The way of the Mahout – Extended Elephant Trek - Elephant riding Trip
1 ½ weeks: Bangkok to Bangkok (EET)A truly unique opportunity to spend five entire days travelling with the mighty Laos elephant. After a sensational few days journeying from Thailand and into Laos, you will meet your companion for the trek. You will learn the tricks of the trade from your own mahout (keeper), camp along the banks of the Mekong, stay as a guest in hill-tribe villages and learn to appreciate the way of life in this amazing wilderness.
Hotels and basic hostels as well as home stays and forest camps in Laos...just not too close to your elephant!
Day 1 - arrive Bangkok, Chaing Rai, Chiang Khong, Houeisay
It’s an early flight from Bangkok to Chiang Rai. If you would prefer to spend a night or two in Bangkok prior to this itinerary, we will be happy to make arrangements for you.
Upon arrival in Chiang Rai you be transferred straight to Chiang Khong (on the Thailand-Laos border), where, after crossing the Mekong, you will enter Laos. Here you will be met by your Loatian guide, who will transfer you to the Thavisinh Hotel.
Lunch is at a local restaurant, and the afternoon is free for you to relax or to explore Houeisay before your evening meal. During lunch and supper you will find that both Thai and Loatian dishes are on the menu; this is due to your close proximity to the Thai border.
Overnight on Houeisay.
Day 2 - Houeisay, Pakbeng
After breakfast at your hotel, it’s a short drive to the local pier, where you will board a traditional boat for the journey to Pakbeng on the Mekong River.
It’s a beautiful stretch of water and, en route, there is time to stop and visit a Lao Lu village by the name of Ban Pak Tha and H’Mong village at Ban Houei Lumpane.
Lunch will be served on board.
You will arrive in Pakbeng in the late afternoon and transfer to the Pakbeng Lodge Hotel, where supper will be served. For those wishing to stretch their legs after a day on the water, Pakbeng is an interesting town to walk through, and you will see many H’mong hill tribes and tribal Thais in the area.
Overnight in Pakbeng.
Day 3 - Pakbeng, Thasouang, Hongsa
Once again, after breakfast at your hotel you will depart by traditional boat for Thasouang, continuing by car to Hongsa and the Hong Kham Guesthouse, arriving mid-morning.
Once you have freshened up, there is the opportunity to take a walk in the surrounding countryside. You will walk for approximately one hour before arriving at the village of Vieng Keo (a car transfer is also available). This Thai Lu village is famous for its beautiful weaving.
Both lunch and supper will be served at local restaurants in Hongsa, and you will notice that the Thai influence in the cuisine is far less noticeable as you sample some of the excellent local dishes such as laab. There is free time throughout the afternoon, so you can decide what you want to do. Further walking is an option or you may choose to visit one of the local temples. Wherever you are, you are likely to have your first sightings of the Laos elephant. They play a huge part in day-to-day life in this province and are highly revered by the local people.
Dinner will be provided by your hosts for the next section of your trip - the elephant adventure!
Overnight in Hongsa.
Day 4 - Hongsa, Ban Nam Sing
It won’t take much persuading you out of bed this morning as after just a two-hour drive you will arrive at Ban Nam Sing, where you will get to meet the elephants for the first time. Having been greeted by your guide and mahout (keeper), you will be given a tour of Ban Nam Sing, a traditional Lao village. Here you will see houses on stilts in classic Lao Lu and Kamu styles.
There is a chance before supper to join the villagers and the crew for an evening bathe in the river, surrounded by lush vegetation. Whilst shy, the locals are friendly people, and you will have the opportunity to learn about their traditions and crafts through the use of your interpreter.
Tonight you will eat and sleep in one of the traditional village houses.
Overnight in Ban Nam Sing.
Nam Sing, Forest Camp
After a traditional rural Lao breakfast, cooked over an open fire, you will embark on your first elephant journey across the Forest of the White Elephant.
You’ll be riding in traditional howdahs (elephant chairs), which are crafted according to centuries-old design. Climb on and enjoy the slow and undulating rhythm of your new friend. Lunch is served in the forest, with the elephants joining you, despite the fact that they will have been eating throughout the entire morning!
Arriving at your forest camp before sunset, you’ll learn how to bath your elephant and how to set up camp. Your self sufficiency doesn’t stop there though – you can join in with fishing for your supper, or you can opt to join the fish for a refreshing swim in the clear waters of the nearby river.
All the while you’ll be learning skills from your experienced mahout and your guide as they show you the ways of life in the forest. They know the calls of each individual bird and species of animal, the secrets of where to find sustenance, and the plants with medicinal properties – respect your guide at all times if you wish to enter his world and master the mount of kings.
