Day 6 found us scrambling to get to the village of Ban Na before it was too late in the afternoon to hike to the elephant tower. You may read about our first trip to Ban Na, here.
We began by negotiating with a taxi for a ride from Vientiane to the village. 3 years ago, Hui-chen and I took a taxi to Ban Na for 700 baht. Today, the taxi driver said “2,500 baht.” That was a crazy price so we began negotiating it down. Finally he firmly settled on 1,000 baht. The ride took about 1 hour including a stop for fuel and some snacks at a gas station/store. When we arrived at the village it was late afternoon and everyone was outside relaxing.
Mr. Bounthanom, the village master, was there and he began taking our information and issuing us permits to enter the park reserve area. Everything was done professionally (as was the last time) and we got receipts for everything.
Michael Cannon struck up a conversation with another foreigner that was there. I believe that Michael said he was a biologist.
After our paperwork was completed, we got our 2 guides and set off for the elephant observation tower.
We hiked down this path through the village to the main trail.
Notice the boards on the fence. When we came back to the village we passed this fence again. I’ll tell you what the planks are for on the way back.
We saw this man carrying some bamboo poles out of the forest. The forest provides raw materials for the villagers. They have a small industry in the village, making baskets and items from bamboo.
The hike to the tower is roughly an hour. These photographs are geotagged, as I wore my GPS clipped to my shirt as we walked along the trail. You may click on any photo and visit the Flickr photo page where you may view it’s location on a map.
During our hike to the tower, we only heard the sound of elephants once, as compared to many times on our last trip 3 years ago.
Once you get to the stream you know you’re getting close to the tower.
One of the guides climbed up the rebar stubs to get to the ladder so it could be untied and lowered.
The view from the tower in the late afternoon.
This is a shot of another path – the path that we took back to the village the next morning.
Hui-chen enjoys some water in the setting sunlight. We heard the sound of machinery in the near distance, and later, human voices. This is not a good sign! It means that humans are encroaching on this protected forest and that will drive the elephants even further away.
As soon as we were settled, our guides began preparation for the evening meal. Here we see Mr. Than cutting some vegetables.
This is Mr. Khamphat, breaking up large pieces of charcoal into manageable sizes. The first time we were in the tower, they cooked directly on the wooden floor. So it’s nice to see that they’ve added a cooking platform to protect the floor.
The setup in the tower is pretty nice.
Two cooking fires going and preparation well under way.
Mr. Khamphat roasted eggplants on the grill.
Sometimes I think these guides are more chef than outdoorsman. The Lao style food was delicious.
This is the scene in the setting sun.
I took a couple of test shots using flash. This was one of them.
After dinner, we sat and waited for the elephants. Eventually the mosquitoes got the best of us and we had to retreat into our mosquito nets. The elephants eluded us yet a second time, unfortunately.
The next morning we awoke very early because of our tight schedule. We were up literally as dawn broke. The guides began by preparing breakfast.
Hui-chen surveys the landscape in the morning light.
It was too bad that the elephants didn’t show up last night.
The guides made tea from the nearby stream water. That’s the tea in the plastic container on the floor at the bottom of this photograph. It was a good way to start the morning.
I took photos of all the informational signs in the tower. You can see them on the Flickr account by clicking on this photo.
After breakfast, Mr. Than washes up in the nearby stream.
The ladder gets raised up.
When it’s finally in position, the top man climbs down.
We took the other path back to the village. It was absolutely beautiful in the morning light.
Some of the crossings were interesting….
These are spider webs, made visible by the morning dew.
The author and his wife pose for a photo in the field.
These are the planks we briefly mentioned before. In the wet season, the road becomes so muddy that you cannot walk on it. The planks are an elevated walkway during the mud season.
After approximately 40 minutes from when we left the tower, we were back in Ban Na village.
The last time we were in Ban Na, we stayed in this home, belonging to Mr. Khensing.
This is the village master, Mr. Bounthanom, showing us his weaving skills. We’ve seen this type of craft before, in Sabua village, Thailand.
We noticed that the guestbook in the tower is gone. I wanted to browse through it and read other’s experiences in the last 3 years, as we had the last time we were there. It was by reading the guestbook that I determined the best time to visit the tower was during a full moon, hence the timing of this trip to the tower. But this time, the guest book was nowhere to be found. I’ve come to the conclusion that the guestbook has been removed, otherwise people would read that the elephants haven’t been coming to the tower lately. This is of course, only a guess but the sound of the machinery and human voices nearby are a sign of the encroaching civilization and that has an adverse affect on wildlife, especially elephants. The fact that we didn’t hear a single elephant sound once we got to the tower, speaks volumes. Three years ago all you could hear was the noisy sound of elephants doing their thing in the forest. In fact, you had to be careful trekking around to make sure you didn’t encounter one up close by mistake. Also, there were many signs in the forest, signs of the presence of elephants (such as dung piles and twisted bamboo). Now, the forest is quiet. We didn’t see a single sign on the way to the tower. If the elephants have gone away, no one will come to Ban Na and want to visit the elephant tower, and the village will lose an important source of income. The elephants are nomadic, going where they feel they are safe and have what they need. Let’s hope that I’m wrong and the elephants have just chosen to elude us on our most recent trip.
We rushed back to Vientiane in order to catch a flight up to Xiengkhuang Province for our next adventure! You really don’t want to miss the next installment of this series!
First in series Previous in series Next in series Last in series. Photos by MJ Klein and Michael Cannon