We took a public bus (with reserved seats) from Yangon to Taungoo. After arrival, we went on a bicycle tour of the city. This was the first time I had been on a bicycle in probably 40 years. They say that you never forget how to ride a bicycle. That is only true to a limited extent. OK, I didn't fall off, but I was very unsteady, especially since I had a 8 kg (18 lb) camera bag on my back. But I did manage. We visited the local market. We bought lots of bananas in preparation for the visit to the elephant camp the next day. Bananas are a favorite treat for the elephants. We also visited another Buddhist pagoda.

Back at the hotel, we discussed with the owner of the hotel, who organizes the tours to the elephant camp, what I should do there. He suggested that I not go with the mahouts to find the elephants, it might be to difficult.

The next morning we left at 5:00 to drive to the elephant camp. I got there just when a couple of the mahouts started their trek into the bush to find their elephants. I decided to go with them after all, I didn't think it would be too difficult for me. I had been hiking in the mountains in Arizona for a couple of months, so I thought I was in good enough shape. As it turned out, it was a great trip. We hiked into the bush for about 1.5 hours, the first 30 minutes wading along through a creek, then up and down through the bush. When we found the elephants, I was given the choice to either walk back, or ride back, bareback, on one of the elephants. Guess what I decided to do  :-). They had tied a heavy iron chain around the elephant, so I had something to hold onto. The mahout, a young man of maybe 18-20 years, was sitting on the head of the elephant, I was on the back of the elephant. The ride back was fantastic, I enjoyed it immensely. It was a bit difficult to stay on the elephant at times, especially when we were going downhill. My legs were hanging down the side of the elephant, pressed on the chain, and I was sitting on the bony spine of the elephant. At the end my legs were bruised from the chain, and my butt was sore from sitting on the bones on the back of the elephant, but I had a great time. The ride back was a bit less than 1 hour. We then watched the mahouts bathe their elephants. They were then brought back to the village to get ready for the days work. The elephants work only about 2-3 hours in the morning. They are then free to go into the bush on their own, wherever they want to go. In the morning the mahouts follow their tracks to find them again, which is how my day began. The elephants wear wooden chimes, so you can hear them once you get close enough. This makes it easier to find them, since you can't see very far in the dense bamboo bush.

Once back at the village, the working elephants are outfitted with a harness that trails heavy chains for pulling logs out of the bush. In order to make it a bit easier for me on the elephant while watching the other elephants at work, they had outfitted my elephant with a wood frame. This gave me something to hold onto, but I was still sitting on the back of the elephant, this time with a thin straw mat, which did not much to make it more comfortable. The wood frame made it a lot easier to stay on the elephant when she walked up and down the really steep mountain sides.

Once the elephants were ready for work, we rode them into the bush to a tree that had been felled earlier and cut into logs about 2 m (7 ft) long. The heavy chains from the harness were wrapped around one of the logs, and the elephant pulled the log back to the village.This was heavy going, especially when the log had to be pulled up a steep slope. The elephants were grunting loudly when they had to pull really hard uphill. After about 1½ hours of work, everybody went back to the village. At that time we rewarded the elephants with the bananas. I had bought two bunches of bananas. My guide had one of the bunches. He had just removed a banana from the bunch to feed it to one of the elephants. Smart as the elephant was, instead of taking the banana, he grabbed the whole bunch with his trunk from the other hand of my guide and pulled hard. The guide tried to hold on to the bunch, but of course the elephant was much stronger, so the whole bunch of bananas went into the mouth of the elephant and was gone in a flash. It was funny to watch. Fortunately, I had two bunches, so the other elephants got some reward as well.

The domesticated elephants are paired with a mahout when they are weaned. The mahout then trains the elephant for the work in the bush. I watched a little pit of the training, where the mahout tried to teach the elephant to stand on a tree stump with all four legs. This teaches them to be able to balance and to find good footing in the bush. Another teaching objective is to have the elephant walk on a log across a creek. Elephants finish training around 8 - 10 years of age, depending on how smart the elephant is. The elephant that I was riding on was a female, about 7 years old, so she was still too young to actually do the work in the bush. The elephants then work for some 30 years. After that they retire and go back in the bush on their own. From what I understand, they still hang around the village and come back frequently.

All pictures are © Dr. Günther Eichhorn, unless otherwise noted.

