Kingfisher Ecolodge – Frangipani and Elephants
On our travels, we’ve stayed in many beautiful ecolodges. Since each is truly unique, I find it impossible to choose a favourite. I would say each is at the top of its list when it comes to experiencing the natural environment we were visiting.
Kingfisher Ecolodge was no exception. It is the perfect location to experience the Southern Laotian landscape – a mix of jungle, wetlands and agricultural plains.
Kingfisher Ecolodge is located in a protected natural reservation of which the Beung Kiat Ngong wetlands is part of. This area is of great scientific importance, since there are a variety of wetland types – swamps, lakes, peat lands and marshes, home to a large diversity of flora and fauna.
The journey to the lodge took some time from the Pakse airport. Towards the end, the asphalt roads petered out into dirt tracks and that was when we knew we’d made the right decision to stay here. The more inaccessible the lodge, the more deeply immersed in nature it will be.
Walking into the compound was a magical experience. Firstly, there was a herd of elephants grazing on the plain facing the lodge, that alone was such a special sight. Secondly, all the lodges were built on high stilts and the main building was raised over a small lake. It was like one of those homes you see on Grand Designs where the environment dictated the design of the building and it was created to fit perfectly into the natural landscape around it.
There was also something about the wooden architecture that reminded me of childhood holidays spent in Borneo – where we would stay in wooden chalets on stilts, built into the side of a jungly mountain. But more than the architecture was the silence. It was a special kind of silence – the sort you can only experience on a hot day on an open stretch of marshland. It was very silent – most of the creatures (except the elephants) were asleep or in hiding, and there was no wind to rustle the leaves in the trees, but still, there was this low buzz of activity – insects, most likely. I think it was the lack of wind in the trees that made it feel surreal.
The lodges themselves were someththing from a novel. To get to our lodge, we had to climb up a flight of stairs that went up one story – okay, it’s one story if you’re a short Asian person like I am. So that’s how high the stilts are, about two meters off the ground. It is quite a novelty and I liked it. These were built for practical purposes of course, since the lodge is afterall on marshland, but as an added benefit, we got great views as we could look over the grazing ground of the resident elephants.
Each room is simply and beautifully decorated. I loved the cached interiors and hardwood floor. I suppose the wood used here is teak, since we saw lots of large teak trees in the surrounding jungle. I also loved the bed with its mosquito net draped around it. It all made me feel like I was in some place very different and special.
Since it’s in the middle of nowhere, you’ll have to have your meals at the lodge. Delicious and light Laotian noodles and salads are served in the restaurant overlooking the lake and the elephant plain. Every meal was a time for quiet meditation.
There’s a lot to see and do while staying at the Kingfisher ecolodge. One of the activities they recommend is elephant riding. We’re a bit conflicted about this since we feel elephants should be free to do as they please and not subjected to a life of labour. The truth is though, Asian elephants have been domesticated for a long time so their existence in this area has for millenia been tied to human activity. Because humans and elephants share the same land and resources, a balance has to be struck for the two species to live in peaceful co-existence. Before tourism, the elephants were subjected to a hard life of logging – now they simply have to carry a few tourist around the block. But this issue is beyond the scope of this blog post…
Nevertheless, if you feel comfortable with the idea of riding an elephant both ethically and physically, you can visit the dense jungles that surround the lodge. To be honest, I’m not sure you can trek through them on foot as it can get pretty dangerous in there as there are lots of venomous snakes.
There’s also land around you can get by on foot. We had a guide with us at all times though – I don’t think its possible to get around on your own, for your own safety.
One of the main attractions is where the remains of the Phou Asa temple lay. The ruins are not too impressive themselves – I don’t recall much about them – but the view from where they lay, on top of the Phou Asa Mountain, is truly impressive. Here, you can see the Bolaven Plateau and the Annamite Mountains in the north and the Xe Khong floofplains in the east. And all around stretch the jungles of southern Laos.
Surrounding the ruins are many beautiful frangipani trees. Some of them looked very old. When we visited, in spring, they were all in bloom. My grandmother had frangipani trees – their fragrance, coupled with the humid tropical air really took me back to my childhood. I remember being fascinated by frangipani flowers – how could they smell so strong? I also loved their thick and velvety petals and how they fanned out in a clockwise spiral.
On our way back from Phou Asa, late in the afternoon, we passed by some villages where the elephants were being groomed for the evening and fed sugar cane. It was interesting to see the village and how people here lived. Most of the villages here are self-sustaining. The people grow their own food mostly – they only money they make is from tourism, which mostly comes from visitors to the Kingfisher Ecolodge (this is only a guess since I didn’t see any other lodges for miles and its not easy to get a lodge going in Laos). It was a lifestyle far removed from our own.
At the end of the day – and it was a hot day too – we retired in our little chalets, taking a much needed shower before chilling out on the terrace overlooking the plains with the elephants.