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Making Tracks in Phou Khao Khouay

posted Nov 28, 2011, 12:21 AM by Dong Travel Ticketing   [ updated Nov 28, 2011, 12:21 AM by Mickey Dong Hoang Thinh ]

Tha National Protected Area of Phou Khao Khouay is one of the most spectacular nature parks in the region.It lies within the mountain range of the same name and holds treasures of un-spoilerd nature that is hard to find anywhere else.In order to get there,one needs means of transportation(and more specifically a 4 wheel drive car),as the infrastructure is still in development.If you are anywhere but Vientiane,you will need to board a Lao Airlines flight to VTE.From there,rent a 4 wheel drive at Europcal,driver is optional but a good idea if you want the “guided tour”.

We are being picked up at our respective homes by the Europcar driver,Mr Nhit,who is eager to get the 4 wheel drive on the road  before the morning traffic rush sets in.He is constantly checking the rearview mirrors,watching out for the ever present scooters that have replaced the bicycle as the main transportation in Vientiane.

The four of us(driver,photographer,a biologist,and me)are sitting comfortably in the Ford 4-wheel drive pickup,talking silently among ourselves as to match the quiet of the dawn coming up over the reddish-brown countryside.We pass along half fininshed housing where people are re-siding as they construct it,giving us the privilege of a snap-shot of the local inhabitants as they wake up to the chores of the day.

The driver signals now and again to get the odd cow or goat off the road or to make sure that our fellow motor-ists are aware of our presence.Luckily,the traffic in Laos is not the fast paced kind you will find in Vietnam or Thailand so even novice 4-wheel drivers can feel safe exploring this beautiful country.

As our small expedition is nearing the destination of Phou Khao Khouay,the destination of Phou Khao Khouay,the mountains from which the protectd area takes its name,slowly appear through the mist.We take a turn up a small dusty road to reach our first destination of the temple of Vat Phabath where the Lord Buddha took a step over the Mekong.It’s a quiet place on this year,the Temple grounds only show a handful of child monks setting ou to work in the compound,smil-ing and waving at us as we take their pic-tures.The annual festival that is held here,commemorating the step of Buddha,is still echoing through the temple.Hundreds of people flock here every year to pay their respects to the foot print of Bud-dha which is placed in the main temple and covered in Frangipani flowers,gold and silver bowls and incense.It is the siza of a bathtub and has been strengthened with plaster to stand the test of time.

Leaving Vat Phabath behind,we soom approach the village pf Ban na where we meet Mr.Bounthanom Inthilard,fa-mous for his work in protecting the wild Elephants of the area.He has appeared in local newspaper articles and on television programmes,such as Aniamal Planet,about the threat to wild elephants and is highly regarded among his peers,both locally and abroad.Ban na has a history of living with these elusive creatures.For centuries they have co existed with elephants but in recent years they have focused on protect-ing them throught enlingtenment and tour-ism,seeing them not as a source of income but as an integrated part of their daily life.In 2005 with the help of the German Devel-opment Program and financial support by the Canada Fund,an elephant observation tower was built,to accommodate a hand-ful of overnight guests.This is a truly unique experience that is not found anywhere else in the country.For a small amount of money,guest can stay and eat with the locals and,if  lucky,get a peek at the herd of pachyderms that inhabit the area.

Leaving Ban Na behind,we drive the last part of the way to Phou Khao Khouay.The road soon transforms into a me-andering ochre colored trail,rising and falling like a roller-coaster and our driver seems like he is in home waters.He tells us that in the wet season,this road is impassable and the traces of reconstruction that are seen all along the way,convinces us he isn’n exaggerating.The roadside vegeta-tion has been painted red from the dust and stands in stark contrast with the green lush backdrop of the forest jungle.From time to time huge trucks will pass us from the front and Mr.Nith negotiates the tight space allowed to us with expertise.The rest of us can only sit back and trust in his abilities,which thankfully never fails.

The national protected area is opening up before us with its entire splendor.Our biologist starts to share his knowl-edge of this amazing place,giving proof of his expertise in and his love for Phou Khao Khouay.