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Learning to drive in Thailand, The Mahout Training at Anantara Resort Golden Triangle
01 Apr 2007
The three-day mahout (elephant ‘driver') training course takes place in the resort's own elephant camp, which was set up in conjunction with Thailand's National Elephant Institute and its Elephant Conservation Centre in Lampang (situated some 600km north of Bangkok). The resort's resident elephants are all experienced mahout trainers - and full of personality.
Course content includes learning basic commands (pai=go, baen=turn and the all-important, how=stop) in order to drive an elephant, river bathing, daily care of an elephant, feeding requirements and mahout lifestyle. At the end of three days a short ‘driving test' is administered after which guests receive their certificate of mahout competence.
Anantara's 160 acres of bamboo forest, nature trails and river banks provide an ideal habitat for the elephants, all of whom have been long-time residents of the Lampang Elephant Centre and have become fully accustomed to the Centre's eco-tourism programmes.
Guests learn their elephant driving skills working with a qualified Thai mahout and an English-speaking guide, usually the resort's own nature ranger, John Roberts, an Englishman with his own mahout certification.
Roberts explains: "The programme is designed for those who would like to get a feel for the bond between elephant and mahout and to learn more than just the very basics. Our course is based on the professional mahout training course, run at the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre."
It's certainly not a course for late risers. Elephants and their mahouts get up with the sun and the course starts each morning at 6.30am. The trainee's first task is to collect their elephant from the forest and together with the mahout drive her back to the camp. The guide will explain what the mahout is doing and the commands he uses for his elephant.
Once back at the camp, it's time for morning ablutions (for the elephants, that is). Then it's off to work; starting with how to mount your elephant - up the side or leap-frogging over its bowed head. Once seated behind the elephant's ears, the mahout teaches each trainee the basic movement commands and the trainees get used to walking up and down the camp, acclimatising themselves to the roll and sway of their mount. The morning course ends at around 9am.
The afternoon's activities start at 2pm, when, during the dry season, guests drive their elephant to the Ruak River for their favourite activity, river bathing. Trainees are expected to get in the water with their elephant, though staying on their back and not getting wet is almost impossible; especially with the more playful amongst these pachyderms. Then it's back to the forest, where the mahouts choose a good place for their elephant to spend the night, one where bamboo and leafy snacks are plentiful!
"The elephants at the camp are all used to working with people and like the best teachers, are extremely patient. As with humans, elephants warm to and trust people over time, so we encourage guests to hand feed their teachers with plenty of sugar cane and bananas," says Roberts. Each elephant eats around 250kg of food per day.
Qualified mahouts stay with the elephant throughout the training and guests are never required to have sole charge of their mount.
On the third day Roberts gives the mahout trainees a short driving test; though the testing isn't overly rigorous. "I don't feel too guilty for turning less than competent mahouts out on the streets," laughs Roberts "There have been no reports of elepant-based accidents when my students return home. At least not yet!"
On passing their test, trainees receive a certificate of competence, a new mahout shirt and as a souvenir of their time at the Anantara elephant camp.
In addition to the three-day mahout course, other special packages are also available. Anantara Resort Golden Triangle is located 60km north of Chiang Rai's international airport. For enquiries and reservations, please call + 66 (0) 5378 4084 or + 66 (0) 2 477 0760 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit http://www.anantara.com/.
Anantara is taken from an ancient Sanskrit word that means 'borderless water', a name chosen for this element's association in many Asian cultures with wealth and good fortune. Inspired by local architecture and sensitive to the indigenous culture, Anantara Resorts are currently located in the seaside town of Hua Hin (220kms south of Bangkok), on Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand and in the Golden Triangle in the country's north. Anantara Resort Maldives has opened in August 2006.
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