Overland Through Laos travel blog

Dave feeding elephant

Hitching a lift while makig a trunk call

25th September

As promised Xeng took me on his day off to see the Elephant Camp at Tad Sea Waterfalls. He picked up a load of canoes in the van and after ½ hour drive, we arrived at the Nan Kahn River where a boat was waiting to take us to the elephant camp at the Tad See Waterfall.

It was 10minutes to the landing stage by the thundering falls. They were an impressive sight as we walked up the steps the elephant camp. Several waterwheels were seen on the way, they were used mainly for irrigation and water supply.

I saw three elephants nearby behind a fance; two juveniles 12 and 14 years old and their mother.

Xeng took photos of me feeding the elephants. My bunch of bananas wouldn't go far with their massive appetite. They eat almost constantly 150 kgs per day. The animals were initially tethered; but my visit was timed for one of the daily training sessions. The Elephants were led across the picturesque falls. The water tumbled over calcite ledges with blue green shallow pools. The elephants were taken to a clearing for their morning training session.

They were led in a circle with trunks and tails linked. It was a kind of elephantine dressage where the movements were intended to improve dexterity and discipline. There was no undue pressure for the elephants to do this. The animals were well cared for and appeared to enjoy the experience.

The exercises included picking up dropped sticks and replacing the hats of the mahouts. The most fun part was watching these great animals play basketball and soccer. The baskets prove tricky for some especially as they have a height advantage. Shooting balls at goal was a lot of entertainment; the big male has a strong right kick. Among the last exercises were where the mahouts were literally picked up and carried in the mouths of these great animals.

The last test involved me! I was taken (willingly) to the adult male and female elephants who joined trunks. I sat between them and was carried to their trunks to the edge of the area with Xeng taking some good photos of the event. It was quite a privilege to have been able to do this and get such an intimate view of a training session. There are regular public shows and on the following day I was taken by Vong the tour manger to an area where the company were to run new elephant treks.

Back at the Waterfalls, I met a group of English and Scottish who were heading out to Cambodia in early October. I also met Tom the Belgian and his wife who had been kayaking ane were taking a swim break at the falls. I had a decent picnic lunch at what was a popular bathing resort for tourists and locals.

I took a walk around the edge of the falls; which are at there best from July through September. They dry up completely after December when water levels are too low for the boats to run. The calcite pools are similar to those in Cappadocia in Turkey. Because of their isolated location, they are in pristine condition and extend in terraces up stream.

I waded and walked as far as I could, before taking a steep path through areas of Elephant Ears ; broad leaved plants which grow up to 3 metres high. Above the falls was an attractive wood and thatch restaurant with bar. Time to go and a short boat ride back with a return journey with the van full of mountain bikes this time. The weather continued dull and damp with misty rain.

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