We had been thinking of spending the day with the elephants since Chiang Mai, but there are so many different outfits to choose from we could never decide what to do. So when we saw this camp, on the outskirts of Luang Prabang, we felt it was the right choice for us. The camp is a sort of sanctuary for elephants that have become redundant or sacked from the logging industry. Three of the seven resident elephants are blind from accidents caused during their working life and most of them arrived at the camp either malnutritioned or very ill. The camp helped rehabilitate the elephants to full health and provides them with a few hours of light work to keep them active.
When we arrived at the camp we realised this was a pretty lush place. Set in the jungle next to the Mae Nam river, the camp is made up of a few beautiful bamboo buildings and a small wooden hut where there are guest rooms and a restaurant. The first thing we needed to do was some basic 'mahout' lessons. This included learning the Laos words for left, right, stop and go! Also, we had to climb up on to the elephant's back unaided from the ground. This was very hard and usually ended up with James having to give me a big shove up! James was clearly very confident in his abilities and even managed to stand up on the elephant's back!! Definitely, the hardest thing (once on the elephant) was trying to persuade them to leave the food and go for a short walk.
After an hour or so practising, some more elephants arrived along with their mahouts to take us on a guided walk through the jungle and along the river. For this, we were able to sit in a little seat on the elephants back and left the professionals do the steering! After the hard core up and down trekking, James had a go as mahout and 'drove' for a while!! I remained in the safety of the seat, knowing what James' driving is like.
It was then time for a short lunch break in the restaurant looking over the river. Next came the bit we were really looking forward to - Bath Time!! This is when our mahout lessons would come into play. Everyone had their own elephant and we had to direct them down to the river front and into the water. Some of them loved it and some were very reluctant, but once in the river they all seemed content. My elephant certainly was very playful and spent the whole time trying to roll over in the water whilst I was on her back! The elephants liked getting very close together in the water and quite often you would see a huge elephant bum coming towards you! We had brushes and scrubbed their backs and faces to clean away any mud and dirt.
On the way back to the camp lots of the elephants liked to give themselves dust baths, which as we were sat on their backs also covered us too!! After about 4 hours with our elephants it was time for them to go into the jungle where they would rest for the night and find even more food!!