Xayaboury’s elephants draw jumbo crowd at annual festival

Visith Teppalath

VIENTIANE (VIENTIANE TIMES/ANN) – These majestic beasts are out in full force at the annual Elephant Festival, where more than 70 friendly giants are assembled under the watchful eye of their mahouts.

The colourful festival runs from February 18-28 and is one of Laos’ most popular events.

The elephants are well-behaved after being trained by their mahouts and are unlike those that live in the wild, of which there are now very few in the jungles of Laos.

Visitors will be entranced by their grace, despite their massive bulk, and can get up close and personal with them.

Although there are many opportunities for interaction, it’s advisable to act with restraint when in their presence.

An elephant practises raising the Lao’s national flag. PHOTO: VIENTIANE TIMES/ANN

Visitors can also watch the mahouts as they train the elephants, which are highly intelligent and have been taught to perform for the public.

You can see them hold the Lao flag and perform a graceful Lamvong dance, and they will also sit and present flowers on command.

A large open space has been set aside for the elephants, where members of the public may go to feed them sugarcane, bananas and other food which are supplied on site.

People love to spend time among these gentle giants and feed them. Of course, there are endless photo opportunities and some people make a small donation to pay for their upkeep. You can also take a ride on an elephant.

The elephants greet people by raising their trunks and can shake hands too. They show respect by kneeling down or in some cases bowing.

It is difficult to express in words their grandeur or the sense of awe and fulfilment one feels upon being so close to them.

This year, the festival will be bigger than usual and will feature a few more elephants, with 71 having been gathered up to take part in this amazing pachyderm spectacle.

The event takes place at the main stadium in the provincial capital, near the elephant garden and close to the Nam Houng river.

There is a wide range of entertainment on the programme, with the elephants painting pictures and playing gongs, drums and the khaen.

They will also play a game of football, run, and do a balancing act on two legs. Besides the elephant shows, visitors can take rides on these placid animals to various places nearby.

There is also a grand elephant procession, a street fair selling local products, and cultural shows.

Also on the programme is an almsgiving ceremony and an elephant talent contest, where they are judged on their behaviour and special skills.