Bathing the Elephants

Luang Prabang Travel Blog

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My initial training session.

There are dozens of tours to waterfalls and caves offered throughout Luang Prabang so Ana and I picked up a bunch of pamphlets the first night in Laos trying to decide what to do on our two days in Luang Prabang.  After some time thinking the first thing we did was agreed to stay an extra night. Then we agreed that we wanted to do something with the elephants and it wasn't hard to talk her into looking at the two day 'Mahout (elephant guide) courses' at a local elephant sanctuary.  Unfortunately, we soon learned that this was completely full for the next three days and we weren't willing to give that much time up just waiting around.

My initial training session.
  We quickly found a company that did have availability for a 1 day course and we quickly agreed since it was $60 instead of $95 and you have about the same amount of time with the elephants. 

We were picked up by the tour company and had a 40 minute drive to the elephant camp and on arrival were given a list of 10 commands to learn before actually starting the course.  Commands were in the local Laos language and were for things like stop, right, left, go.  For training the four of us taking the course used the same elephant.  This elephant had stomache problems so she was only allowed to do light labor and therefore was only used for this training.  It was about 15 minutes into the class before the first student was sitting on top of the elephant.

Ana trying to climb up.
  Not in a basket, but right on the head like a real elephant trainer and directing the elephant in circles.  In reality the 'student' had lots and lots of help from the full-time elephant guide. During my time with the elephant I rarely gave my elephant instructions and when I did give her instructions she rarely listened. 

It was funny that you get on an elephant just like you get on a horse.  Instead of putting your foot in the stirrup of a horse, the elephant bends her knee and you put your right foot on it.  You then use the elephants ear to pull yourself up and swing the other foot over.  I could do this on the middle sized elephants, but the big elephant needed to lay all the way down so I could get up.  When sitting on the head it was also more comfortable to have bare feet as their necks are nice and soft and you can use your feet to help balance yourself.

Ana giving the elephant treats as we leanr how to command it.

After the short training session we took a ride on the elephant.  We started off with both Ana and I in the basket, but the Mahout soon offered to switch spots so that I was on the head and he was in the basket with Ana.  I got to ride on the elephant like this for over an hour.  This got a little uncomfortable with the elephants slightly hairy back rubbing against my legs, but still the ride of a lifetime.  It was also more comfortable on the head than sliding around in the basket.

After the ride we bought a bunch of bananas (for $0.75) and fed it to our elephant and to a few others that looked lonely.  This is when we learned that our elephant was blind in one eye and preferred that you put bananas directly in her mouth instead of letting her take it by her trunk.

Getting down from the smaller elephant.
  Most of the 7 elephants in the sanctuary were like ours and had some type of health problems that forced them out of their previous line of work in the logging industry.  They now live a relatively easy life carrying around tourists.

After lunch we relaxed for a bit before each one of us got on a different elephant and took them down to the river for a bath.  I am not sure the scrub brushes they gave us were really necessary or that the elephants really needed a bath, but this was the best part of all.  Some elephants preferred to completely submerge themselves so that all could be seen was there trunk while the guest would be sitting on them scrubbing away.  The mahouts seemed to be giving them commands that would cause the tourist to roll off, but still lots of fun.

On our morning walk.

After the bath we returned to the camp and cleaned up a little elephant poop.  We thought our guide was kidding, but we filled up two wheel-barrels full of it before we were done.  The camp then took us to a waterfall where we had a great time swimming and climbing on the waterfalls.  It was a great day to avoid Luang Prabang since the electricity had been off since sometime in the middle of the previous night.  We are now down to about $15 in our wallet since the 3 ATM's that they have in town have been out of order for the last 3 days, but at least the electricity is back.  Despite this hassle and the regular rains that come multiple times a day, we still can't complain about our trip to Luang Prabang.

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My initial training session.
My initial training session.
My initial training session.
My initial training session.
Ana trying to climb up.
Ana trying to climb up.
Ana giving the elephant treats as …
Ana giving the elephant treats as…
Getting down from the smaller elep…
Getting down from the smaller ele…
On our morning walk.
On our morning walk.
Feeding my partially blind elephan…
Feeding my partially blind elepha…
The easier way to get off the big …
The easier way to get off the big…
Luang Prabang
photo by: oxangu2