Tag Archives: Luang Prabang

ASIAN SENSATION PHOTO RECAP PART DEUX: Elephant Splash Fight

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Guys, I love elephants.

Like, I really, really love them a lot. And let me just tell you they don’t feel the same. They wanted me OFF of their backs immediately if not sooner. Luckily they’re easily swayed to your favor with a bunch of sugar cane or a bushel of bananas. The way to an elephant’s heart is the same way as to a man’s: through their stomachs. So with a hand full of kip I tried to buy an elephant’s love for an afternoon. But it would take more than a few bananas to make these elephants love a human.

When we first got to the Elephant Camp outside Luang Prabang, down a dusty road, around a mountainside, and across a muddy bridge, we were taught elephant commands, introduced to a bevy of wrinkly, grey beauties, and told that the elephant’s favorite part of the day was bath time because they love cooling off in the water.

I can’t speak for the elephant’s but I think they just hate everyone at the Elephant Camp in general. Southeast Asian people don’t treat their animals well, domestic and non, and the elephants, it seems, were no exception. It was less awkward than Tiger Temple, but that’s another story entirely. (See how I foreshadow like that? Damn I’m good.)

The elephants are large. I know this. You know this. They’re gigantic. They could sit on us and murder us, but they choose not to because they are docile, gentle giants. And so they let us, tiny predators, jump on their backs, strap literal benches to them, ride on their heads, prod them with poles. I don’t like it. It makes me uncomfortable. But the mahouts (Laotian elephant trainers) have absolutely no problem yelling, kicking, pinching, poking, and, in the case of the river, literally jumping on top of them to get them to perform for the white tourists who come to see them in hordes.

So, we rode them, fed them, laughed and took photos and then it came time for bathing. I had to put on that gorgeous navy blue men’s shirt because my bathing suit was too sexy (I know it wasn’t meant as a compliment, but I took it as one), and we headed down to the river to wash our elephants. We walked down a steep hill into the river and the elephants, every single one, immediately took giant dumps in the water. Turds the size of a baby, just floating past your legs, brushing up against your thighs. Lovely.

And then I became the most uncomfortable I was all day: my mahout asked me if I wanted to get wet. I mean, I’m in the water aren’t I? I’m in my bathing suit? “Yeah,” I said, “Sure. Go for it.” And then he literally started jumping on top of my elephant, jumping up and down, slamming his feet down into her little adorable wrinkles yelling, “SHOWAAAAAAHHHH! SHOWAAAHHHH!” And shower me she did. After some light coaxing (this is blatant sarcasm), she splashed me again and again, I’m assuming to avoid more jumping.

“Whoa!” I said, alarmed. “Don’t hurt her! It’s okay. I don’t need a shower,” I said to the mahout. “It’s okay,” he assured me, “she likes it”. Forgive me, but I don’t know anyone or anything that loves being jumped up and down on being screamed at to perform for some asshole white girl with a Facebook album agenda. I felt really bad. Really, really bad. Because these elephants really are so cute. So gentle. So nice. They don’t deserve that.

The photo looks so happy, right? Just a girl and her elephant having the time of their damn lives in the beautiful Laotian countryside. In reality, though I’m smiling, because you could throw hot wax on me and I’d still be all smiles with an adorable elephant showering me in a river, I’m actually very emotionally uncomfortable because I can tell the elephant is physically uncomfortable, as well as probably emotionally ravaged by its circumstances.

So, I decided I was against elephant camps. Why don’t they just free them? Let them run free in the wild where they belong!? Why these horrendous camps?!

And the answer is devastating. The elephants have nowhere else to go. Elephants are with killed when found in the wild, their tusks used for carved ivory, their bodies stuffed and sold to collectors, or they are enslaved and brought to work in the jungles hauling lumber. Elephant camps, as shitty as they are, are the best lives these animals can hope for. How much does that suck?

It’s incredibly sad to me that elephants are kept alive and healthy purely for tourism. If we stopped visiting elephant camps, if we boycotted them or shut them down, the elephants would be killed, or released into the wild to die at the hands of native people or hunters, or be recaptured and brought to haul lumber through the countryside. I really hate that.

And so, I like to think my elephant splash fight wasn’t all bad. At least my elephant got to cool off and take a dump in the river. At least she got all the bananas I could afford. At least she’s relatively safe.

