One of the real highlights of our first trip to Luang Prabang was the 2-day Mahout course we had taken at the All Lao Travel Service Elephant Camp. Given that our stay in Luang Prabang on this trip would be much shorter, we didn’t have the time to spend a night at a camp but we did want another chance to spend time with elephants. After doing some research, we decided to book a 1-day “Elephant Experience” with Jewel Travel Lao. We pre-booked before our trip but the Jewel Travel office is easy to find on Sakkarine Road close to Scandinavian Bakery. There are quite a few other travel agents in the same general area and we’re sure some of these also offer good elephant experiences but we were really happy with the one we took.
Jewel Travel also books other typical tourist excursions to all the popular sites in Luang Prabang and on the street near the travel agent offices, you can find quite a few independent tuk-tuk drivers willing to take you to any of the local points of interest in and out of town.
The trip we booked was $51 USD per person but when we went by the office we saw prices written on the blackboard as low as $29 for an elephant camp visit. We asked the difference between what we did and the $29 trip and we were told ours was a more private trip and the other was in a group and would require more waiting around and sharing of elephants.
Jewel Travel sent a van and guide to pick us up right at 9:00 am and we set off out of town. Eventually we reached a boat landing on the Nam Khan River. We traveled up river and actually passed the elephant camp on our way to visit a minority village. We saw all kinds of activity on the river including young boys hunting fish with bow and arrow.
After we passed under a bamboo bridge, we made our first stop of the day at a minority village. We walked across the bridge and up a hill into the village and had a leisurely stroll around. After we returned to the boat, we headed back to the elephant camp.
Our first activity there was a jungle walk. We each had our own elephant and began the walk sitting on a bench on the elephant’s back but eventually, we exchanged position with the mahouts and were riding on the elephant’s neck. After we completed the jungle walk we rode the elephants down a hill into the river for a river walk and a little snack for the elephants as we fed them bananas while sitting on the neck. The trunk would bend back and suck up the banana from our hand like a Hoover.
We took a short break for lunch, which was decent…not fabulous but more than edible considering the surroundings and then fed the elephants more bananas and grass.
Our final elephant experience was what Jewel Travel calls “washing the elephants” but in reality, it is a “ride the bucking elephant” game. We were in about 5-6 feet of water sitting on the neck (with our feet reaching the water) and at the command, the elephant would dip his head under and shake and we would be in the water. For this part, we shared an elephant but it took only nanoseconds for us to be thrown in the water so there was no need for 2.
All-in-all, the Jewel Travel Elephant excursion was a really good experience actually giving us more one on one time with the elephants than we had anticipated.
On the way back to town, we stopped at the Ban Phanom weaving village. Actually, we stopped at a co-operative store in the village where local weavers sell their ware. There were so many women with so much hand made silk and cotton textiles that it was a bit overwhelming but a few pieces did catch our eye and we made a few very reasonably priced purchases of high quality items. For those that don’t get a chance to get out to Ban Phanom, many of these same ladies come to town in the evening and set up shop at the Night Market.
After we returned to the hotel and rested up a bit, we met our Vat Phou friends for drinks and our best dinner of the week at Tamarind Restaurant.
Click here for link to a description of a visit to the All Lao Travel Elephant Camp near Luang Prabang in 2009.