One year ago in Juli 2014 my girlfriend and I were on travel through Vietnam and Laos. The latter became one of my favourite countries since then. Among other things because of the elephant conservation center we visited.
But let me begin a few days earlier. During our stay in a hostel in Vientiane we got in touch with a guy who was totally enthusiastic about this elephant conservation center. Therefore we planned to give it a try. So after we arrived in Luang Prabang by night bus and enjoyed a few days in this easy-going city near the Mekong river, we arranged our visit by phone. We decided to take the 3 days package named ‘Exploration’ which costs about 210 US$/p.p. (June 2015). Further we needed transportation from Luang Prabang to Sayaboury, where our pickup took place. This meant further bus charges of about 10 US$/p.p.
All in all this meant about 220 US$/p.p. for 3 days and 2 night which literally blasted our budget of a whole week! But instead of figuring out how we could save money after this horrendous payment, I decided to take a closer look at their homepage. There I found some information, which persuaded me, that it is necessary to invest this amount:
- Rather than taking elephants from their natural home into urban tourist areas, they take you to them, in their undisturbed natural environment
- The money you pay sustain the Elephant Conservation Center and its residents.
- 5% of your payment is repaid to elephant conservation projects in Laos. They are the only company in Laos to fund conservation action for all elephants across the country.
- The Center’s elephant welfare policy is implemented by ElefantAsia.
- Elephants at the Center are there to rest, either waiting to give birth or recovering from an exhausting life in logging or mass tourism industries. Do NOT expect to see package tours riding elephants all day long.
These were very important facts which influenced my decision to go to this center. Because the least I wanted to do is being a photo-hunter-tourist, who has pleasure at the cost of an animal and doesn’t care what kind of business he’s supporting. In my opinion a lot of travelers forget about their responsibility for what kind of business they support. You find more thoughts about this topic here.
But let’s talk about the center by itself. As we arrived by boat in the camp we were impressed by this rural little village with its tiny wooden houses, which are made in the old traditional Lao style. The guide showed us our huts which consisted of one room with a twin bed and a mosquito net inside. On the outside there was a little balcony with a hammock. Every hut had a nice view over the Nam Tien lake.
If you walk up to the main bungalow you pass the showers (with hot water!) and the toilets. In the main bungalow you eat and can talk with locals.There I had some really interesting discussion about the history of Lao and their conflicts with Thailand.
At the same day as we arrived we met the elephants. After a short instruction on how to ride an elephant, we could ‘climb’ on this huge animal and walk on them through the conservation center. I was very impressed by those big animals with their settled character. Somehow I found them from the beginning extremely likeable. At the same time I had and still have respect from the elephants, because you need to pay attention where you stand, so they don’t stand unfortunately on your feet. Additionally I was surprised of the feeling of their skin and their bristle, which felt enormous dry. Anyway, from now on I knew why they are called pachyderm.
During this ride the elephants were led by a mahout. A mahout is an elephant leader. Every elephant has only one leader and the animal is trained by him since his birth. The mahout who lead the elephant of my girlfriend was K’m. He was a bit smaller than me, had a bronzed skin and wore a dirty t-shirt with dark washed-out shorts. His amicable charisma was only overshadowed by the knife he carried around his hip. When I asked him why he has a knife with him he responded, that he need it as a symbol for the elephant to obey him.
As I mentioned earlier we were there during July. You may know what this means. Yes – it’s rainy season in asia and as well in Laos. This circumstance had negative and positive side effects. The biggest plus was that there were not ‘much’ tourists around. Thus my girlfriend, me and another woman from Britain were the only one in the camp. I appreciated this a lot, because you get more attention from your guide and hence better customized care.
By the way our guide was really nice and did his job well. But one thing confused me a lot. Our guide had a dirty issue with some plants around his right hand. On the second day he told me that he burnt himself while he was cooking with hot oil. Because I’m a well organised person and carrying nearly on every travel a huge medic kit with me I offered him my help. He accepted my offer and later in the evening he showed me his wound. Nearly the entire up side of his hand was heavily burnt. A part of it had begun to crust but the main wound was still open and had some dirt in it. I cleaned his wound with sterile tweezers and made him a bandage with antiseptic paste. I recommended to leave the bandage a few days and to take showers with a plastic bag around. As far as I remember he agreed, but the next morning I just saw him without the bandage. I don’t know why he took it off, maybe he trusted the plants more than me or the reason lies in cultural differences. Anyway I gave him the remaining part of my antiseptic cream, some more dressing and wished him a fast recovery.
But let’s go back to the weather. As usual there are as well cons for travelling during rainy season. Obviously it rains more. But it’s a commonly wrong opinion that it has to rain every day. That’s not true. In our case it mizzled just ones. As you can see in the movie I made.
Advise: In my opinion you can visit the conservation center easily in the rainy season (as we did), but I think the thatched roofs aren’t waterproof if it is raining buckets. But if you like to stay away from the main tourists streams go for the rainy season. But make your decision where to go depend on how the weather’s gonna be.
On the second day me playing doctor wasn’t the only thing which took place. After a delicious breakfast with a lot of fresh fruits we went to the elephants in the forest and took them to the center. There our guide taught us how to give commands to an elephant. Here’s a short List:
|How to spell||Translation|
|Map long!||Sit on the belly down (for hopping on/off the elephant)|
Even if I shouted any command, my elephant did anything what HE wanted to. He even went eating! ( I probably would have done the same if I were the elephant^^)
Anyway I was quite happy when the mahout came over and showed the elephant the path.
In the afternoon we visited the hospital of the center and went by boat to another place where a baby elephant with his mother lived. It was very cute.
Summarized we had an awesome time in the elephant conservation center and were luckily someone gave us the hint to go there. We met nice people, learned a lot about the elephants, their habitat and problems in asia (logging). I can absolutely recommend to go there and enjoy the view of this calm pachyderm in a responsible way of travelling.
To give you some more impressions I made a short movie of the camp:
P.S.: If you, my dear reader, are one of the french employee of the NGO – Yes, it’s me;-)