Day 124, Monday 7 May 2012, Luang Prabang
I woke rather pensively this morning, elephant tour today and I was not sure how my insides were going to be after yesterday’s bout of belly issues. I had a small tester breakfast and felt Ok, but still popped an Imodium before getting on the van for the elephant park.
I am in two minds about the whole elephant riding thing, one part says its cruel and should be banned and another says it would be great to spend some close up time with these lovely giants. I had chosen one of the supposedly ethical elephant parks for my ride and bathing session. Elephant Village was started in 2003 by a German guy and only uses rescued elephants, often ones that have been injured working in the logging camps – which is what elephants are mainly used for in Laos, and it is a hard life for them. Being used in tourist villages means that the elephants can pay their way as they are expensive to keep. The only other realistic options for them is being destroyed or released into the wild where they starve to death.
There were four of us in the group and soon after we arrived at the village we were being shown some basic commands for controlling an elephant, mainly stop, go, left and right. Though I am 99% sure the elephant will just do what she wants…. The elephant driver is called a mahout and a mahout will stay with the elephant for many years, a mahout only has one elephant so they do form a bond and understand each other. The mahout and the elephant train on up to 150 commands.
Climbing up on the elephant is quite tricky, its a long way up, and obviously you cannot use her ear as a lever, though they are incredibly tough. Her name is Mae Uck and she is 36 years old.
It is actually quite hard to stay balanced on their necks, her skin is very thick around the head and neck, and she has short bristle like hair. Elephants give out a lot of their body heat through their ears, and flapping ears generally means they are happy !
After a bit of a wait while other groups had rides we were off for an elephant walk for about thirty minutes, Bryan and I shared an elephant. The mahout sat on the neck and we were in a seat, we stopped for a few snacks on the way.
When we got down to the river we each had a go sitting on the neck and trying to give the elephant instructions – not very successfully either… The mahout was taking photos for me.
After the ride we each bought a bunch of bananas and got to feed the elephant. It was hilarious, trying to walk from one end of the shed to the other to feed my elephant with all these trunks weaving and poking and sniffing out food just had me in stitches. They are very gentle creatures and have incredible small motion control with their trunks.
After the feeding we had what was probably a pretty good lunch, though I only had small amount of rice and some vegetables, I feel Ok, but definitely not 100% so wasn’t going to take any risks.
After lunch it was the highlight of the day, we got to choose an elephant, and then ride her down to the river for bathing time. I chose first and picked the biggest : ) probably a mistake as she barely listened to any instruction from the mahout, and was a bit of a trouble maker ! Her name is Kham Khoun, she is 46 years old and has been in the village for a year. She stood on a mine while working as a logging elephant and was bought by the village, an injured elephant is no use to a logging company and would possibly have been pushed out into the jungle where should would likely have died. She is lovely.
The ride down to the river was challenging to say the least, it is quite steep in parts and balancing on an elephants head is no easy task – especially for a clot like me !
Once in the river, we were given scrubbing brushes and scrubbed away, the elephants appeared to enjoy it.
Once we rode back to the village the elephants job was done for the day and they were led away to be properly fed. I was pretty happy with it all.
We all had a swim in the resort pool, Bryan and I got talking to this great couple from Australia, and was recommended this cocktail – though I cannot remember its name.
And then the trip was over and it was back to the guesthouse. I arrived just as Bettina was leaving for her flight and she has told me to look her up when I to get to Brussels – thanks 🙂
After a wee lie down I wandered back to Utopia bar and lay down with my book and my headphones and drank cocktails for a couple of hours.
Once it was too dark to read I got up to leave and ran into the Aussies from this afternoon, who invited me to join them, so I did – and drank three more long island iced teas. I was very wobbly when I left….
Another good day !