficiently without kicking myself when I get home for passing over anything more spectacular (and I know the whole country is full of that!).
7) Are there any national parks anywhere along the way I shouldn't miss out on and can fit in with my time constraints?
What are the airlines I should check for flights within Laos and on to Cambodia?
9) Finally, I haven't booked a thing for flights or accommodation and I understand this is a very busy season. What do you think my chances of booking flights at this late date and finding decent guesthouses are? Anyone got any good recommendations of where to stay? I can afford a splurge now and then. I know there's a thread on this site for that but it seems a bit out of date.
If you've taken the time to read this far, thank you for that alone, and any advice/suggestions you can give me will be truly appreciated!!
#1 sharoonie has been a member since 27/10/2011. Posts: 14
I won't attempt to answer all your questions, but here's some comments:
In terms of airlines, check out http://www.laoairlines.com/. Lao Air are not a cheap airline when compared to the budget airlines such as Air Asia. If you will have 3 flights, consider getting a Discovery Pass which will save you money. (This is good for Lao Airlines and Bangkok Air. More info here: http://www.bangkokair.com/en/plan-your-trip/discovery-airpass/how-it-work.php
If you're wanting a beautiful boat ride and if your timetable allows it, consider heading up-river to Nong Khiaw for a few days. It's about a 3.5 hr mini-van ride or a 5-6 hour boat ride. We took the bus to NK, then the boat back. Nong Khiaw is a nice little town and it's a good area to explore on bike or by walking.
Yes, there are flights from Pakse to Siem Reap. Many others find Pakse a great place to stay but I was there for 3-4 days recently (before/after riding around the Plateau) and have to say that Pakse was a bit underwhelming. It's OK as a town to stay in for a few days but personally I wouldn't suggest making a special trip down there just for Pakse. (Others may disagree, of course). If it were me, I would spend the time in Nong Khiaw then fly from LP down to Siem Reap.
Alternatively, do go to Pakse, then head down to the 4000 islands area (Don Khong, etc), then continue overland to Cambodia. I haven't done this but reckon it would be quite a good way to do it.
As much as I hate booking flights ahead of time, given your limited travel time and the fact that it's the Xmas period, I would book ahead of time. Some flights only go 3-4 times a week and you wouldn't want to miss out.
Sorry, can't help with elephant and VV questions.
never done any elephant-related activity in Laos. just happened to see this story in a Laos-related mailing list earlier this month: http://www.elefantasia.org/spip.php?article168&lang=en
another link: http://www.elephantconservationcenter.com
the 'Read Before You Ride' leaflet:
second #2's suggestion of Nong Khiaw.
if you are in LPB in early Dec, keep asking around for when & where local Hmong New Year celebrations will be held.
LPB to VV is about 6-7h by winding mountainous road.
just want to get from L to C most efficiently without kicking myself when I get home for passing over anything more spectacular
personally would not worry so much about passing over spectacular stuff...won't go wrong with experiencing the present moment to the fullest. transport in Laos is slow, covering too many places = most of your time spent on buses/at bus stations. serendipitous encounters need time to happen too.
Elephants are very large, very powerful, potentially very dangerous animals. They can, and do, kill people here. To be useful in any kind of interaction with human beings, like a horse they must be broken (not the same way of course). The elephant must believe that the Mahout is completely in charge. This involves physical domination early on, which can latter give way to a more mutal working relationship. So understand that while your experience might not actually see any "abuse' happening, rest assured the elephant had to be "abused" in order for it to be useful. That doesn't mean it has to be beaten or tortured, but is probably handled in a way you would not be comfortable with. If you tried to "interact" with a wild elephant, it would either run or attack. In general, animals in SEA occupy a lower strata than they do in western civilization, hence this like cock fighting are still common practice.