So today I rode on an elephant's neck, NBD

We couldn’t decide whether to schedule an elephant ride. What if it seemed exploitative, or just tacky?

Obviously, we went for it. There’s a sustainable-tourism outfit in Luang Prabang that centers around a sanctuary for former logging elephants, so we went out there. The elephants seemed to be treated very affectionately, and we learned lots of interesting facts: elephants can carry almost half their body weight; they eat hundreds of pounds of food and drink dozens of gallons of water a day; they gestate for about two years and elephant calves are milk-dependent for three years after birth! We also got to view a comparison poster contrasting Asian and African elephants — apparently Asian elephants are “wrinkly” and African elephants are “very wrinkly.” We’ll report back.

The guides kept suggesting that, in addition to the standard thing of riding in a little basket tied to the elephant’s back, we could also climb down to the elephant’s neck, which is usually where the guide, or mahout, sits. We tried to convey how very appreciative we were of this opportunity while politely refusing. This approach… was not successful.

I would say that sitting on an elephant’s neck is exhilarating, somewhat terrifying, and a fantastic inner-thigh workout.

Also, in a group of basically docile animals, our elephant was mutinous and badly behaved. Everybody else would be walking politely in a line and our elephant would try to overtake on the narrow path, or swing abruptly over to some especially delicious-looking bushes and start ripping them apart with her trunk and eating them. This was occasionally alarming but also pretty adorable.

Post-ride, we got to hang out with the elephants and feed them. Elephants have poor eyesight but fantastic sense of smell, and they knew exactly where the bananas were at all times. We’d stand there and these huge fleshy hoses would rear toward us, and we’d hold out an unpeeled banana or even several, and they would snorf them up with the wet toothless mouths at the ends of their trunks, deposit them in their actual mouths, and then immediately reextend the trunks for more food. MORE FOOD NOW! I felt a strong urge to hug them, but I mastered myself.

In the post-game recap over some Beers Laos, we got all grandiose about Luang Prabang, envisioning coming back with our hypothetical 10-year-olds some years hence. Who knows, but it’s definitely high on the list of places to return.

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