The old name for Laos is Lan Xang which means the land of a million elephants. One of our fondest memories of Laos was meeting Mae San the elephant, her mahout (trainer) and her friends at the Elephant Village.
“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.”
Many elephants in Laos were, and still are, used in the logging industry. They are mistreated, forced to pull loads that are too heavy for them, fed drugs to work longer and work in dangerous conditions. The sweet nature that elephants are know for are taken advantage of and some people use sharp hooks or knives to bend elephants to their will. It’s painful to learn about the lives these elephants suffered before being rescued. Elephants wear their hearts on their sleeves. It’s delightful to see them happy, but it’s also obvious when they suffer. How can people mistreat these animals? No one is that ignorant, it must be pure sadism or desperation.
When Mae San was rescued, she had abscesses caused from stabbing by a knife. She had eczema from a logging harness which indicated she pulled weights that were more than she could handle. While working, she fell forward into branches, lacerating her right eye. Since then, she has been blind on that side. Because if this, initial training with Mae San at Elephant Village was difficult as she needed longer to get used to her surroundings and her new mahout. Now she enjoys teamwork and feels most secure walking in line with her team mates. At age 33 she is one of the youngest elephants at the village.
The Koala makes friends.
Mae San, the mahout and me.
Hanging out with the elephants was incredible. They are really sweet and it might help your popularity if you have a few bunches of bananas on hand. Elephant Village offer different package tours from a 1 hour ride to 3 day all inclusive mahout packages. We spent an 1 hour with Mae San over land and through the river. We started on the wooden seat but were given the option to move forward to ride her neck. It was pretty cool. Elephants love being patted. I thought that her thick skin wouldn’t be very sensitive to me but apparently they can feel everything. The elephants go at their own pace and they really seem to enjoy their walk. Having 3 people on them really doesn’t seem to give them any trouble. I would liken it to us having carry a couple of cats.
This kind of tourism saves elephants from logging and also creates sustainable jobs for the locals who might otherwise contribute to the abuse of elephants. Once the elephants have been rescued, Elephant Village can provide lifelong care, but it’s the initial rescue from the logging industry that costs the most. Working elephants are not given up easily and you can’t just demand that owners hand them over so donations are needed to buy elephants out of abuse.
Tad Sae Waterfall
Afterwards, we went on a boat trip down the river to Tad Sae Waterfall followed by a yummy Laos style buffet lunch. During dry season, these waterfalls are a bit laid back, but a nice wee trip nonetheless.
Our Intrepid Travel tour guide had never been to Elephant Village before so he came with us. Our Intrepid Travel basics tour didn’t include sightseeing so anything that we did was completely optional. It also meant that tour guides who wanted to do their own sightseeing could do so.
We worked up quite the appetite and good thing too becuase the buffet lunch was delicious.
Kuangsii Waterfall Park
Later that day we made it out to Kuangsii Waterfall Park. Even though it was dry season, there was still enough water to make this a worthwhile trip. The falls are best enjoyed with a giant bottle of Beer Lao.
The water was a brilliant aqua and even though it was starting to cool down in the late afternoon, The Koala and I went for a quick dip. There were other people swimming but the others in our group didn’t go in. The Australians didn’t seem too keen on cold water, but being New Zealanders, we are used to it. I never felt confident in water from childhood throughout my teens, but I think ever since I started snorkeling, water doesn’t frighten me anymore. Nowdays, I find water quite therapeutic and I’m quite happy to be the first one in and the last one out. Giant waves scare me, but that’s a different matter.
Elephant Village Tips:
- There’s a package for everyone from half a day to 3 days.
- Our package was around $30US per person and included return transfers, 1 hour elephant ride, buffet lunch and return boat trip to Tad Sae Waterfall.
Elephant Village Highlights:
- The elephants!
- Riding on the neck of the elephant. I only did on the flat, but The Koala sat on the neck going downhill. It looked scary, but cool.
- There are no shops in the park itself so grab a beer before you enter the big gates.
- There are changing rooms in the park should you need to change into your swimmers.
- It’s a little while away so share a jumbo if you can. They reckon a jumbo seats 6 adults maximum.
- The hue of the water. Stunning!
- Going for a refreshing swim. Yes, it was winter in Laos, but totally worth it.