One reason I am not very particularly fond of festivals is because I’m a little claustrophobic –which is just an obnoxious way of saying that I don’t like big crowds. Moreover, I can’t stand the heat and humidity, which is frustrating because I’m totally destroying the event’s mood. With that, I wasn’t actually supposed to go with Pocklan. She “backpacks” a lot, which is why I love traveling with her but festivals are out of the question. But when she informed me that her weekend (Feb 18-20) was booked already, I was like “Where the hell are you going?” and she was all “I’m going to Sayabouly for the Elephant Festival! Pai bor? (which roughly translates to “you want to go?”)”
I don’t know, was it me or just the cocktail that time…I answered, YE-ES!
7AM Vientiane Capital
Pocklan called me saying that they arrived at my guesthouse. I was still snoozing even after taking a shower. I hate traveling early!
8AM-12nn Somewhere in Laos
On the dirt road for God knows how long, the trip to Paklay, Sayabouly is an adventure. There were areas that are paved, but the whole trip is going to hurt your butt and your head, if you’re that unlucky. In theory, Paklay is 6-7 hours away from Vientiane Capital, up and down mountains. But the view from the top will compensate the painstaking travel. Passing all through Mekong River, with ginormous boulders and popping greens resembling savannas. The river is drying up in some parts (again, friggin’ thanks to Climate Change, it’s almost summer) so you will see a different view of the Mekong. Then there goes the forests and steep cliffs –until you reach down the mountains. Upon reaching the foot, there’s a river you need to cross to get to Paklay. From the dock, yes the dock, you park your car on a make-shift RoRo. Then off to the Elephant Festival!
2011 marks the 5th Elephant Festival hosted in Paklay. Elephants are considered sacred for they bring luck and prosperity, so this festival was launched in their honor. Incidentally, international NGOs sponsor this event –the whole program was bilingual and volunteers were all…Western. But the interesting about this event is they offer “Homestays”, kinda like CouchSurfing –book to stay in a Lao family’s house, pull-out couches and all!
Trade fair and beer, elephants bathing, baci ceremony, beauty pageant, elephant rides and the whole community’s procession together –it’s an interesting and relatively cheap (I spent around USD50 including gas and accommodation, hence, more people, the merrier!) sidetrip during February. VIP Buses cost 100,000 KIP (around USD15), Homestays only cost 30,000 KIP/night/person (around USd4). Don’t expect hot showers though.
You ask, what has Vespa got to do with this? Well,12 people all in all…five of us, that includes me, were on board a Toyota pick-up –which explains the gas money –2 were on dirt bikes and 5…on a Vespa. 10 hours of dusty, zigzaggy road but they still made it! Amazing, noh? It was also my first time to ride on a Vespa. I mean I have dreams of driving a red Vespa but because of circumstances beyond my control like my pathetically inadequate motorskills, I thought it be fun to hitch! In Rome though. But you know, things don’t go as planned, a Vespa ride on the way to the shores of the Mekong River will do!
And with that, here are some of the photos I managed to capture during the event (and because I was sooo insecure with the dudes around me, they were carrying full-formats and kickass lenses! They also got the eye, I might add).
Next year, a different province in Sayabouly will host the festival. I hope it will be more “festive” like vibrant colors, ornaments, paint and all. I just hope I will be able to witness it again *sighs*.