The old kingdom that is now Laos was called Lan Xang, which translates into `million elephants'. Now there are only a few hundred of them left in the wild; most of them are domesticated and work long and hard days for the logging industry. A lucky few of the domesticated ones have been adopted by the Elephant Village in Luang Prabang. They take good care of their elephants, providing food (an elephant needs about 200 kg of food every day) and care. They've even got the only elephant hospital in Laos (apparently better than the local `human' hospital, which somehow doesn't feel quite right).
The village opened in 2003 and the elephants (all female) are from all over Laos, many from the south. The elephants walk here (they don’t like trucks) with their Mahout, a journey that for some took weeks.
View from the Elephant Village
We signed up for a `Mahout Experience’ at the Elephant Village, which included Mahout training (it's a bit like riding a horse, but without the saddle and you command with words), a one hour elephant ride through the jungle and bathing with the elephant in the river. It also included a very nice lunch and a trip by boat to the nearby waterfalls.
We started with Mahout training, learning the commands for go, stop, left and right before we mounted the elephant and gave it a go! It was a little bit tricky to get onto the elephant, but if she can be bothered, she'll help you get up by lifting her leg a little (see picture).
Mounting the elephant
After the training, we were pretty much experts and set off into the jungle! The two of us shared an elephant with a slightly more experienced mahout and we alternated between sitting on its neck and in the saddle.
Sitting on the neck of the elephant
The elephants walk effortlessly through mud and water
It's amazing to sit on the elephants neck and feel how effortlessly she walk though half metre deep mud and even deeper water. She used her trunk as a snorkel in the water, and walking past trees, she used it to grab hold of thick branches which she twisted off as if it they were tiny twigs (before devouring them - branches are very tasty apparently).
We finished off by bathing with the elephants in the river. We had each our own elephant; Giulie's liked to submerge herself and mine liked to splash her trunk in the water spraying water all over the place.
After a tasty lunch, the day was made complete with a visit to the Tad Se waterfalls.
Very refreshing waterfalls
A monkey in the Tad Se waterfalls
All in all an excellent day! Tomorrow we're off to Vientiane by air!
We had heard of a beautiful fresh water waterfall just outside Luang Prabang and so we decided to set out on a little trip to try and find it and maybe even swim in it.
On the road in Laos
After an hour or so on the road we finally made it to the waterfall, tucked away in a little nature reserve. The waterfall however looked nothing like the photos, which are all taken during the dry season. What we found instead, during a particularly wet wet season, was a raging torrent of water falling off a tall cliff and sweeping away everything it found in its path; from picnic tables to the hiking trail itself.
Nature reserve before waterfall
Wet season waterfall
A slightly flooded path above the waterfall
Undeterred, Joergen and I set forth to conquer the top of the cliff. After a few hours of uphill climbing through slippery mud and over fallen trees we finally decided that maybe the top of the cliff was best left for dry season hikers. So we set back down the hill sliding most of the way. Our efforts however were rewarded after we found a nice pool in which to have a (very) refreshing swim. Much to our surprise the water was in fact quite cold. After the swim we charged up by eating some deliciously sweet papaya and then set off on the road back to Luang Prabang.
A rewarding swim after a muddy trek
We started the morning with a hearty breakfast which was to become our staple breakfast for our 5 days in luang prabang – a delicious fruit salad with home made yoghurt and granola served in a little art gallery/café on the banks of the Mekong river.
Superbowl breakfast at the Arthouse Cafe
We then rented bicycles and set off to explore the dozen of wats scattered around luang prabang. It was a nice gentle bike ride along quiet streets walked by orange clothed Buddhist monks. After a few hours of cycling we had covered most of luang prabang and so we pointed our bikes east and cycled across the Mekong to spend an hour or so cycling through the muddy villages on the other side of the river.
We returned the bikes a few hours before sunset and then headed out to a little restaurant across the river reached by a little boat that ferried people back and forth. We found a restaurant nestled amongst a forest of bamboo on small private wooden decks with low tables and massive pillows to lie on. And we had gotten there just in time for gin and tonic happy hour and an excellent game of scrabble!
Playing Scrabble, now with daiquiris