This exceptional conservation programme, and site of the only elephant hospital in Laos, is both humbling and inspiring. Spend your time according to the rhythms of the resident elephants and the experts who care for them, visiting the museum, swimming, kayaking - and of course watching the rescued elephants exploring their natural habitat.
Encountering an elephant, whether for the first time or the tenth, is a privilege that many visitors to Asia dream about. Sadly, however, these animals, although traditionally revered, have often not been treated well. Thankfully, the team at the Elephant Conservation Centre in Laos have been doing pioneering work to preserve the elephant population, both in the wild and with rescued animals. Since opening its doors in 2010, home to one elephant-resident with an area of 105 hectares, it has become home to 34 elephants with access to a whopping 6,000 acres of forest.
The physical, social and emotional welfare of the elephants, some rescued from the logging industry, others brought to the sanctuary by owners who were no longer able to care for them, is the priority. An international team of veterinarians focus on treatment and rehabilitation at the on-site hospital, new arrivals are gradually helped to integrate with the herd, and all elephants are given time to develop natural behaviours and connections.
Quite rightly, that means elephant riding, bathing and feeding are entirely off the cards. Instead visitors to the ECC can enjoy a programme of activities that prioritise the needs of the elephants. There are no day trips here. Instead, travellers spend anywhere from 2 days to a week experiencing or volunteering at the centre. You might spend time walking alongside individual elephants and their mahouts, watching the fun and frolics at bath time, and seeing elephants interacting freely in the socialisation area (like a social club for elephants!).
Accommodation is basic in keeping with the location, either dormitory style or in individual buildings clustered together overlooking the lake. It's not entirely roughing it, more simple comfort in an idyllic location, but do expect an honest-to-goodness forest environment where it's impossible to keep out the odd creepy crawly. Bathrooms are shared, the environmentally friendly camp is entirely solar powered (so no air-conditioning or fans), and a head torch is very handy for finding your way after dark. You’ll have plenty of time to enjoy your surroundings, swim and kayak on the lake, or just relax in a hammock outside your simple bamboo hut.
Although the ECC makes for a very rewarding visit, we don’t want to suggest they are alone in attempting to put things right and secure a better future for Laotian elephants. Those with a little less time, or craving a higher level of comfort, could consider visiting the MandaLao Elephant Sanctuary, which is a gentle half day trip from Luang Prabang and offers another rare insight into all things elephant.
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A two-week journey through Laos’ laid-back cities and rural landscapes, exploring the country’s rich cultural heritage, meeting the friendly locals and going on an adventure or two.