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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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?