They say that you haven't been to Laos if you haven't experienced how to be a mahout-- a person who rides and tends an elephant. I've seen so many elephants in different zoos, but to actually spend hours with this huge creature is a different and surreal adventure. I have to say that my mahout training was my most favorite adventure in Laos.
Laos means "Land of a Million Elephants." Although "a million" was an exaggeration, the 14th century Lao kingdom ruled for a long time because of their weapon-- the mighty elephants. Now, the number of wild elephants in Laos has dwindled to about 1,000. Conservation is a huge problem and one way to help is by visiting reputable elephant camps such as Elephant Village. Tourists can help in raising funds for elephants, and provide local jobs in order to put a stop to illegal logging. It’s also a great way to learn and spread elephant awareness.
Elephant Village is located in Ban Xieng Lom village, about thirty minutes away from Luang Prabang’s town proper. We were told that this camp used to be an Elephant Village for royal services elephants in the 1890's. It’s right smack in the middle of the jungle, overlooking the Nam Khan River. The views are so gorgeous!
First, our guide gave us a mahout orientation.
He gave a demo on how to command an elephant:
Looks easy? NO WAY! One by one, we tried the basic commands. The hardest part was climbing up the elephant. Thank God for my long legs!
Next, we tried using different commands like pie (move forward), move backwards, sai (turn left), kwa (turn right), how (stop), map (bend knees) and seung (bend front right leg for mounting). It was so hard to memorize not just the words, but also the physical instruction. Each command also has a corresponding movement- like tapping the elephant’s right shoulder, etc. It’s so amazing to see elephants follow your commands.
Dismounting was easier than mounting. Seung-Grab the right ear-Place your right leg on the elephant’s knee followed by your left leg—Slide a bit—Then land! BRAVO!!!!
After the orientation was the elephant tour along the river. My tour partner was Ruth from Spain. We sat on cushioned seats, complete with seatbelt. But later on, I found out that riding the wooden seat was harder. I kept on sliding down. It was so hard to balance especially when we were going downhill.
Our mahout, Pe, is simply the best! He loves taking photos. Lucky us, photo crazy ladies!
Few minutes after, Pe asked me if I wanted to ride the elephant. I tried applying the basic commands I learned. Me = MAHOUT? PUEDE!
It was easier to balance on the elephant than on the seat! If only I could bring this cute giant back home... ;-)
Each elephant's familiar with her name and her guide. Pe said that he’s been with Mae San every day that is why he knows her from toe to trunk :) I asked how he could recognize Mae San. Pe shared that elephants have different spots on their ears. Cool!
Mae San was very quiet but one elephant made lots of loud noises.
After our ride, I treated my newfound friend some bananas. But the other elephants joined the boodle fight!
Now it was the hardworking mahouts' turn to feast! The buffet lunch was surprisingly good (chicken curry, rice, salad). They grow their own vegetables that’s why the salad was very fresh and delicious!
After rewarding our stomachs, it was time to reward our friends with a refreshing bath! We had to climb again and ride back to the river.
Armed with brushes, we massaged our elephants! Each elephant has different characteristics. Some love splashing water with their trunks while mine was the only one who loves to go underwater. She must have been a fish during her previous life! It was so hard to clean and massage a giant submarine :))
After bath time, we rode the boat to Tad Sae Waterfall. Beautiful views along the way:
More elephants greeted us here— some were even bathing near the waterfall. There were ziplines above the falls but nobody tried the short zip. Some had the courage to swim but a tropical girl like me couldn’t appreciate the freezing water.
After an hour we went back to the main camp and bid goodbye to our humongousaurs. Kop chai lye lye, dear elephants! :)
Elephant Village’s 1 Day Mahout Experience costs $86. Tip: Pay straight to their Luang Prabang office, rather than via PayPal.
Follow me @fartherfurther