Destination Pakbeng: The Mekong Elephant Park

Destination Pakbeng: The Mekong Elephant Park

Bernie Rosenbloom

Part 2. A shorter version appears in Champa Meuanglao magazine.

The Mekong Elephant Park

It was too late for the 1,000 Year Tea Forest, Talae Waterfall, or Ban Yor pottery village. So, we hit the local markets, then transferred down the hill from Le Grand to the Sanctuary Lodge.

I told Ben, the general manager, about our Ban Kham dilemma. He said, “You’ll return from the elephant park for lunch.” That was fine for Pheng.

Ben explained that the lodge is two hotels in one. We were on a newer hillside level just above the Mekong, and where I had a deluxe room. The lower wing offered superior rooms. He arranged for Chris and I to meet for the Lao set dinner. It was tuned to our tastes and prepared mostly with local ingredients.  

After the meal, Chris showed me his footage from Laos. His equipment list included a selfie stick with a mini video camera and a drone. I had a pen and paper. We called it a night and would meet for the 10:00 a.m. boat to the park.  

A trumpeting elephant interrupted my morning Mekong coffee on the room’s lawn terrace. Pachyderms were bathing across the river. A few hours later, we shoved off in a narrow wooden vessel to visit them. Wendy, the park manager, greeted us.

She led the way to 23-year-old Meiping and her adopted mother, Meikhram, who had retired from a life of logging. Meiping never worked a day in her life. She had landed a life of leisure in her own habitat, with hectare upon hectare of food.

We met the local mahouts, who had initiated the non-profit elephant park that Sanctuary Lodge helps to operate. They introduced us to the gentle giants. We kept a short distance as the elephants lazily swayed their trunks. I locked eyes with Meiping. The “Me and My Elephant” tour had begun.    

But first we went to the rustic restaurant, while the elephants bathed in the stream below. Wendy showed us local handicrafts like bamboo cowbells for elephants. 

We shifted to the adjacent workshop area. An older man weaved rattan baskets. A blacksmith pounded out a machete. Mr Thong stood with woven goods crafted by his wife.

We returned to the restaurant and watched the mahouts trying without success to lure Meiping from the stream’s pool. “She loves swimming,” Wendy said. “Watch how they get her out.”

Meikhram was soaking her feet upstream. The mahout slowly walked her towards the pool and then abruptly stopped. Meiping looked at her mother, took another dunk, looked again, and then began slowly heading her way. Upon arrival, Meiping gave her mom a trunk-hug.

“Elephants can do 150 different things with their trunks,” Wendy said. “They start learning when they’re about three-years-old.”

With Meiping on dry land, it was time to go for a walk that morphed into a vigorous mini-mountain trek. Chris sided up to her as we hit the hills at the height of Green Season. Walls of leaves lined the path during the climb, and Meiping constantly stopped at the Green Season buffet.  

She walked with me on the downhill journey, and showed off her trunk skills. She kept returning to the buffet, burying her trunk into the foliage and rummaging around, before ripping out a bundle of long stalks and manoeuvring them to her mouth.       

I started talking to Meiping like I do with my dog. She loved being petted on her forehead and trunk, and when I stopped, she’d give me those puppy elephant eyes and a nudge with her trunk.  

We reached the sandy Mekong beach, and Meiping dove in. Wendy lured her out with a bunch of bananas. It was time for another trunk trick. Wendy held out a single banana and Meiping snatched it and swung it to her mouth.

It was my turn. “Be sure to hold the bunch behind you, and give her just one at a time,” Wendy warned. Thus started a mammalian assembly line, as I snapped and held out banana after banana that Meiping grabbed and lifted to her mouth.

Chris took his turn, and then we then boarded the boat to the lodge. Chris vowed to return the next day. As for me, it was… 

Read "Back to the Khmu".

Meet Destination Pakbeng

Shompoo Cruises

Le Grand Pakbeng Resort

Sanctuary Pakbeng Lodge

Luang Say Lodge

 

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