Mahout Training

Mahout Training

As I lumbered through the forests of Northern Laos on the back of an 8,000 pound pachyderm I couldn’t believe that I was actually in command of the beast.  I can’t really take all the credit because the elephant’s mahout was never far behind, but I was still perched right on the elephant’s neck with nothing to hold on to but its huge ears.  It may not have been the most comfortable ride of the trip, and we’ve been on some pretty bumpy buses, but it was the most fun.

We spent two days learning about elephants; feeding them, bathing them and riding them.  Our teachers were the mahouts that live with the elephants year round.  A mahout is a person who works with, rides, and tends an elephant.  The origin of the word is from Hindi and is only a viable profession in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, which is too bad because I was hoping to visit a career councilor about my prospects on this path in the future.

Our training started with the regular “tourist ride” where we sat in a bench fitted to the elephant’s back and got acquainted with it’s movements and were able to observe the mahout’s commands and riding style.  After an hour of watching the elephant’s response to several commands of right, left, stop and slow we were able to ride the animals bare back.

thinkCHUA and I shared an elephant and took turns riding up front.  I had to get used to steadying myself on the back of the huge creature as it moved side to side and ate all the greenery in sight.  It was a challenge to not be thrown from the animal’s neck each time it leaned forward and pulled a branch of leaves off a tree with it’s trunk.  By the end of our first bare back riding session we were ready to dismount and regain feeling in our bums.  We said “goodnight” to the elephants after we dropped them off in their resting place in the forest.

The next morning we walked back out to where we had left the elephants and rode them back to camp for breakfast.  Our elephant was keenly aware of what awaited him at camp and took off in an uneven gate, running as fast as I assume you can when moving that much weight.  We held on as much as we could, and leaned forward to steady ourselves on his head, but he was moving at a pretty good clip.  Relieved to be able to hop off the elephant at camp, we fed him some bananas before heading to the river for a much-needed bath.

We're supposed to be washing our elephant, but thinkCHUA felt that I needed a good scrubbing as well.

Bathing the elephants was definitely the highlight not only for us, but so it seemed for the elephants.  They hopped right in the river and kneeled down to submerge themselves and us in the cool water.  We started to work right away with a huge brush to get all the mud off of their backs and massage their trunks.  The elephant contentedly sprayed himself and us with water in between sips for himself.  Once both us and the elephant was clean we hopped back on top and took him back to the forest to say goodbye.  I hope that he has as many fond memories of our two days together as we do and he should as we fed him lots of bananas.

thinkCHUA saying goodbye to our elephant


  1. Arrange the trip with a reputable company, make sure you find a company that you trust and ask questions about how many people will be in your group, will you each get an elephant, how much time will you get with the elephant, what will you do with the elephant, etc.  We went with Jewel Travel Laos and were very happy, Green Discovery is another great company to check out.
  2. Wear comfortable clothes you can get wet and dirty, elephants are not clean animals, which means you are going to get dirty riding them.
  3. Buy bananas, elephants like bananas and your friend is carrying you around for a couple days so reward them with their favorite treat.
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» Mom A :
Mar 25, 2011

I am so glad you did a whole article with pictures on your mahout internship! If you are thinking of product development would it be something like bicycle shorts with grip strips on the butt? Aren’t elephants great? They get their own food and you don’t even have to peel the bananas! Were they playful with you?

Elephants and tigers, oh my! What will be the next exotic creature you get to know?

thinkCHUA Reply:

Mom A, I think we can cross mahout off our list of possible occupations for us. The next exotic creature we see will be the international tourists at Siem Reap.

» dad :
Mar 28, 2011

it is fun to once again share a similar experience…….riding bareback on a elephant is difficult to explain, there bigger than one realizes, move more awkwardly, have a strange gait and eat 100’s of banana’s at a time and of course they smell like elephants………clearly once in a life time stuff…..we treasure similar photos…….be safe… dad

LOCAVORista Reply:

Dad, I agree riding elephants is tough to put into words. It’s always fun when you’ve had a similar experience and can relate, it is an experience I would recommend for anyone…at least once.

» Andrew Johnson :
Apr 7, 2011

HOLY CRAP that’s cool!!! So when you say buy bananas, what are we talking, like 5 or 6 bananas? :-P

LOCAVORista Reply:

Andrew, when I say buy bananas I mean like five or six BUNCHES, these are huge animals they require lots of food.

» Sam Spears :
Apr 25, 2011

Happy Easter!!! Do they celebrate Easter in Thailand? I can’t wait to hear about snorkeling. I am starting travel baseball this week. We had to try out for the teams(triple A and Double A) I made double A. Safe travels have fun! We missed you today.


LOCAVORista Reply:

Sam, thanks for writing to us. I hope you had a great Easter! We have not seen anyone celebrating Easter here in Thailand, but they have lots of holidays that I have never heard of. Sounds like the weather is getting warmer at home, hope you enjoy your double A baseball team. We missed the family today too! We’ll send a postcard to you of the fish here in Thailand.

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About the Author

LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.

About the Author
LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.


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