Learning to be a Mahout

We were picked up promptly from our hostel and transported to the Elephant Camp site, up for learning to be a Mahout – a traditional Laos elephant tamer and rider. The initial drop off point overlooked a fast flowing brown river. After getting introduced to the camp by our guide we were taught the comands needed to ride an elephant. Our first experience was to ride on the neck of a fairly small elephant and practice getting on and off of the majestic creature as well as practice the comands.

We drove up current on the river to our lodge to drop of our bags. We were really pleased with our room which was beautifully deocorated with dark wood furniture. Our balcony was massive and overlooked the river through the jungle trees. It was an incredible setting.

We were then taken to the other side of the river where we were introduced to the trekking elephants who were huge. It was here where we embarked. Two people per seat plus a Mahout. We had a fantastic trek inland which was thick in mud, squeltching as we went into the teak plantation. At times water came up to the elephants stomach and the trunk would pop out the water like a submarine look out. Not long after we began one of the elephants let out a loud shriek and a couple of mahouts jumped off immediately negotiating a bush with some big sticks. Out of the other side of a bush a long brown snake quickly tried to escape but the mahouts whacked it with sticks until it was dead. Apparently one bite would kill an elephant. The trek continued deep into the teak forest. It was a peacful place where speckled light seeped through the trees onto the shrubs and thick mud below. After an hour and a half we had done a full loop and disembarked. The seats were removed from the backs of the elephants and after we fed them some banannas we were then designated our own elephant to ride bareback back deep into the forest, where they would sleep for the night. My elephant was slow and calm which was great because we lost the trail and tagged behind. I was so far behind that there were no elephants infront of us anymore. We eventually got to the top of a muddy trail passing a huge black tropical spider at face level that was poisonous according to my mahout.
We disembarked the elephants we then had to walk through the mud for an hour to get back to our boat. It was hard work, but great to see the forest from a different angle. The people that were also on our trek happened to all be English and we all got along well. It was nice to have a good atmosphere between everyone as we were all living a dream and it was good that everyone was on the same wave length and having a ball.

As our boat took us upstream to a famous waterfall the rain began to come down. By the time we were at the casading waterfall it was raining extremely heavily. The good thing is that it wasn’t cold rain, so we were still happy to strip off and enjoy the unsual waterfall. Unusual because the ground was a smooth limestone where many trees continued to grow through the surface. The waterfall cascaded over the smooth tiers of limestone with fast flowing water making it hard to stand up. There were wood walkways that allowed furthere exploration of this wide fall but in the weather wasn’t on our side for this. With a rope swing  on a tree growing on a higher tier, the boys enjoyed being boys and fighting through the current and climbing up the fall to then swing into the pool below.

The rain didn’t really stop for the rest of the day or night. We went back to our logde to dry and change for dinner. We were then transported further down the river for dinner. Surprisingly good for a all incusive package. The rain became heavier and heavier throughout the night. It woke us up at times. Our guide had said to us that it may be extremely difficult to go and collect the elephants ourselves the next morning if the rain persisted as the mud would be extremely difficult to walk through. We all insisted that we didn’t care if it was hard work, we were up for the adventure and wated to do it however muddy it was. So the next morning we were raring to go despite the continuous heavy rain all night. To our dismay he had gone against our wishes and told us it would not be possible, telling us it was dangerous as we may get cold. Tsk! Eventually the real reason transpired; the mahouts were hungover from drinking Lao Lao and had slept in. The main reason we were unhappy about this is because it had cut down our riding time. It meant that we would not get another chance to ride bareback. After much speaking with our guide he agreed that we could have a bit more of a ride, but with the seats on as teh elphants would need to be prepared for their next lot of people coming to start their 2 day trek. Before that we needed to wash our elephants though!

Washing them was a brilliant experience. Riding an elephant bareback each into a muddy stream we were armed with a scrubbing brush. At times the elephants would comletely dissapear under water (apart from their trunks). We gave them a thorough scrub around the ears, above the truck, inbetween the eyes and on teir back. In some elephants cases they had sores on their heads. It was from them getting biten by massive jungle mosquitoes and then scratching their bites by rubbing their heads up and down trees. They had rubbed the skin away completely in places and to keep them from becoming infected the mahouts used a blue spray. When washing these elephants everyone was afraid of hurting them, but they appeared not to even feel the open skin getting scrubbed! They are hardy animals for sure.


We had one last brief ride on the elephants, but the half drunk mahouts weren’t having any of it. They sang Laos songs about ‘falang’ loudly as we went. Because we could understand quite a lot of the unsavoury things they said we laughed it off and eventually their mood towards us softened. One last feeding of bannanas to the beautiful elephants and our time was up. It had been a wirlwind. We all agreed that it had been totally worth it. To finish our time at elephant camp we persuaded our guide to let us get a later bus back to Luang Prabang so we could enjoy the infinity pool at the Sangri Lo resort that neighbours the elephant camp. A few beers at the pool bar we enjoyed the company of our trek companions and soaked up the magnificent view of the green hills and wild winding river. What an epic few days.


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