A Day Amongst Giants: Luang Prabang’s Elephant Village

Elephant Village, Laos

Laos is known as the land of a million elephants. Sadly, due to deforestation and other ecological and economic problems, this is no longer true–there are hardly any elephants living in the wild in Laos any more. Many elephants have worked as laborers over the years, working in the forests where their brute power was beneficial for lifting and dragging heavy trees. It’s not a happy life for an elephant, and over time, many organizations have done their part to try to give the elephants of Laos a better life. One such place is Elephant Village, a gorgeous sanctuary located in the lush jungle valley on the banks of the Nam Khan River. Their mission is quite simple:

Elephant Village gives rescued elephants a new home where they are free from abusive work. Elephant Village provides local villagers a better livelihood, so they can stop their slash and burn tradition.

Elephant Village, Laos

Elephant Village, Laos

Elephant at Elephant Village, Laos

Provide a better life for elephants, and provide a better life for Laotian people. The village currently has nine elephants, who are cared for by a veterinarian and a team of international specialists and volunteers. Tourists can pay to come and visit the elephants, take a trek through the jungle on an elephant, learn to be a mahout (an elephant trainer) and more. I know that elephant riding is a bit controversial, but in reality, if these elephants weren’t living and working in the village, they would most likely be working in the forest doing heavy laboring. Overall, it’s a better life for them, and the elephants at the village looked healthy and content. The community supports Elephant Village since the village financially supports much of the community, which creates a harmonic atmosphere in the valley.

Elephant Village, Laos

Elephant Village, Laos

River seen from Elephant Village, Laos

Elephant at Elephant Village, Laos

Our day with the gentle giants began in the morning when a driver from the village picked us up from our hotel. We then drove through the beautiful (but bumpy) Laos countryside for about an hour until we reached the village. Once there, they provided us water, coffee, we met our guide, and finally, we met our elephant. Before we knew it, we were climbing the stairs to the platform to mount our elephant. A wooden bench was strapped to the elephants back, and we started out sitting there while our guide rode on the elephants neck. He led us down a steep hill (where we prayed our bench was strapped on tight!) and then into the river. Once we were out on the river, he let us take turns sitting on our elephants neck while he took photos of us from the ground. This was one of the best parts for sure–sitting on the elephants neck, holding its ears while it lumbered around was an awesome experience, and personally I enjoyed that part much more than sitting on a bench on its back!

Matt and Andrea on top of the elephant, Laos

River in Laos

Matt riding elephant in Laos

River in Laos

Matt and Andrea on top of elephant, Laos

Matt and Andrea on top of elephant, Laos 2

River in Laos

 

Andrea and Matt, Elephant Village Laos

Andrea and Matt riding elephant, Elephant Village Laos

Matt and Andrea, Elephant Village Laos

Matt and Andrea, Elephant Village Laos 2

Andrea riding elephant, Laos

Our guide and Matt at Elephant Village, Laos

Andrea and Matt, Elephant Village Laos

Andrea and Matt, Elephant Village

Andrea and Matt, Elephant Village

Andrea and Matt, Elephant Village

Andrea and Matt, Elephant Village

Andrea feeding elephants 1

Andrea feeding elephants 2

Elephant eating

Andrea feeding elephants 3

Matt feeding elephants 1

Matt feeding elephants 2

After a one-hour trek, our guide took us on a boat ride down the river. Our end destination was another elephant camp, where we got to see some cute baby elephants, and then finally, the gorgeous Tad Sae Waterfall. The Tad Sae Waterfall is a naturally formed wonder where water flows over flat slabs of limestone, and creates pools of still water at the base, perfect for swimming. We spent some time swimming and playing with our underwater camera, and then met back up with our guide to head back to camp.

Our guide and boat at Elephant Village in Laos

Laos riverside

Other people riding elephants at Elephant Village, Laos

Andrea and Matt in boat, Laos

Laos countryside

Laos river views

Boats in Laos

Tad Sae Waterfall, Laos

Tad Sae Waterfall, Laos 2

Tad Sae Waterfall, Laos 3

Tad Sae Waterfall, Laos 4

Matt and Andrea at Tad Sae Waterfall, Laos

Tad Sae Waterfall, Laos 5

Matt and Andrea at Tad Sae Waterfall, Laos 2

Andrea at Matt and Andrea at Tad Sae Waterfall, Laos

Forest at Tad Sae Waterfall, Laos

Boats to Elephant Village, Laos

Andrea getting into a boat in Laos

Heading back to Elephant Village

Heading back to Elephant Village 2

Andrea in boat, Laos

Once back at the camp, we were served a delicious homemade Laos meal made by the staff, and enjoyed it while taking in the stunning views of the Laotian waterfront. Soon after that we packed up and an English-speaking guide drove us back to our hotel.

