Mahouts for a day

3 May

Big Hug!

The opportunity to be mahouts for a day in Luang Prabang was irresistable.

Alex and I were both a little disappointed that we couldn’t ride elephants in Tad Lo because the elephant keepers were celebrating Lao New Year. Our experience in Luang Prabang more than compensated for this and was surely one of the best days we’ve had on our trip.

Our day at the elephant park began with Alex and I taking an hour long elephant ride. We were carried on a chair strapped to the elephant Mae Pua’s back as the mahout, named Lan (which means singing), sat on the huge creature’s neck to guide it along the trail. Twenty minutes into the ride Lan asked Alex if he wanted to swap places and take a turn driving the elephant. Alex nervously agreed and did a great job but reported that it was difficult to balance on the elephant, especially as it made an awkward decent to the river.

I then had a chance to sit on Mae Pua’s neck. It was hard to balance in this position; her huge shoulders shifted under me as the huge animal swayed as she walked, lumbering slowly along. Placing my hands on to her giant head for balance I learned that elephants have hair (really!) which is sparse and spikey. And their grey skin is dry and saggy as I expected. Back at base camp we fed Mae Pua a snack of bananas to say thankyou for the short trip.

Alex feeding Mae Pua

We then had a lesson on elephant instruction and had the opportunity to ride the elephants unassisted. Like a dog, elephants can be trained to obey simple commands like ‘walk’, ‘stop’ and ‘sit’.

After a yummy lunch we again climbed on top of the elephants and with a mahout and rode them down to the river for a bath. Both the elephants seemed to love the water. Alex’s elephant took to submerging itself completely in the river leaving only its trunk in the air to breathe. Mine splashed about and blew water into the air. Lucky we weren’t wearing our best clothes as we were completely soaked at the end of this exercise.

After a quick boat trip on the river we went back to town, still glowing from all the contact with elephants.

There are several operators managing elephant parks in Luang Prabang, but it seems that most tourists and the mahouts we met agree that Tiger Trails, which we used, is the best in town. In addition to creating many local jobs, Tiger Trails is a fair trade operator and gives a significant portion of its profits to the village in which the elephant camp is located. This fair trade status is verified by the Laos Government.

Importantly the elephants at this park have all been rescued from logging. We were very happy to learn that many of the elephants have come to the park with their original mahouts – their owner, carer and friend. Tiger Trails also reports to employ a full-time vet to care for the elephants.

A full day with the elephants cost just under $70 USD per person. This might break the budget of backpackers in Laos, but when you consider an elephant costs at least $15,000 USD, and that they eat between 180kg to 200kg a day, you can see that the cost is reasonable. Surely it is worth paying the few extra dollars that Tiger Trails charges and know that it treats its animals and employees well.

A side note:

A Playschool counting song leaps to mind whenever someone mentions elephants.

I can’t remember the second (a key) word of the song but I do recollect the rest;

One (keen?) elephant balancing
step by step on a piece of string
He thought it was such a wonderful stunt
that he called for another (-pause-) elephant

Two (missing word) elephants balancing…

And so on, until the string breaks.

This track was playing in my mind on repeat for most of the day at the elephant park.

3 Responses to “Mahouts for a day”

  1. Berenice May 4, 2010 at 10:14 am #

    FYI Lan means dick in Chinese, lololol. Ahem, apart from that, it’s great that you can enjoy the company of these elephants and know that they’re being looked after by a decent company.

  2. Mum May 6, 2010 at 7:03 am #

    It was one grey elephant balancing
    bit by bit on a piece of string
    he thought it such a wonderful stunt
    that he called for another…….elephant
    Two grey elephants etc, etc
    Great photos

  3. christine Hodgetts May 6, 2010 at 7:30 am #

    kristie and Alex it must have been unbelievable to be in the water with the elephants I would have liked that but getting all my clothes wet I do not know did you have your shoes on ? and where did you put your belongings? love Christine hodgetts

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