Elephant Trekking on Phou Asa
15.01.2011 - 15.01.2011
Multi-coloured patterned butterflies flit here and there. The rich green dense jungle feels very much alive with bird song and the wind playing with the trees. The foliage releases fresh scents and the hot sun weaves it way through the canopy. There you are, on top of a large pachyderm slowly rocking from one side to the other, meandering up a hill leading to Phou Asa. Ok, there I was, not there you are. But you could be there. In fact it’s so hard to describe what it really feels like to be here. Nothing beats actually breathing, living, feeling, seeing and sensing all of this. While no one aspect is more poignant than the other – the whole experience together is something better to experience yourself.
The jungle suddenly stopped and there was a large open plateau of volcanic rock with sparse, almost dead, trees speckled in between. As the trees thinned out, to the left was a view of the valley below and mountain peaks rising in the distance. To the right, is the same rich green jungle, just sitting quietly stopped at its’ border. Ahead was an elephant stopping platform and rising gently above it was the remains of Phou Asa
As the story goes, Phou Asa was used by an enterprising Monk called Sa. In noticing how badly the villagers were being treated by the feudal lord, he raised & trained an army in the villages to overthrow said feudal lord. Phou Asa was his training camp and a fairly decently located fort or stronghold. What’s left is stone columns evenly spaced around a large perimeter. If you didn’t know what it was, it would look rather uninspiring in this desolate space. Well, it rather looks uninspiring anyway. The tourist information centre back down in the village jazz it up a bit by adding Monk Sa trained them in swordplay and martial arts. So if you can imagine that in the space, it’s probably more interesting than what you see today.
The only way people seem to reach this spot is via an elephant ride. This would be the only way I’d want to go up at this stage, because of the heat and also because there are so many elephants trekking up and down, it’s be down-right difficult to avoid stepping in their droppings. It’s quite nice to amble along and watch the multi-coloured butterflies randomly flittering about.
After this little excursion I was off to marvel at man’s ingenuity. Really. Who’d have thought of strapping 3 long tin boats together with some planks of wood on top to make a ferry? I’d like to see Ikea do better! There are about 4 of these that seem to criss-cross the Mekong to and from Champasak whenever they have a full load. It’s only a short 10 minute ride. It’s really rudimentary but I think amazing that people just use what they got. Nothing fancy, but it works. It works well! I didn’t believe my guide when he said: just go to the ferry over there. I looked over there and all I saw was a jeep parked on a wooden pontoon looking thing. Even as I stepped up the ramp, I wasn’t really sure if it was really a ferry! There were icy cold refreshments and noodle soup for sale. Talk about full service onboard and all for 5,000 KIP (about 60 cents).
On the other side, I’d highly recommend trying to cram aboard the tuk tuk/song-thaew that is waiting on the other side. I’d read that the town was about 2km from the ferry. It’s more like 4. It’s a hot walk even in winter and not a great deal to see/admire on the way.
Funny story, there was a man touting his guesthouse that rolled up along-side me just after the ferry asking if I needed a guesthouse or tuk-tuk ride. I politely declined, committed to walking 2km. After a parching, sweaty 40 minute walk later I found my hotel, checked in and went in search for food. There was a guesthouse opposite my hotel, but I thought I’d look farther afield. Failing to find anything, I went back to that guesthouse to eat. Lo and behold, there was the man from the ferry and we exchanged laughing hellos as he confirmed that I had walked all that way. Yes. Yes. Yes, I did. How hilarious. Oh well, small world when you’re on an island like this.