Learning to Mahout!!

Ban Nonsavath Travel Blog

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We paid a small fortune ($90 each) to do the 2-day Mahout course - learning to become an elephant rider!! We were driven out to the elephant camp where we checked into our rather posh wooden hut lodge on stilts. The bathroom was built onto the back of the hut and was open-air!!!

We changed into our rather unflattering mahout outfits - pale denim colour shirts and trousers - and then went out with some other tourists on a day trip and climbed aboard our elephant. I went on the wooden seat behind while Simon got to ride the elephant on his neck! We went through the jungle and across the river on the elephant for about an hour, before arriving at a small lodge where we fed our elephant bananas and then waited in the restaurant for the rest of our group to arrive.

Our group consisted of a dutch couple, and 3 single girls from France, Switzerland, and South Africa. We chilled out in the open air restaurant for a while and had lunch and then our guide gave us a lesson in elephant commands. Pai (go/forward), Khua (right), Sai (left), How (stop), Map Long (lie down), Look (up), Bone (splash!), ya ya (stop being bad!!) all these are elephant commands (wow I did that from memory, I guess we shouted these so much it is now imbedded in my head forever!).

We then walked to a nearby village to see the temple and learn about the village life, all the way walking along shouting commands at each other and testing each other on our elephant talk! We also took to the river and went tubing - sitting in an inner tube and floating down the river.

Was quite fun despite the very cold water and having to use flip flops as paddles as there wasn't much of a current to carry us!

After the elephants had had their afternoon rest and feed, it was time to try our elephant driving skills. We all climbed on to our individual elephants and off we went! It was amazing to sit on the elephant's neck, palms resting on the huge head of the elephant and to feel the movement beneath me, the shoulders so big and powerful. We walked along in a line, all of us shouting out our newly learnt commands as our elephants decided to head of the track at various points to grab a snack from the trees and plants. Ya Ya (stop being naughty) seemed the most popular.

Back from the walk, it was then into the river for a bath! This was the best bit , we were all given a brush and went into the river on our elephant's necks.

They seem to love it and submerge themselves so only the top of their heads and backs are out of the water. The trunk comes out of the water every few seconds to get air.  We scrubbed our elephants on the head with the brushes and then on the way out, we shouted 'bone bone' over and over and my elephant splashed her trunk in and out of the water! It was brilliant!! Once out of the river, we rode the elephants for around 30 minutes into the jungle to their 'bed' place. We got off after 30 mins and walked back to camp while the full time local mahouts took the elephants the rest of the way, deep into the jungle where there is lots of food for the elephants.

After an open-air hot shower, we gathered in the restaurant with our fellow mahouters and were served up delicious Lao food and had a few beers, chatting away the evening with our new friends.

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Ban Nonsavath
photo by: siri