Whilst on holiday in Laos recently I spent a day at an Elephant Camp. It was absolutely brilliant. I was a bit wary at first as I thought that these animals were being kept in captivity, purely for the sake of entertaining holidaymakers. However, I discovered that the truth could not be more different. The elephants were all involved in either legal or illegal logging activities. They were the real beasts of burden working from dawn until dusk dragging huge logs out of the forest and into clearing ready to be transported to different parts of the country. As Laos cut back on its logging program many were simply abandoned or used to entertain tourists in city centers.
The people who run the Elephant Camp stepped in and rescued them. They provide food and health care and the elephants get as close to living in their natural habitat as is possible for them. They are amazing animals and being up close to one of these gentle giants is an awe inspiring experience. They look at you with their giant eyes and seem to understand more than you could imagine.
I really enjoyed my time amongst them. I stayed overnight and helped look after them. I washed them in the river, fed them and rode about on one for most of the day, feeling just like a real Mahout. We rode across rivers and even went to a waterfall, which the elephants loved, trumpeting their approval as they soaked us all with water. It was a magical experience and one that anyone should jump at if given the chance.
The camp is close by to Luang Prabang, itself a fabulous destination. We spent about 4 nights here in addition to the one at the Elephant Camp. There is so much to see and do in this area, we were never bored for a single minute. The caves are fantastic and the river is superb. Every day there were new experiences and new exciting things to see.
The camp was though, for me, the highlight. It is run by well meaning local people and just about manages to pay for itself with the trips like the one I did and of donations. They were lovely people and were always on hand to guide us through our chores. It becomes apparent very quickly that for them, this is a real labor of love. They adore their charges and look after them with great care and attention. There are veterinarians on hand all the time to deal with the health care needs that the animals might face.
Laos is one of the best countries I have ever visited. I can’t wait to return. Who knows maybe one day I will be able to come and spend some real time here. If I ever do, the Elephant Camp will be hearing from me. The chance to work everyday with these fabulous animals would be a dream come true for me.