Later in the evening, you'll get to prepare some traditional sweets for your elephant – a kind of night cap they'll thank you for feeding them. It’s a wonderful experience feeling this close to nature and you’ll fall asleep content - and probably exhausted!
Overnight in forest camp.
Day 6 - Exploringthe forest by elephant, Ban Phou Dong Mai
Riding further into the forest, you may now jump from the back up to the giant's neck if you wish to. Once in the ‘driving seat’, you can practice using the commands that your mahout will have taught you the previous day. This morning you will also get to see your mahout using his superior skills in a demonstration of your elephant's working skills.
Lunch will be served in the forest, when you will continue to learn about the use of foods such as bamboo roots and ratan as well as various herbs and spices.
Journeying on through deep forests and across rivers, valleys and mountains, you’ll start to savour your new life in the heart of the tropical forest. When the waters get deep, you have two choices: follow the river on your elephant's back, or prepare for a stiff climb on foot, up a hill where wild elephants used to roam...you may even have the chance to observe ancient traces of these times.
Towards the end of the afternoon you will reach the summit. From here, the panoramic views are guaranteed to be outstanding - it's more than worth the effort!
From here, you will continue on to Ban Phou Dong Mai, a beautiful village by the river where inhabitants produce "Tiessa" paper made of rice and may teach you some of their skills. Bathe in the river and, once you have left your elephant to rest, join the villagers for supper.
Overnight in Ban Phou Dong Mai.
Day 7 - Exporing Mekong river, Ban Kok Ek
Continue your journey along the river and through the hilly forest. You will soon notice the wooden "doors" that mark the territory of Kok Ek, your next stop. Trekking down to Ban Kok Ek, you will find a small village nested in a meander of the mighty Mekong River.
You'll get to observe the way of life on the sandy banks of the sacred 'Mother of Waters' whilst leading your elephant through the village to its bamboo refuge for the night.
You may be surprised by the amount of respect and prayers local people will offer to your animal. These are superstitious parts, and you are travelling with a very sacred friend - elephants hold an ancient spiritual power for the peoples of Laos, and your appearance will reawaken dormant beliefs in some people, especially the elderly.
Shower at the village's spring and then join the village for supper and 'Lam Vong' dance on the river's bank.
Overnight in Ban Kok Ek.
Day 8 - Ban Kok Ek, Pak Ou, Luang Prabang
After breakfast, another first - a baci ceremony. Before you leave, the villagers will see you off with this traditional celebration to call escaped spirits back to the body - something that is very important for Lao people before major events such as weddings and births, which represent the continuation of a journey.
After the ceremony and many hundreds of photos, it will finally be time to say goodbye to your wonderful companions for the past five days. The next part of the adventure starts here. Transferring by boat along the Nam Ou and Mekong Rivers, you will stop to visit the Pak Ou caves that house literally thousands of Buddha statues, hidden from the looting Chinese Haw in times gone by.
Continuing on, it’s another hour by boat until you reach the magical Luang Prabang, arriving in the late afternoon. Having transferred to the Nagas Hotel, you'll have time to freshen up befor dinner, which is served at - where else - L’Elephant restaurant.
Overnight in Luang Prabang.
Day 9 - Luang Prabang
An option (although we highly recommend it; in fact, we almost insist) for early-risers (05h30) is a very special dawn visit to witness the long lines of orange-robed monks leaving their pagodas to receive offerings of food from Luang Prabang residents, known as Tak Bat. Ask your guide for how best to join in if you wish to.
After returning to your hotel for breakfast, there is a full day tour of the temples to be found within Luang Prabang, starting with Wat Vixoune - influenced by Thai-Lu architecture - and Vat Aham. After, you'll continue on to Wat Mai with its five-tiered roof and exquisite carved veranda. There will also be time to walk in the old city and visit Wat Xieng Thong, the most beautiful temple of Luang Prabang dating back to the 16th century. The roofs of the Wats sweep low to the ground, and amazing glass-coloured panels adorn the walls of the chapels.
Lunch is at La Residence Phou Vao.
In the afternoon, continue the tour with a visit to the National Museum - the former Royal Palace - before you get the chance to really stretch your legs with a climb up the 328 steps to the Phou Si Temple. This UNESCO World Heritage Site offers stunning views across Luang Prabang and is a very special place to be at sunset.
The evening is at leisure, with numerous restaurants to choose from for supper. We recommend one of the local stalls to be found on the river bank for a final taste of some truly authentic Lao flavours, washed down with the excellent Beer Lao.
Overnight in Luang Prabang.
Day 10 - Luang Prabang
Departure day. At leisure until your transfer to the airport for your onward flight.