We spent the morning with our guide learning about the Royal Palace Museum (also known as Haw Kham). It was built-in 1904 and the architecture was a mix of both Laos and French design. It was built for the royal family of King Sisavang and then housed another royal family before the government took control of the building and eventually turned it into a museum in 1995. On the same estate as the museum there were also a few other buildings…a garage which holds the royal family cars, and a small ornate temple (Haw Pha Bang) which holds the royal Buddha…the town was named after this particular statue which is covered in gold leaf and is supposedly ancient.
We took our shoes off and walked through the royal palace which held various artifacts from the royal family as well as had rooms set up the way it may have been when the royal family lived there, Giff and I listened to our guide discuss the artifacts we were looking at as we meandered through the halls. We both liked the hallway full of glass cases with diplomatic presents from countries around the world. The presents ranged from silver, paintings and china and were all grouped together by either socialist or capitalist countries. We had gone through most of the room and were looking at the last glass case when we finally found the United States of America gift…it was by far the coolest present…you will have to visit to see what it is…just kidding. There was a small Laos flag, a miniature Apollo Lunar Landing Module, three little pieces of black rocks and a plaque that read; “Our Apollo 11 Lunar Space Mission carried your nation’s flag aboard the first human landing on the moon on July 20, 1969. These lunar rocks are a gift from the United States of America to the nation of Laos.” Forget tea-cups or bamboo paintings…the US gave a piece of the moon!
After the Royal Palace, we walked briefly through the royal car garage and then into the temple. The fist thing we noticed on the temple amongst all the ornate gold details were the big seven headed nagas (serpent-like creatures…similar to snakes) guarding the stairways. Inside was fairly small, just one room with a large center piece but every inch was covered in ornate details…even the ceiling.
We had spent hours looking through the museum and temple and were ready for a new activity. We took plenty of pictures before leaving and then jumped in the car with our driver and guide.
We saw how poor the roads were in Laos as we drove on the dirt paths until we arrived at an elephant training camp. The car parked and we walked outside to the main entrance. After some chatting back and forth, we walked up the few stairs and over to the edge of a small platform…our female elephant was waiting for us. Since the elephants are so big, we had to climb to the top of the stairs just to get on it. There was a little wooden bench-like seat on top of the elephant with blankets between the elephant and wooden seat to make it more comfortable for the elephant. I got on first, hoping I wouldn’t fall off this massive animal. Giff climbed on behind me and as she started walking towards the jungle, Giff and I looked at each other wondering if we made a not so smart decision. The trainer was tiny, the way a horse jockey is and he sat on the elephant’s head, resting his feet behind her ears.
The elephant was walking through the jungle…through tiny muddy trails up and down hills, tall grasses, through water and around trees which she would stop and eat as she was hungry. She was so massive and we could feel her growl…her whole body lightly vibrated, we didn’t even know elephants growled! Although it was so fun to ride this elephant through the jungle…it was also pretty scary. If we fell off this little wooden seat and off the huge elephant, we could seriously hurt ourselves. We heard the cringing of the wooden seat as she took her big steps in the mud…what if she falls? Here’s a fun fact…elephants lift their leg to pee just like a dog does! We found that out first hand…
About an hour passed by and we saw the elephant was on its way back to the training site. The rest of the elephants were eating since it was lunch time. We got back off our elephant and onto the wooden platform. We walked over to the person selling bananas and bought a couple of bunches to feed our elephant as a thank you for not dropping us…she loved them. It was really cool to hand her a banana one at a time as she would stick her trunk straight out at us, grab the banana and curl the trunk back to her mouth to eat it. We both got a kick out of feeding her, and of course got lots of pictures and a video (see below). She was so darn cute.
We got back in the car and were hungry for lunch…our guide knew of a small local restaurant where each day they kill one goat and when the meat is sold out, they are done with service. Supposedly the male goat is the more tender and the female more chewy. We hadn’t tried goat before so agreed to check out the restaurant. We pulled up and parked in a dirt lot. The “restaurant” was an outside area full of plastic table/chairs and in the back was a big BBQ with various meats slow cooking on it. We sat down and our guide ordered the food for us, we were the only table there. A few minutes later, a women came out with a couple of plates full of grilled goat and some sauce to dip it in, there was also a plate of fresh basil but we decided not to test our luck since it was raw, and probably washed in contaminated water.
After lunch, we spent some time walking through a local market which had all kinds of foods, many of which we were becoming familiar with but also foods we did not recognize. There were also piles of clothes, jewelry and other random stuff for sale. We walked through it briefly and then our guide dropped us back off at our hotel. We relaxed for a bit and then walked around town looking for dinner…until we found a nice place. We ordered egg rolls, sticky rice, steamed veggies and a fish dish cooked in banana leaves…of course we washed it all down with a Beer Lao. It was pretty good and we took our time eating all of it before going back to our place for the rest of the night.