Elephant Village, Laos

Lunch at Elephant Village, Laos

View from Elephant Village, Laos

Elephant Village was a great experience and I highly recommend it if you find yourself in Laos and want to visit some elephants. We’ve now been to three different elephant camps and excursions around Asia, and I can say without a doubt that this is the best one by a long shot. The elephants look healthy and content since they’re cared for by a trained veterinarian. The staff is personable and seem to really care for the elephants and their welfare. And lastly, the setting is ridiculously beautiful–it’s much nicer to see the elephants living on a gorgeous eco-reserve than on a more “farm” type setting. All in all, it was well worth every dollar we spent!

Would you ride an elephant if given the chance?

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12 Responses to “A Day Amongst Giants: Luang Prabang’s Elephant Village”

  1. Lori Finley March 8, 2013 at 8:39 am #

    Looks like a tremendously fun day!

    • Andrea March 8, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

      It was for sure one of the best days of our trip :)

      • Nancy Tuck January 14, 2014 at 5:49 pm #

        We just got back from Luang Prabang on 1/10/14. Our travel agent had urged us to experience the Elephant “sanctuary” experience. The day before we were to go to Elephant Village for the day to feed, bathe and ride the elephants, we took a trek with a guide through the countryside. Our 6 1/2 hour hike ended across the river from the Elephant Village, right when the guides were riding the elephants away from the camp to the “afternoon/evening grazing area”. We watched initially in wonder as these huge animals passed just inches from us up the bank. Once on shore, the guide on the lead elephant suddenly began to yell at his animal and beat it mercilessly with the flat metal tool we had seen them use to cut bamboo in the forest. He struck the elephant roughly a dozen times as hard as he could around the eye and cheek. The elephant screamed (as did we) and dropped to its knees. Suffice it to say, this was heart-breaking. A guide on the third elephant told us that the elephant had “had an accident with another elephant at the camp”. The next day we did go to the camp to see and hear the happy pitch that they would like you to believe. We saw the young man who had beat the elephant, and tried to talk to him. He wouldn’t engage with us, and everyone from the camp within ear shot was uneasy. We’ll try to protect this poor animal with whatever harm we can do over the internet, but urge you and your readers to really think hard before you buy into the sham about the rescue and humane treatment of these elephants. It’s a business, and all about the profits.

        • Andrea January 16, 2014 at 9:44 pm #

          That is so horrible! I am so sorry that happened, and I really hope we are not talking about the same place! There are a few in Luang Prabang, and all of our research showed that the place we went had a good reputation. I’d be so sad to learn if it wasn’t a good place after all!

  2. Vanessa @ Sauteed Happy Family March 8, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    I guess I could respond at how cute all the elephants were or how beautiful (and warm!!) Laos looks… but how about that Christmas tree?? Gotta love those random funny finds around the world. :D
    Vanessa @ Sauteed Happy Family recently posted…Top 5 Awkward/Funny Things Koreans Have Said to UsMy Profile

    • Andrea March 8, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

      Haha! It was actually sort of close to Christmas at the time, so it’s not as random as it appears now :) But yes, I loved seeing all the random and sporadic Christmas decor all over SE Asia…it seemed so out of place against a tropical backdrop!

  3. Jillian March 8, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    I want to ride elephants!! Love love love the pictures!

    • Andrea March 11, 2013 at 2:12 pm #

      You guys should go there someday! You would love it in Laos :)

  4. Megan Smith March 9, 2013 at 6:57 am #

    I would love that experience! It makes me sad though to think that some elephants are living their lives in a circus when they could be living at that sanctuary.

    • Andrea March 11, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

      I know–and sadly, there are “sanctuaries” that aren’t that great either. But this one seems to be really good–they have a veterinarian and they’re addressing ecological and economic problems in Laos as well, not only rescuing elephants. It was a very cool place!

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