Luang Prabang in Laos is an amazing city, perhaps the most spiritual place I have ever visited. After chilling out with the Buddhist monks and viewing fabulous Mekong sunsets, we decided to get up close with rescued elephants at a sanctuary out of town.
Having read a lot of adverse articles about the suffering of elephants in the tourist industry I wanted to be sure that Elephant Village had the interests of the great creatures first and foremost to their hearts and minds.
All their elephants had in fact been rescued from hardships working in the logging industry and it was only the tourist Kip that allowed this to happen. I am not so naïve that I don’t realise there was profit to be made too, but I was satisfied that the elephants there were well treated and content with their relative freedom.
It was 2010 and thus far my experience of elephants on my travels had been restricted to a short ride in India and a Kruger safari.
I was looking forward to some proper bare back riding, but at the same time was a little nervous, after all it is a long way down from an elephant’s back!
Our introduction to the great beasts was genteel – a ride atop a howdah in the forest before lunch. Later on we were taken out again sat on the howdah, before being invited to shuffle up to the elephants shoulders to experience proper riding, all the time also having the mahout (keeper, trainer, friend) in close attendance.
That first evening we were then paired off with our own elephants and encouraged to mount our steeds the traditional way in stepping on their knee and hoisting ourselves up rather than as before when we climbed on from a wooden platform.
I was now extremely nervous due to my aptitude for clumsiness. I left my mount until one before last, carefully watching how everybody else did it. This just made me even more nervous as most of the group peered down at me from a great height!
Thankfully I managed it without too much ado.
My female beast was called Mira and was unfortunately totally blind. I needn’t have worried though as Mira’s other senses, her dexterous trunk and the skill of the mahout in steering his charge were more than sufficient for ferrying me around safely.
Day two was Monday and early in the morning we arose from our log cabin for a canoe ride to the main camp. After breakfast we would be riding our elephants into the river for a scrub and bathe. Beat the hell out of my usual Monday commute to work!
Again my adrenaline rose as we approached the river, but Mira knew exactly what to do and before long we were both very wet, me with scrubbing brush in hand and her enjoying the bath. A great memory.
Afterwards all that was left for us to do was to feed our elephants a bucket of sugar cane as thanks for the incredible ride.