There may be no such thing as a dumb question, but if you ask “how?” during mahout training at Anantara Resort’s Elephant Camp, the pachyderm you’re driving is likely to come to a screeching halt. “How,” after all, means “stop” in elephant language. But never fear, a quick “pai” which means “go” should quickly catch you back up to the rest of your class. Another useful word is “baen” which means “turn,” which could come in mighty handy in an elephant camp that’s located at the confluence of the Mae Khong and Ruak Rivers.
During the three-day mahout training course, you’ll learn to bathe, feed and care for your assigned elephant. You’ll master basic elephant commands (around 70, at last count) and how to communicate with your 3-ton steed by lightly touching him or her behind the ears. From the back of your jumbo beauty, you’ll also explore the forests of Northern Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, all of which are within elephant bugling distance from the camp.
The mahout training course is not for late risers. Elephants and their mahouts start their day at 6:30 a.m. when elephants are rounded up from the forest, driven back to the camp and given a few moments for morning ablutions. From there, you’ll be taught how to mount your elephant—either up the side or by leap-frogging over its bowed head—and given time to acclimate to the big beast’s roll and sway.
After lunch, you’ll use the movement commands you hopefully mastered during the morning session to drive your trusty mount to the Ruak River for its all-time favorite activity—river bathing. And, yes, trainees are expected to get in the water with their charges although staying on their back would be nearly impossible anyway–especially if you happen to get Lawann, the village flirt who is never shy about showing her feelings.
“The elephants at the camp are used to working with people and, like the best teachers, are extremely patient. Like humans, elephants learn to trust people over time, so we encourage guests to hand feed their teachers with plenty of sugar cane and bananas,” says John Roberts, the British director of Elephant Camp. Each elephant, he says, eats around 550 pounds of food a day.
At the end of your three-day workshop, you’ll take a “driving test” and, if you pass, you’ll get an official certificate of mahout competence. You’ll also get your own blue denim mahout shirt.
Says Roberts, “I don’t feel too guilty for turning less than competent mahouts out on the streets. So far, there have been no reports of accidents. At least not yet.”
Anantara’s Resort’s 160-acres of bamboo forest, nature trails and river banks provide an ideal habitat for the resort’s four elephants, all of whom came here from the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre in Lampang, 360 miles north of Bangkok.
In addition to the three-day mahout course, the Anantara also offers a world-class spa, a cooking school, longtail boat rides, treks to hill-tribe villages, mountain bikes, tennis courts and tours to everything from the last spawning ground of giant catfish to the Hall of Opium to Doi Tung where you can buy hand-woven rugs, mulberry bark paper, ceramics and locally-grown Arabica coffee.
For more on Antantara Elephant Camp, click here.