Hey Now that’s me way up on an Elephant. And not just any Ele, but the Asian Elephant (Elephas Maximus), this awesome specimen known amongst his kin as Hmong, a nod to the Southeast Asian ethnic group of the Miao people of China, Vietnam and Laos. While now a world away but only weeks back, this was outside Luang Prabang, Laos, my Valentine this year offering tons of Love from the faraway land once known as Lan Xang - The Land of a Million Elephants. Learning only 1.600 now remain, I felt fortunate to experience the uplift, magic and majesty of interacting with such awesome agents of the animal kingdom, a rare and endangered species. In this pic. particularly, man and beast appearing to be moving in concert — while in truth being on Hmong unsettled me, eliciting many prayers and chants. I was scared!
Let me quickly back up here, in Asian Elephant talk: “Doun” as in move backward - one of a crazy slew of commands I learned at Elephant Village - a private elephant camp and tour destination approved by Laos’ government for the protection & rehabilitation of elephants. Along with “Pai” - go forward, “Kwah” - turn right. “Sai” - turn left, “Hao!” - stop and of course “Kaup Jai” - Thank you (!), the mighty Hmong and I obviously struck up quite the conversation over our one plus kilometer together. Letting me bare-neck wrangle him along with mahout training courses is easier work and a real career path for guys like Hmong, allowing them to earn a living apart from the harsh environment of the logging industry.
Who knew how I was boosting his self-esteem, making him financially and emotionally more self-sufficient as he carted me about the grounds and across the river — all the while hanging on for dear life and forging one of my life’s better memories. This is the experience Elephant Village gives tourists like myself, the chance to know these very special animals, observe them and spend some amazing time with them. Going across that river with his trunk swirling wildly about will forever light up my mental logbooks. And witnessing first-hand the camp’s commitment to allowing elephants to roam the jungle freely, group together in herds, and start new families, seeing the them cut loose to lumber off together, was awesome to behold.
This was all in the afterglow, as finding my spot on an elephant’s neck was quite the challenge. But this bare-necked approach is ultimately better for elephants, doing away with traditional howdahs, or elephant seats. In 2016, Elephant Village went completely howdah-free, striving to set the standard for ethical elephant tourism in Luang Prabang. No howdah means less Ele stress, but also allows for a much more intimate experience on the bare neck, of which I can attest. E. Village also touts a cool museum that assists guests in coming away with a new understanding of the relationship between Laos, their elephants, and their elephants plight. As to the mission of caring deeply for elephants — and all the world’s wildlife — responsible tourism and contributing to local communities, this be not the end of the story. More on recent nows in Laos, India(!) cobra wrangling(!), etc. to come.