It was a forty minute drive to the Elephant village outside Luang Prabang, Laos, where we were to ride elephants. When we arrived at the entrance we all got out of the van and unloaded our respective luggage. Deciding not to roll the suitcases on the gravel, we lugged our luggage (hehe) to the centre of the village and set our bags down in the centre of the circular centre hut. Next to a muted television, which was to the right of where we entered the area, was a small table with coffee and tea upon it. There were no walls.
Dad decided that I should try a cup of coffee, and I was instantly hooked. (Although I still need a considerable amount of sugar.) We were told that we should look around the centre area but to stay near the circle-with-a-roof, clear of the elephants wandering by. I complied, sipping my coffee and exploring down a linear path with smaller, rectangular shelves-with-roofs that had interesting elephant related and local made items like scarves, all, of course, for sale. There were only twenty-five or so guests in the area, divided into groups of six to eight people, including our own group. About a dozen elephant guides were talking and getting ready for the day. I would soon learn they are called mahouts.
I walked past these tables and looped up a different, less linear path, back to the roofed circle. After waiting for a few minutes, we moved to a recently vacated stone table on the lawn. There our guide explained the itinerary for the two day excursion in more detail than ever given to me for a school event! After a short introduction of names we moved BACK to the circular shack and stood just outside the inner circle in front of an information board.
This board was one of many, however, it was apparent this board was very important, as it was yellow and was prominently displayed for all to see. The board had a matrix in which words were placed. The guide explained to us that the words were instructions that all their elephants were trained to understand. For example, one very important word in the table was ‘How How,’ which told the elephant to cease all motion. (STOP.) The guide explained to us that the elephant behind him, (which prompted lots of gawking, by me and the group), was our practice elephant. We were to mount it, and then ride/drive her in a circle around another lawn on the other “side” of the circular structure erected in the middle.
I, not wanting to be first, snuck to the back of the group. The first person mounted the elephant almost flawlessly, setting the standard for the rest of us. She rode the elephant in the prescribed circle, then dismounted. After several more people rode the majestic elephant it was my turn to go. I walked tentatively up to the elephant and the mahout (driver) gave the command for the elephant to slightly bend and raise its front leg. I placed my foot onto the knee and hoisted myself up, luckily I had the help of the mahout, and our guide. I steadied myself on the elephant and the mahout said, “Pie Pie,” which means walk forward. The elephant lumbered forward slowly. We slowly completed the circle around the lawn.
After the circle we all went into the boarding tower to board our elephants for the first ride. Mom and I boarded the same elephant and got settled in the chair. The mahout was already seated behind the ears. As soon as we were seated the elephant lurched forward and I was very thankful for the small cross bar fitted over the chair. The elephant led us down to the river and across it. The elephant trumpeted, obviously happy to be in the water. After we exited the first bit of river and onto an island, the mahout up front let me sit on the neck of the elephant whilst he and mom sat in the chair. It was fun, and I ended up doing it the entire rest of the trip. After walking on the island for a stretch of several meters we entered the river again. Then, after the river we walked back up another path onto the road, and walked the elephant back to the village on the road.
After getting back to the circle, we hauled our luggage past the little lawn to a slope that ran down to the river. We got into a long boat, and placed our bags in it. The boat took us to a long, steep stair case to the house in which we would be staying. We all grabbed our respective bags and dragged them up the hill. After settling in the room we walked back to the centre of the village on a path by the river. We had a lovely dinner at the restaurant area and then walked back to the house to sleep.
In the morning we had to wake up at 07:15 in order to dress and get down to the river to catch a river boat to an area where we met the elephants. We were to be giving them a bath. The river boat dropped us off at a small path that we followed until we saw the elephants. I hopped on my respective elephant, (with a mahout), and we followed the path back to the river. The elephant, at first, didn’t want to get into the river, which I was perfectly ok with. But after a few attempts the mahout finally coaxed the elephant into the water. The elephant then refused to kneel down so I could wet, again I was fine with that. I finally got a little wet, and the bath was indeed fun, but after a while we had to return the elephants to the mahouts so that the elephants could be given a real bath.
After the bath we were taken back to the house to change and pack. Then we were taken to breakfast. After a short breakfast we went into the van and were driven back to the hotel. This was a very fun experience for me and my family, that I will remember for quite sometime, if not forever.