My experience with MandaLao Elephant Conservation, Luang Prabang, Laos

Last week, I had the pleasure of spending the most amazing day with MandaLao with my Dad. This elephant conservation organisation is based near Luang Prabang in the north of Laos. It offers guests the opportunity to enjoy an intimate and ethical experience with the elephants.

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

Who started Mandalao?

The organisation was founded by two Americans, Michael Vogler and Kellen Johnson, whose previous trips had inspired them to create change. We didn’t meet these guys but we did meet the Project Director, Prasop, who told us all about his work with elephants. He has previously set up an elephant conservation centre in Thailand as well as working with the WWF and the National Park Service. His love, knowledge and care for elephants is incredible! He has spent more than 27 years working with elephants, and is proud to share that there are now 1,000 more elephants in the wild in Thailand than 27 years ago. He told us he has no plans to retire until the numbers of elephants in Laos are growing too.

What did we learn?

Prasop told us that there are less than 1,000 elephants in both captivity and in the wild in Laos, and they could be extinct in Laos in just 20 years’ time.

He shared with us that his work revolves around three main principles. 1) Promoting elephant welfare so that they can live happy and healthy. 2) Ongoing volunteering and research programmes. 3) Re-introduction programme.

MandaLao has 9 elephants, most of whom have been rescued from the logging trade and from tourist activities, such as elephant riding.

Elephant riding is completely prohibited as it is cruel. Not only are elephants kept for rides generally left in poor conditions, but the baskets that tourists sit in are terrible for their backs and rib cages. Prasop told us that they are not as big and strong as they look!

We also learnt that elephants help make soil fertile by pooing out leaves in one day, whereas nature takes much longer to break down the same amount.

Elephants also graze on the creepers which hug the trees. Removing these helps trees grow taller which in turn brings more rain which is good for the environment.

What was our day like with MandaLao?

To enjoy a day with the elephants at MandaLao is not cheap. A half day experience cost us $99, including lunch. However, really there is no price on saving elephants’ lives and contributing to an organisation which is not based on profit, but purely elephant welfare.

We booked onto the ‘Therapeutic Trek’ half day, and were picked up promptly at our guesthouse at 8.30am in a comfortable air-conditioned van. 30 minutes later we arrived at the MandaLao property. It is home to a lovely organic farm, a restaurant and offers beautiful views over the river Nam Khan.

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

After an some light refreshements and an interesting and informative talk from Prasop, we popped into some boots. The team provide these boots to keep your feet clean and to also protect against any bugs etc in the jungle and in the river. They also provide water bottles with cute locally made holders, rain coats if needed and bug spray/sun lotion.

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

When we were ready we headed down to the river. We clambered aboard a tiny little wooden boat to cross to the other side where three giant elephants greeted us. Huge baskets were provided full of food and we had lots of time to talk to the elephants, feed them and take photos. Then we gave a bath to them, using buckets to splash them down.

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos \mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

After this, we headed into the jungle for a slow jungle trek alongside these giant beauties. Each elephant is guided gently by a local mahmout. No hooks or aggression are used on the elephants. It is simply voice and if they want to stop and scratch or look at a tree, then no-one hurries them on. It was such a slow and pleasant morning, with so much time to wander with them and stroke them.

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

Our Guide

Our guide, Tan, also regularly stopped to tell us about the buffalo we saw or the trees. We learnt so much about elephants but the day was very much about their slow walk, not about us.

We stopped at a ledge to feed the elephants, where, to our surprise, MandaLao’s little baby elephant joined us too! So cute!

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

The time with the elephants felt so special. The jungle was completely silent and MandaLao restricts the groups to just 6-8 people a session (and only a couple of these a day). This is so that that the elephants do not feel stressed and can spend plenty of time with each other in their stables.

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

We slowly walked back to the MandaLao base, where a delicious ethnic Laos lunch was awaiting us. Oh, and did I mention the puppies!!

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

mandalao ethical elephant experience laos

Overall

So if you’re considering a visit to South East Asia, I couldn’t recommend MandaLao more. As the conservation centre is run ethically means you can rest assured that your experience isn’t harmful to them.

If you’d like to know more, visit their site at www.mandalaotours.com  or drop the team a line at contactus@mandalaotours.com 

Also, do feel free to ask any further questions in the comments section below!

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28 Comments

  1. January 3, 2018 / 7:01 pm

    More places such as these should exist. What a great and wonderful experience that must have been, to be with them in such a safe and natural surrounding for them. And whoever took the photograph amazing job.

