Elephant Village

Our minibus to the Elephant Village contained only four other tourists, so we were somewhat disappointed to find the village overrun with more. The place was much busier than we expected, as tourists were constantly coming and going for their single or half day visits to the village. But the elephants seemed pleased with the attention (or more specifically, the bananas), and as it turned out we got to spend a lot more time with the elephants than the other tourists since we went for the vastly more expensive “mahout package.”

Our first experience was some quick “training” in which we were told a list of commands, including go, stop, kneel, left, right, etc. We were then instructed to climb onto an elephant by shouting “seung” and reaching up for its right ear. Hopefully, the elephant then lifts and bends her right leg, allowing you to scramble up to her head. It feels a bit strange riding on the neck/head of the elephant, but that is apparently the most comfortable location for both the elephant and the passenger. We were initially worried about learning the commands in 30 seconds, but in reality it turns out the elephant will only listen to the mahout, who is always present.

Due to our guide’s lack of organization, a brief two-minute introductory ride around the compound was all we had before lunch. As we had gone for the swanky package, lunch, dinner, and breakfast were all included and were all very delicious. After lunch, we enjoyed two hour-long rides on the elephants. The first we shared an elephant, sitting on a saddle (see: park bench strapped to the elephant) while the mahout guided it, though Matthew was allowed to change places with the mahout for most of the journey. We were then assigned to our own elephant and rode them bareback into the jungle where they would spend the night.

In between rides, one of the highlights of the trip was feeding the elephants. For 5,000 kip (about $0.62), they sold you a bunch of small green jungle bananas which you could then feed freely to any of the elephants. If you managed to get past the smart one that stood closest to the banana stand, you were faced with a gauntlet of snotty trunks reaching out in hope of a delicious banana treat. Some were more aggressive than others, and there were warnings not to tease the elephants. The less aggressive elephants would just hook their trunk and wait patiently for you to place a banana on it. Seeing the different personalities and interacting with them face to face was one of the nicest parts of the trip.

As the elephants “go to bed” at 3 pm, we were then taken upriver by boat to Tad Sae waterfall. This was a very beautiful place – and looked so much like the fake waterfalls you see at water parks that at first we weren’t even sure if it was real. But I suppose they must base those things on something. The water was incredibly blue and clear, and smelled like minerals. The waterfall in fact consisted of several layers of small, wide waterfalls with deep pools in between. Yet more elephants, from another ‘elephant village’ were being bathed in the lowest of these pools, whilst humans swam in the higher ones.

We spent that night at the lodge, which was very comfortable, and a higher class of accommodation than we have become accustomed to. It was very enjoyable to sit on the balcony overlooking the river, reading and listening to unidentified things in the jungle going ‘Whooop’.
Next morning we had to wake up at 6 to go and collect the elephants from the jungle. Turns out elephants can be very grumpy in the morning, and don’t much like being woken up for their baths. Can’t really blame them. Our elephants preferred instead to stay in the jungle chomping on the foliage. Matthew’s elephant frequently nodded off mid mouthful. You can’t really argue too much with a hungry sleepy elephant, so it was seven-thirty before we got them down to the banks of the river.

Once we got going, the elephants woke up pretty quickly with our elephants vying not to be last to the river. Generally they take on the slow, lumbering pace you’d expect but at opportune moments they would speed up to try to pass one another. Between the speed, the steep incline of the slope, and the precarious position atop their heads, staying on the elephant at times felt challenging though never felt dangerous. Your knees are braced behind their ears and actually keep you rather secure.

Bath time was a lot of fun, if rather wet, as the elephants seemed to enjoy submerging themselves at random intervals regardless of the load on their backs. They also seemed to like pooing in the river, and Matthew narrowly avoiding being hit in the face by one of his elephants floating presents. The skin is very strange and artificial to the touch, dry, wrinkly and almost papery, and covered with thick bristles. We cleaned them with scrubbing brushes, though their size and their tendency to remain mostly submerged made it hard to do a thorough job.

This was our last real chance to interact with the elephants. Once bath time was done (too soon), we went our separate ways. Them to start their days work with a new load of tourists, and us to a rather wonderful breakfast of fresh baguettes, eggs, and ham. After breakfast we managed to get in one more banana feeding before heading back to Luang Prabang. It was an outstanding experience, even though we have still yet to see wild elephants. Given their numbers in Laos, it seems unlikely that we will.


Photos can be found here.

~ by Elephants on November 20, 2010.

3 Responses to “Elephant Village”

  1. I could be there after reading this!! Thank you for such a vivd account. Ann

  2. Wow what amazing journey x

  3. Loved the elephants and the waterfalls and later on the boat trip in the dark caverns , so beautifully described.. All of it, in fact, even the duller miles you had to do. … More,more please.

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