World’s Worst Elephant Mahout

Mike and I went on an elephant mahout training course yesterday.

Yes, seriously.

Here’s how it happened.

Last week we came back two days early from our time in Cambodia so that Mike could attend some important meetings in Vientiane – so he took those two days of leave this weekend instead. Given that we’d be in Luang Prabang, Mike decided it would be a good idea to pre-schedule some interesting things to do out of the house on these two days so that he would not be tempted out of habit to, as he put it, “fall into bed with my second wife, Madame Toshiba, when it is not her turn.”

(Madame Toshiba is Mike’s work computer and, for the record, she already gets more than her fair share of his attention.)

So that is how we ended up out at Elephant Village for the day, and when the owners asked us if we wanted to do the special package where you learn how to be a mahout and you get to swim with your elephant we said, “that sounds cool, why not?”

Perhaps if I had stopped to think about it for more than a nano-second I might have come up with a couple of potentially valid reasons why not.

Here’s one, for example: Mahouts ride elephants bareback.

Here’s another: Before they ride the elephants bareback they somehow climb up on them unassisted.

Here’s a third: There is no such thing as an elephant bridle.

And here’s the kicker: Elephants are very big.

But no – as in so many other situations in life I didn’t stop to think. Or perhaps more accurately, I knew that thinking might be wise, but I took one look at Mike’s hopeful, excited, face at the prospect of mahout training (he looked exactly like a Labrador Retriever who’s just spied someone with a tennis ball in hand) and knew I wouldn’t have the heart to say no, so I chose not to think. I can never figure out in those moments whether I’m being a great wife or an idiot.

They say you learn something every day, and here’s one of the things I learned yesterday: I’d be the world’s worst mahout.

It took two people to shovel me up onto our training elephant and things only went downhill from there.








I mastered exactly none of the commands designed to tell the elephant where to go and almost fell off the elephant’s head while it was merely walking in a gentle circle. Then I nearly lost my shirt over my head sliding down its neck.

Here’s another thing I learned yesterday: Sometimes I need to repeat an experience before I really learn my lesson, because later in the day I got back up bareback on an elephant – this time I wearing nothing but a bathing suit – and almost fell off again.

But here’s the third thing I learned: I might not particularly like riding the elephants without the aid of a howdah, but I sure do like swimming with them.

20 responses to “World’s Worst Elephant Mahout

  1. ha ha ha ha!!! Sometimes I feel like maybe we’re leading paralell lives. I too often wonder whether I’m being an idiot or a good wife. And I rode an elephant last week. You are so hilarious. Love this post!

    • Perhaps we are (theme from the twilight zone). Yay for crazy people who live in Asia and ride elephants. I predict we’re (both) going to have a good week this week. Here’s hoping.

  2. Really made my day, smiled all the way through the story.
    What a wild ride. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. “I can never figure out in those moments whether I’m being a great wife or an idiot.” Truer words never spoken. LOL. That line could be pretty much my mantra for life… I could modify if for different circumstances like… “I can never figure out in those moments whether I’m being a great sister or an idiot” the list could go on and on.

    I’m so excited that you got to swim with elephants. Not a lot of people can say they’ve done that! I vote great wife.

  4. My vote’s with “great wife” too. Besides, though stopping to think about things may be the sensible choice, it’s much less adventurous. (At least, that’s the excuse I use.)

    • Yes, much less adventurous, and I want to be adventurous (or, at least, I want to want to be adventurous). I owe you an email, I know. I’ll need to do some more research on your question though. I’ll write soon.

  5. Wow! Looks like quite the adventure. I was laughing out loud at the story; glad that you only almost fell off! Glad you don’t have any broken bones to prove that you are a great wife.

  6. I don’t think that you would be the worlds worst mahout… that would be Jeff’s mahout on our honeymoon who got off the elephant to film us on our video camera just moments before another elephant on the trek decided to have a freak out, rear up on its hind legs and resulted in the rest of the elephants stampeding down the 1.5m wide track with a steep drop off the side. Meanwhile, Jeff’s mahout is chasing us down with the video camera still going and Jeff and his elephant end up a few hundred metres away with Jeff having no way of stopping the elephant.

    That was the world’s worst mahout! 🙂

    Your experience sounds relatively calm and relaxing by comparison. We still have the video to prove it!

    • Nice. Yeah, maybe I’m not the WORLD’s worst mahout – just the worst in Laos. Way to go me! Glad Jeff didn’t fall off. Your honeymoon is no time to have an elephant accident!

  7. Yes but . . . but . . . but . . . it *looks* sooooo fun!!!!! Maybe you can get an elephant as a pet instead of a dog . . .?

  8. Wow, I LOVE these photos, especially the ones of you in the water! What an experience.

    • It was very fun. This unscheduled trip to hospital in Bangkok that was the unanticipated result of that day has been less fun, but live and learn. Mike’s resigning himself to the fact that that will be his last extended mahout experience.

  9. Pingback: A tale of two right legs | Wandering. Wondering. Writing.

  10. Those pictures make me want to go back to the Elephant Village!! I wish we’d had more time to do the mahout training. It looked like so much fun!!!! Glad y’all got to do that 🙂

  11. I love this!! For someone who is an equine enthusiast and spent many years riding bareback, I can’t help but wonder how a sweaty horse compares to the rough skin of an elephant. This will go on my “bucket list.” I also checked out the Elephant Village’s website you had linked….imagine my disappointment when I didn’t see photos of you and Mike’s shining examples of being a Mahout for a day!!! :o)


    • Maybe I should post some on my blog, with the admonition to all future mahouts in training to wear long pants to avoid being rubbed raw by the prickly elephant hair. In case I don’t get around to it, you at least should make note of that :). Wear LONG PANTS the day you get to check it off your bucket list – especially if you want to spent more than three minutes on the elephant’s head!

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