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!