It was stressful to see elephants taking people for rides on the sealed roads of Angkor Wat, carrying not only the saddle (howday) but at least 2 tourists as well as the mahout. They were constantly at work, backwards and forwards, regardless of the relentless heat of the day. The mahout would be wielding his angur, or long stick with it’s hooked end, as his way of controlling his elephant. I wished that tourists were better informed. At that stage of my 3 month adventure as a solo traveler, travelling through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, I had determined that I wouldn’t be buying into “elephant tourism” in South East Asia.
When I eventually went to Laos though I came across what seemed to be a legitimate elephant sanctuary where, rather than being exploited the elephants were protected and rehabilitated after being rescued from such treatment. I wrote about the experience in a previous article. 8 kms from Luang Prabang, The Elephant Village, is the only legitimate tour to take out of Luang Prabang where you can be sure the elephants are treated humanely.
The “Elephant Village” in Laos depends on tourists to fund the costs of caring for and maintaining the elephants in their keep whilst also supporting the neighbouring villages. As with the other “elephant sanctuaries” in South East Asia, the price of a ticket is more than most other activities which promote elephant trekking or “elephant tours” but the money is going to a great cause. Most of the elephants here are former logging elephants, who once “unemployed” would face a bleak future, as they would no longer be able to fend for themselves in the wild. Their “wild” was tamed when they were babies. Other elephants in sanctuaries such as the Elephant Village have been injured through stepping on a landmine left behind after the war. Others are rescued from owners who can no longer afford to feed them (Read here about the huge amounts of vegetation required per day for an elephant’s healthy diet).
Food for the elephants is purchased from the local community, the villagers also benefiting from several other related forms of employment.
On site is an “elephant hospital” ; the sanctuary having access to veterinary surgeons.
I fell in love with these beautiful animals. There seems to be so much that is gentle, yet strong; and I felt a strong connection, particularly with the lady I took to the river to bath.
Who Would Like to Volunteer?
Next time, and I really hope there will be a “next time” I want to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary that practices real eco-tourism. Somewhere where the elephants are NOT ridden at all, but are merely “observed” in their natural habitat. Check out the following locations:
“The Elephant Valley Project is based 11km from the town of Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri Province, Cambodia, near the border of Vietnam. It is approximately 6 hours travel from Phnom Penh and about 12 hours travel from Siem Reap.
Surrounded by forest and grassland, dedicated to the conservation and welfare of the elephants of Mondulkiri, this location is ideal for the rehabilitation of the elephants we see each year and is certainly unique in Cambodia and is one of only a handful of elephant sanctuaries in the world.
Mondulkiri is also home to the Bunong, one of Cambodia’s 23 indigenous groups. The majority of staff at the Elephant Valley project is Bunong, who are mainly from the village of Putrom. Visiting Mondulkiri and the EVP also gives you a great opportunity to meet and get to know these swidden cultivators who are fast meeting the changing 21st century.”
The elephant sanctuary is located 2 to 3 hours south of Bangkok near a small village. The centre is next to a lake, surrounded by dense forest and national parks that are important to Thailand’s elephant conservation.
Check out some of their herd and read their stories here.
BLES is located 8km from the village of Baan Tuek in Sukhothai, North Thailand. Flying is the best way to get there; Bangkok Airlines have flights twice daily, seven days a week from Bangkok to Sukhothai and return. (less than one hour). You would be met at the Sukhothai airport by the hosts and driven to the location approximately one hour’s drive away.
Who wants to join me?