Elephant Trekking in the Jewel of Southeast Asia
Trip Start Aug 12, 2010
135Trip End Sep 23, 2011
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What I did
after the drunken shenanigans in Vang Vieng we made our way to the jewel of Southeast Asia, Luang Prabang. Once the capital of Laos, this charming town is considered the heart of Laos and is a big tourist attraction, especially for backpackers like ourselves. The town increasingly teems with new-wave tourists and backpackers who have been coming for decades, although because of the 11.30pm curfew that runs throughout Laos the town remains quiet and tranquil.
In 1995 Luang Prabang was named a UNESCO World Heritage site, and in 2008 the New York Times put Laos at the top of their list of "Places to Go". Luang Prabang had already been considered one of Southeast Asia's must sees (thanks to Lonely Planet and UNESCO) for well over fifteen years, so untouched it's certainly not
Apart from the expected developments, Luang Prabang is a striking town and as soon as we arrived (despite the rain) we knew we would enjoy our time here, so quickly increased our stay from two days to four days, although we could of stayed for at least another week!!! The picturesque riverbanks of the Mekong are palm filled, and the French-colonial streets are decorated with terracotta roofs, golden stupas and saffron-robed monks, these all come together to form a picture perfect postcard increasingly difficult to find in Southeast Asia. Relaxed and lazy, the town's peaceful feel is Thailand and other Southeast Asia destinations thirty years ago, and cultural and traditional rituals continue to take place daily
Still today, the town's monks parade through the streets every morning to collect their alms. There is also an amazing night market that shuts down the whole main street to hundreds of stalls and vendors offering some great goods. Despite being tempted to buy so much stuff we didn't really feel like carrying it around for another four months, so promised ourselves another trip back one day (this time in one of those resorts that is bound to be built outside of town!). There is also a nightly food market which is great for us budget travellers; a big plate of noodles, rice, vegetables, and pasta can be fetched for 10,000 kip (90p) along with a large Laos beer (again 10,000 kip, 90p). There are also vendors selling spring rolls (10p a piece), traditional Laos food including bugs, some sort of snake or lizard and even dog, we went for chocolate cake instead.
Apart from the town itself being a tourist attraction (many days can be spent cycling around town seeing the temples), Luang Prabang is a great place to go Elephant Trekking, kayaking, and hiking. There is also some popular tourist sights to see including a waterfall and a religious cave, although we heard some of these trips can be disappointing. We were here to see the elephants but our first task was to choose a tour company or Elephant Camp. Elephant Trekking is big business here and some of the more professional camps like Tiger Trails were too expensive for our backpacker wallets. Therefore, we opted for a company that could give us a detailed itinerary (always a good sign) and one that allowed us to bathe with the elephants for a good price (£16).
The next day we set off on our elephant adventure very, very excited. After an hour's drive through the countryside we arrived at the elephant camp, which was more like a traditional Laos family home with elephants as pets lined up in the garden. We then met our elephants before setting off on a hours trek through the jungle. Although Hollie has ridden on an elephant before in Thailand this was a completely new experience for both of us as the elephants made their way through the thick jungle and up the steep hill. At times it was nerve racking as the elephants climbed up the hill and through the thick and slippery mud. We then began to realise that for such a big animal they are so well coordinated and balanced, and at times our elephant balanced on just two legs as it pushed through the mud. It was also amazing to see the young Mahouts (elephant owners/trainers) tell the elephant what to do as it listened and responded instantly. You hear many stories of elephants being whipped or poked with a rod in order to get them to do something, but this wasn’t the case here - though Hollie had seen it at other elephant camps in Thailand so she was very happy.
After a hour's trek the elephants were given a rest and we were allowed to feed and stroke them without any supervision. The elephants were well fed with sugar cane, bananas, nuts and mangos from the trees above all day long
We jumped on our elephants and made our way to the river which was right next to where the elephants were kept. We were told on days where there are no tourists the elephants are allowed in the water freely and roam around the jungle for hours. We made our way into the water and we could tell that the elephants were excited, maybe even more than we were. As we sat on the elephant they dunked under the water to cool down as we gave them a scrub. After a few more dips the elephant wanted to play a little and see how strong we were. As we held on to their ears tightly the elephant shook its head in an attempt to make us fall off. This was a lot of fun and holding on was very difficult, it was also a little scary feeling how strong the elephant was but all in all they were being very gentle. They obviously loved the water and really enjoyed us being in there with them, so much so that it took a lot of persuading to get them out. It was an amazing experience bathing and swimming with the elephants in such amazing surroundings, and really was a dream come true
What made this experience so amazing was the fact that the elephants were owned by a family, and the elephants were treated so well. All the money that is raised by tourists goes back into keeping the elephants healthy, breeding new ones, and developing the local village. Most of the other tours in Luang Prabang are privatised meaning that much of the money goes back into developing the onsite accommodation and hotel, and not the elephants. Only a few camp initiatives benefit the elephants and the surrounding area. Being a family organisation also gave us the opportunity to get closer to the elephants as they were treated like a normal pet. This may sound awful and at times we did feel guilty but at the end of the day if these elephants were not looked after then they would be dead. Many people would argue that they should be in the wild, but they would be killed if they were. The elephants here were well looked after and had plenty of time to roam the jungle by the themselves, and seemed very happy. This trip was amazing, and made us love Luang Prabang even more!
Enjoy the photo’s
Love Thomas and Hollie x x x
Luang Prabang is our favourite place in Southeast Asia and with its charm, woodsy spice of Asia, good range of restaurants, guesthouses and hotels, a gorgeous location and friendly people, Luang Prabang has a reputation for wrecking tightly planned itineraries
If you are planning a trip to Luang Prabang and would like to do elephant trekking we can forward you the family's details.
From Luang Prabang it is possible to get a bus ticket to Chiang Mai, firstly with a overnight bus to the border, then a mini-van to Chiang Mai. All in all the journey takes around 20 hours and cost 320,000 kip (£26), leaving Luang Prabang at 7.00pm and arriving in Chiang Mai at 3.00pm the following day.
Make sure to change any Laos kip at the border as no banks or exchange desks accept Laos kip in Bangkok. We even tried at airports and in other countries and they didn't even know what it is.
Also, if you are planning a trip to Luang Prabang and would like to do some volunteering then visit Big Brother Mouse, an excellent organisation that develops books for Laos children and sponsers book parties for whole villages. During your visit you can read to children and young adults from 9-11am everyday, and help them with their English.