Cultural Travel


Learning to drive in Thailand

There are no rear lights, no windshield wipers and you won’t get much in the trunk except water, but at northern Thailand’s new 5-star Anantara Resort and Spa Golden Triangle, guests can pass their driving test – from the back of an elephant.

The 3-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.

Course content includes learning basic commands, how to drive an elephant, river bathing, daily care of an elephant, feeding requirements and mahout lifestyle. At the end of 3 days a short ‘driving test’ is administered after which guests receive their certificate of mahout competence.

The resort’s 160 acres of bamboo forest, nature trails and river banks provide an ideal habitat for the elephants, all of which have been long-time residents of the Lampang elephant centre and have spent several years involved in 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, guests are invited to make an incense offering and blessing to the elephant-headed deity, Ganesh, after which it’s time for the ‘girls” morning bath. Then it’s off to work; starting with how to mount your elephant – up the side or leapfrogging over her bowed head. Once seated behind her ears, the mahout teaches each trainee the basic movement commands and the trainees get used to walking up and down the camp, acclimatizing themselves to the roll and sway of their elephant. The morning course ends at 9am.

The afternoon’s activities start at 2pm, when 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 out of the water is almost impossible; especially with Lawann who likes to make sure her mahout is as wet as she is. 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 a mahout hook as a souvenir of their time at the Anantara elephant camp.

The 3-day mahout course and special packages are also available.

This month features
 Thailand and Asia
 phuket travel info
Phuket Travel and Tours
  Tropical Living Magazine
  Koh Samui
  Recommend this site

Last Minute Hotels


 Benjarong Magazine - October 2005, Volume 8 Issue 10


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