I’d like to urge anyone who visits an elephant camp in the future to make sure it’s as humane as possible. Go somewhere the elephants only work a few hours a day, where they alternate elephants, where the elephants seem unafraid of humans. If the elephants are being forced to work all day, in the heat of the sun, over and over again for the amusement of tourists, don’t be that tourist. Just leave. Go somewhere else. You’ll be glad you did when your elephant splash fight is genuine and organic. You shouldn’t need a mahout jumping and screaming on your back to make your elephant want to play with you. They should feel safe and loved, not scared and abused.

Splash on. But splash responsibly.

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ASIAN SENSATION PHOTO SERIES RECAP: Kardashian for a Day in Laos

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A crazy thing happened to me in Luang Prabang, Laos. And I’m not talking about watching my sister fall off a scooter on a country road and get the most road rash one human should ever have to endure at one time. And I’m not talking about getting into a splash fight with an elephant. And I’m not talking about staying in what can only be described as a frickin’ palace of a hotel. Because those are all photos to come. Do you see how I get you excited? It’s called foreshadowing, and I’m great at it.

What I’m talking about, is, in fact, when I became Kardashian for a few fleeting moments on a hilltop in Luang Prabang, just trying to enjoy a sunset with an unsuspecting kitten. Here’s how it went down:

There’s a hill in Luang Prabang. A big one. With a temple on it. It’s called Phu Si hill (pronounced poo-see, teehee) and people go up and watch the sunset on it every night. I know what you’re thinking, wow, that sounds so peaceful and untouched! A beautiful place to watch the sunset- I bet there’s monks and baby tigers, and a tiny tea shop where you can sip a lovely hot green tea and hug your family and just generally enjoy the unspoiled beauty that is the country of Laos.

You’d be wrong.

After heaving and wheezing your way up the hill- watching Bryan Gattis traipse up past you, reminding you that he’s run marathons and biked across the nation for Kenyan charities while you sat at home and lethargically complained to your friend on iChat that you accidentally deleted Real Housewives of New Jersey off of your DVR while trying to wipe peanut butter off of your remote control-you make it to the top.

And there you are, surrounded by a hundred other backpackers and travelers, with their tripods and their Instagram videos, and their ironic polaroid cameras (where are you keeping the polaroids in your backpack?! TELL ME). And you realize, as you pull out your iPhone camera, that the Venezuelan backpacker in the Punjabi pants is judging you as you snap photos of the setting sun, deciding later you will use Pic Fx to make it look even more peaceful.

And so, you walk away, and spot a kitten. A kitten who would never judge you based on camera choice, who isn’t wearing punjabi pants, who just wants to be cuddled. And so you go over and pet it. And it purrs, so, even though you’re allergic, you pick it up.

Another backpacker tells you not to. You laugh. Why would I NOT pick up this adorable kitten? Idiot.

And then they’re on you.

First it’s one Chinese man, asking you to smile and pose with the kitten. You think it’s weird, but you do it.

Then, it’s his friend, the one with the tripod- he wants one too. You oblige.

Then, in the blink of an eye, it’s flashbulbs in your face, and someone throws another kitten at you. “Kiss the kitten!” “Hug the kitten!” “Smile here!” “Over here, smile at me!” “Put the kitten on your shoulder!” “Put both kittens on your shoulders!” “Give us a lookback!” “How do you feel about the rumors the baby isn’t really Kanye West’s!?”

And you’re just like “WHAAAAAAAAT”- frozen in time, watching your sister and Bryan laugh at you as you struggle to free the kittens and yourself from the grip of these Asian paparazzi.

“Okay, I’m going to put the kitten down now,” you say, and you push your way through and stand next to your sister. Then, they start taking pictures of the two of you looking at the sunset.

And you realize, Chinese people just want pictures of everything. They document everything and everyone, from the most beautiful sunset, to the tiniest flower, to the most confused white girl holding a kitten they can possibly find.

You’re just one of thousands of photos they’ll upload to their computers.

And as you make your way down the hill, exasperated, you realize, this must be what it’s like to e a Kardashian. And later, as you buy coin purses and headbands and 1,000 stick of incense for $4 you wonder why no one wants your picture now. And you realize, this must be what it’s like to be Mickey Rourke.

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