Shwesandaw Pagoda

Shwesandaw Pagoda Complex
Shwesandaw Pagoda complex. (701k)
Shwesandaw Pagoda
Shwesandaw Pagoda. (803k)
Small Pagoda Shwesandaw Pagoda
Small pagoda in the Shwesandaw Pagoda complex. (631k)
Buddha Statues Bhumisparsha Mudra
Buddha statues with the Bhumisparsha Mudra in the Shwesandaw Pagoda complex. (1014k)
Flashing Lights Buddha Statue
Flashing lights on a Buddha statue with the Bhumisparsha Mudra. (14.3M)


Local House Everything Very
Local house. Everything was very clean around the village. (1325k)
Nicely Carved Wooden Local
Nicely carved wooden local house. (1045k)
School House
School house. (1415k)
Local Cemetery
Local cemetery. (1343k)
Local Children Mobbing Pictures
Local children mobbing me to have their pictures taken. (882k)
School Children
School children. (1158k)
Local Kids Playing Ball
Local kids playing a ball game. (1394k)
Preparing Lunch
Preparing lunch. (1007k)
Local Monks Walking Village
Local monks walking through the village with their alms bowls, looking for donations from the villagers. (1087k)
Local Monks Getting Donations
Local monks getting donations for their lunch from the villagers. (962k)
Local Brick Factory Bricks
Local brick factory. Bricks are formed from local clay. They are then fired in a kiln. (1042k)
Getting Ready Make Brick
Getting ready to make another brick. The frame is put on top of the plate that has the name of the brick factory. The clump of clay on the right is then stuffed into the frame. (1204k)
Brick Done
Another brick is done. (1080k)
Rows Newly Formed Bricks
Rows of newly formed bricks. (1169k)
Fixing Threshing Machine
Fixing a threshing machine. (1138k)
Harvesting Vegetables
Harvesting vegetables. (1344k)
Harvesting. (1129k)
Harvesting. (953k)
Lunch Break Harvesting
Lunch break from harvesting. (1292k)
Irrigating Vegetable Garden
Irrigating the vegetable garden. (1253k)
Spraying Fertilizer Use Only
Spraying fertilizer. They use only natural fertilizer. (1409k)
Children Also Put Work
The children are also put to work, here fetching water. (1069k)
Plowing Old Fashioned Way
Plowing the old fashioned way. (1064k)
Plowing Done Machines
Some of the plowing is done with machines. (1192k)
Herding Duck Family
Herding a duck family. (946k)
Pigs Fairly Common Goats
Pigs are fairly common, goats and sheep are not. (987k)
Water Buffalo
Water buffalo. (1018k)

Elephant Camp

Valley Mist Before Sunrise
Valley mist just before sunrise on the way to the elephant camp. All the trees are planted young teak trees. (534k)
Large Areas Planted Young
There are large areas planted with young teak trees. (1265k)
Hiking Stream Way Find
Hiking through a stream on the way to find the elephants in the bush. (1258k)
Hiking Bush Find Elephants
Hiking through the bush to find the elephants. (1344k)
Hiking Bamboo Forest Find
Hiking through the bamboo forest to find the elephants. (1389k)
Found Mother Elephant Baby
Found the mother elephant with baby in the bush and getting her ready to come to work. (1426k)
Mahouts Elephant
One of the mahouts on his elephant. (1070k)
Reasonably Comfortable Elephant Way
I got reasonably comfortable on the elephant on the way back out of the jungle. (1253k)
Giving Elephants Bath Before
Giving the elephants a bath before they go to work. (1237k)
Giving Elephants Bath Before
Giving the elephants a bath before they go to work. (1272k)
Way Felled Tree Dragged
On the way to the felled tree that will be dragged out of the bush. (1299k)
Way Felled Tree Dragged
On the way to the felled tree that will be dragged out of the bush. They are very comfortable on the backs of their elephants. (1154k)
Elephant Pushing Log Slope
The elephant is pushing the log down the slope so it can be hooked up to the chain harness for dragging it out. (1425k)
Slope Elephants Push Logs
On the slope the elephants push logs with their forehead to get them into position for hook-up. (1286k)
Don't Know Stay Elephant
I don't know how they can stay on the elephant when it goes down the almost vertical slope. (1436k)
Hooking Harness Chains Log
Hooking up the harness chains to the log. (1349k)
Elephant Starting Pull Logs
The elephant is starting to pull one of the logs out of the bush where it was felled. (1.6M)
Trying Pull Log Over
Trying to pull the log over the tree that was blocking the creek. (1196k)
Two Logs Way Along
Two logs on their way out along the creek. (1298k)
Pulling Log Steep Muddy
Pulling a log up a steep muddy slope to the place where they are deposited. The elephants where hit with a switch. I don't think it really hurt their thick hide. (1403k)
Pulling Log Steep Muddy
Pulling a log up a steep muddy slope to the place where they are deposited. (1388k)
Elephants Resting After Work
One of the elephants resting after work. Later they would walk off into the bush to feed. (1141k)
Do Logs Make Charcoal
This is what they do with the logs: Make charcoal. They would like to sell the hardwood, but they are not allowed to sell it, so they make charcoal and sell that. What a waste! (1074k)
Local Houses Elephant Village
Local houses in the elephant village. (935k)
Preparing Our Lunch After
Preparing our lunch after the elephant excursion. (785k)
Local Villagers Getting Water
Local villagers getting their water from a well. (1151k)

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Main page for Myanmar

Page last updated on Mon Jan 20 14:56:10 2020 (Mountain Standard Time)

Taungoo - Elephant Camp on guenther-eichhorn.com

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