Elephant Riding and Bathing in Luang Prabang

So excited this morning. After a bit of a sleep in I got up and had a shower and got dressed for the elephant camp. After breakfast I sat in front of the building and waited for the driver to come and pick me up. I was waiting…. And waiting…. And it was fifteen minutes past the time that they had told me and I was starting to get worried. I saw a van go past and it was full of people. It pulled up further down the road. I was curious as to whether they had gotten the wrong place and as I looked down the road and saw the sign outside of where they were parked and it had the word Maniphone. I picked up my bag and started sprinting down the road as the driver got back into  the vehicle. I threw myself into the open window of the driver  seat and asked whether he  was from the All Lao Elephant Camp and he said yes. I told him that I was from the Maniphone Guesthouse as written on my form and not the Villa Maniphone. I almost missed out because of this. Lucky I was on the ball.

The journey was very French. The entire car was filled with a French family and all of the kids. I was starting to feel like maybe I should have gone with the others but when I arrived I met Amelie, a German girl who was also glad there was someone other than a French family here. We were paired off to share an elephant.

After much waiting and anticipation, we could see the elephants coming over the hill and we moved up towards the platform so that we could get on them. It felt really unsteady as my foot brushed over the rough skin covered in splinter like hairs that were very coarse. I sat down in the carriage and Amelie sat beside me locking the bar over so that we couldn’t fall out. Our mahout sat on the neck of the beautiful beast and gave him the command ‘bai’ meaning go, and off we went. It was such a weird feeling and I couldn’t stop smiling the entire time. The elephant wobbled from side to side and I felt like I was going to fall out at times, especially when we were going down the hills.

Amelie, Huong Huol and I

Her name was Huong Huol and I later found out that she was one spirited elephant. She liked to stop off and have a snack or a drink as we were moving along and occasionally she decided to go her own way instead of the way chosen by the mahout. I laughed so much. He was yelling at her ‘sai’ (left) and ‘kwaa’ (right) and ‘bai, bai bai’. It was one of the coolest things ever.

Shotgun seat! Riding up front!

The mahout jumped back and allowed Amelie to ride on the neck of the elephant and it was really wicked. I was hoping that I would get a turn. As luck had it, Amelie had sore thighs from the elephant hair rubbing her legs and she let me up front. This was even more cool and more wobbly than before. I sat with my legs wrapped tightly around her neck, dangling behind her ears. To manage to balance and stay on her neck I had to lean forward with my hands on the top of her head. I stayed on her neck like this until we got back to our starting place.

So pretty and precious she is!

The hour and a half went too quickly and the experience was somewhat surreal. I was so glad that I had the opportunity. We said goodbye to Huong Huol and headed down for lunch at the hut. After shoveling down lunch, we sat in eager anticipation of bathing. After about twenty minutes, we were told that it was time to go. We walked half way back around the track to the river and there were our elephants waiting for us. The woman took our bags, shoes and cameras for us and we went to climb aboard.

To get up on the elephant, the mahouts told them to sit down for us and we climbed up onto the necks. The elephants then walked down the steep hill into the river where they waded out for a fair way until it way deep enough. Then they were given the command, and their trunks went into the water, sucked up the water, and sprayed it at me as I was sitting there. I was completely drowned and I have never laughed so much in my life! The elephant kept doing it over and over and I gave his neck a wash by rubbing his thick, coarse skin. She sat down at one stage and when she reared up with her trunk I almost fell off and the mahouts were laughing their arses off. This was the most amazing thing ever and if I though that my day could not have gotten any better after the ride I was completely mistaken. This is one of the most incredible things I have ever done, and like all good thing, it was over too soon.

Elephant shower!

The elephants started to get out of the water and the woman took photos with my camera as we went. The elephant knelt down to let me off but before I could it was standing back up again and I literally slid the whole way down the side before thumping on to the ground. I said goodbye to our elephants and then headed back up the hill, completely elated, and completely drenched.

Completely drowned! Couldn’t be happier!

After attempting to dry off and waiting for an awful long time for someone to take us back to our guesthouses, we eventually found a driver who said he would take us back to Luang Prabang.  He didn’t know very much English and he didn’t know where our guesthouses were so we used the commands that we learned today with the elephants to get back. Sai for left, kwaa for right and straight with hand movements for straight ahead. It was quite the experience but we got back to our places eventually and said goodbye.

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