Two weeks ago we went on a trip over a long weekend to Luang Prabang, Laos. It was great! The moment the plane touches the tarmac and decelerates, so does your life – which was exactly what I needed. Luang Prabang is a charming little city along the Mekong river, which passes by gently but steadily flowing. Laos used to be a French colony, and I must say, Luang Prabang at least did a great job ridding itself from its former oppressors, while recognizing and retaining a few valuable cultural cornerstones – primarily food related. The food we have tasted in Laos was similar to Thai food, but less hot and instead much more flavorful. So much so, that I prefer it hand-down over Thai food.
This cave is filled with Buddha statues. The trip is great, but I recommend to leave at the dawn’s earliest light, in order to avoid the crowds and enjoy the cave in solitude, rather than with bus loads of tourists from all over.
Back in LPB, the place where everyone gathers on a clear day for sunset is the Mount Phousy. The ambitious traveler ascends via many, many stair steps only to discover that many, many other tourists have already taken the best spots, because they clearly walked up in the afternoon heat, just to annoy you – the righteous traveler.
The other side of LPB at sunset, mist is building up in the valleys. That night we walked the main street up and don, when a dude with an American accent complimented my on my cool T-Shirt (I am not kidding). We struck up a conversation and it turned out that he was attached to three other guys who had opened just three weeks prior an Elephant sanctuary nearby – Mandalao Resort (mandalaotours.com). They invited us to come visit their resort and give feedback.
Personally, I am not a fan of visiting animals “in the wild”. Because there is usually a big element or corniness and circus involved, whereby customers end up in weird photo opportunities (e.g.: Tiger temples, tiger sanctuaries, Elephant rides all over Thailand, etc.) or somehow disrespecting the animals – look up what an elephant undergoes, until its spirit is beaten and broken to make it carry people on its back. We went out to the resort on Sunday early morning and the sheer size of the resort and the lightness and taste with which the buildings were build amazed me. The visitors spend about 45 minutes listening to an enthusiastic guide talk about anything elephant. The key points being that there will be no ridding involved. Instead the visitors are being prepared for an encounter where two world gently touch in order to spend some time in mutual respect. After a while the elephants slowly trotted (although it looks more like a swagger) not chained or prodded along the river and stopped at the other side of the river that separates the main building from the rest of the resort.
The visitors were then carried by boat across the river and behaved as instructed with respect giving the elephants time to get used to the smaller two-legged visitors, ultimately resulting in very gentle moments between elephant and human.
The elephants give subtle signals when they like physical contact – they purr and they lean in. The leaning in is a big learning opportunity for the human, because when +1000kg lean in, it feels more like being pushed, albeit gently.
I was focusing on taking images of these animals, yet they came to me. We did not speak, but these elephant allowing me to touch them was one of the most amazing and beautiful experiences of my life. Truly amazing – the encounters are a lot more intimate and touching than I could have imagined. Seeing these big animals up close and without any means of separation is very grounding and humiliating – in a very positive sense.
I do this blog as a labor of love and usually try to plug things (except a Porsche 550, Mom, dad….hint!!) but if you re in Luang Prabang and your re looking for a truly unique and beautiful way to spend a day, then by all means book a tour with Mandalao and enjoy the hours where your word and the elephants world converge and touch fora brief while that you will remember for a long time.
Alright, that is that. Stay sharp.
Cheers Markus \m/