    • claire_stokes@msn.com
      Author
      February 6, 2018 / 7:31 pm

      I agree! And thank you – well it was my Dad, so I’ll let him know!

  2. January 3, 2018 / 8:00 pm

    WOW!! What an amazing experience. I didn’t know that riding elephants is not safe for them. They are beautiful creatures!

    • claire_stokes@msn.com
      Author
      February 6, 2018 / 7:29 pm

      I know! I didn’t know this either 🙁

  3. January 4, 2018 / 3:00 am

    That sounds like an incredible experience! I had no idea elephants were still being used in the logging indusrty, how sad. I’ve considered leading a wellness retreat and incorporating one of these experiences. Thanks for sharing!

    • claire_stokes@msn.com
      Author
      February 6, 2018 / 7:29 pm

      I know, it’s crazy. We are fairly sheltered from this! Sounds great, you should! 🙂 x

  4. January 4, 2018 / 3:58 am

    Wow this looks like such an amazing experience! I can’t even imagine what it must be like to be there

    • claire_stokes@msn.com
      Author
      February 6, 2018 / 7:28 pm

      So cool! I highly recommend visiting 🙂

  5. January 4, 2018 / 5:55 pm

    Oh wow what an incredible experience, it looks absolutely beautiful there and I can only imagine how incredible it was to get so close to the elephants! Even more special you got to spend the time with your dad too 🙂

    • claire_stokes@msn.com
      Author
      February 6, 2018 / 7:28 pm

      It really was so beautiful! And thank you, I know! Great to do such special activities with a parent! x

  6. Cleo
    January 4, 2018 / 6:14 pm

    The land looks so amazing! I’d love to travel to go to the Mandalao Elephant experience, they look so relaxed!

    • claire_stokes@msn.com
      Author
      February 6, 2018 / 7:27 pm

      They were happy elephants and enjoy so much freedom 🙂

  7. January 4, 2018 / 6:24 pm

    this is amazing!!!!! I’m so glad you got to experience something like this! I hope I can do the same some day!!

    • claire_stokes@msn.com
      Author
      February 6, 2018 / 7:27 pm

      I hope so too!! 🙂

  8. January 4, 2018 / 7:32 pm

    Glad to read about all the efforts they are making towards elephant’s wellbeing and stopping tourists from riding them. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    ❥ tanvii.com

    • claire_stokes@msn.com
      Author
      February 6, 2018 / 7:26 pm

      You’re welcome, and thanks so much for your comment! x

  9. January 4, 2018 / 7:40 pm

    What a great experience. I enjoyed your pictures and learning more about them. Elephants are beautiful and need to be protected.

    • claire_stokes@msn.com
      Author
      February 6, 2018 / 7:26 pm

      Thank you! And yes, I totally agree 🙂 x

  10. January 4, 2018 / 8:01 pm

    This sounds like such an amazing place to visit. I had no idea elephants were on the verge of becoming extinct. So sad since they are such a majestic and beautiful animal. Thank goodness for the amazing work from conversations like these!

    • claire_stokes@msn.com
      Author
      February 6, 2018 / 7:25 pm

      I know, nor did I! It’s so terrible but so glad there are places like this in existence 🙂

  11. January 4, 2018 / 9:12 pm

    You have some amazing pictures here! What an incredible experience! It’s great that the conservation focuses solely on the health and well-being of the animals.

    • claire_stokes@msn.com
      Author
      February 6, 2018 / 7:25 pm

      I agree! It was so special and really pelased I can share this with others!

  12. Josselyn Martinez
    January 5, 2018 / 1:05 am

    More places such as these should exist!!! Wow i’m so in love with this experience you had and I def want to have it myself

    • claire_stokes@msn.com
      Author
      February 6, 2018 / 7:24 pm

      I agree! And yes highly recommend visiting 🙂

  13. January 5, 2018 / 6:26 am

    While reading your post and watching all incredible pics of elephants I am reminded of similar elephant conservation program I witnessed when I visited Masai Mara in Kenya. You did great.

    • claire_stokes@msn.com
      Author
      February 6, 2018 / 7:24 pm

      That’s so great to hear that there are successful similar projects in another desintations! I will have to visit there myself too sometime 🙂

  14. Beola Lawal
    January 5, 2018 / 1:06 pm

    Wow, that’s an amazing experience. I enjoyed reading your article and the pictures are so beautiful!

    • claire_stokes@msn.com
      Author
      February 6, 2018 / 7:24 pm

      Thank you! x

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