MandaLao Elephant Conservation visit in Laos

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Sebastian has never seen an elephant in person much less gotten up close and personal with one.

Most Elephant Tours are not humane.

The last time I was next to an Elephant was almost 3 years ago. It was a horrible experience for my family. We were in Sri Lanka and our daughter, Alex, was turning 19. All she wanted for her birthday was to ride, wash and spend time with a majestic elephant.

She researched and found what she thought was a well respected and humane place. Alex was very wrong and it was the worst birthday present she has ever received.

All the animals were chained. They were hit, poked and yelled at. They were unhappy. You could just feel how miserable the place was. The other visitors seemed to either not notice or care. They were happily riding, feeding and washing these sad animals.

Anyway, we learned a lot about elephants and how we view riding them and their care and treatment after that. We also saw zoos in a different light. The only good thing to come from that visit is that we never want to ride an elephant again. It’s not right.

This was one of the poor elephants chained up while not being used for tourist entertainment and income-generation. We were so sad...

If you are in Sri Lanka DO NOT go to the Millennium Elephant Foundation. It’s not a good place. They are fed dough balls and other food which are not healthy. Supporting a place like this leads to more elephant abuses.

This picture was taken before we entered the doors. Alex was so excited…

Having a better Elephant experience

Shawn is in charge of finding us things to do each day. Whether it’s walking to a specific night market, figuring out what Wat he wants to drag me to or other activities like an Excursion – he has to find things for us to do. He’s kind of like Julie from the Love Boat.

I plan and organize most everything else for our travels so Shawn is in charge of the entertainment. He told me that in his research, Laos had a very large Elephant population and that Luang Prabang, where we are currently staying, had lots of excursions.

There was only 1 company however, who did NOT allow riding elephants. So I looked them up and wanted to double-check that we were absolutely not going to have a repeat of Sri Lanka.

As we were strolling down the Walking Street a few days ago we saw the sign for MandaLau Elephant Conservation Tours. We also saw some others but they ALL had riding!

MandaLao was the company we researched. We walked in and chatted with the guys who worked there and immediately knew that this was what we were looking for.

We’ve found that it is hard to find excursions that work for Sebastian so one of our concerns was whether it was appropriate to bring an almost 2-year-old. They assured us that it would be okay after discussing that a small group would be best.

We chose to do the intimate 4 person morning tour – New Beginnings. It was a half-day visit to the conservation and some time spent with a mother and daughter who were reunited recently. It was $130 USD per person but Shibby was free. If no one else booked for the same day and time them it would just be the 3 of us and our guide.

Meet Laan

Laan, our Guide, picked us up at 7:45 am this morning. No one else booked so SCORE. It was about a 35-minute drive over very gravelly and bumpy roads to the MandaLau Restaurant. This is the meeting place for all their tours that cross the river by boat to the Elephant Reserve.

Major construction is happening in the area as the country is building a railroad. That means brown rivers, instead of the normally beautiful green and clear Nam Khan River. On the drive over, Laan was sharing stories about their conservation efforts. You could feel his passion for the Elephants but also for his people. His village is where the restaurant is. He is able to help his people by helping the elephants. More on this later.

We arrive and Laan takes Sebastian’s hand and he leads the way to the restaurant. We are all chatting the entire time and enjoy the scenery.

Along the path, we spotted a little boy and his grandfather. He came to work with him today. One thing we absolutely love about SE Asian culture is their connection to Family. It’s everything to the people here.

Sebastian tried to hug the boy but he was like…stranger danger and leaned away. Once inside we were greeted by Prasop Tipprasert who is the Project Director. We were the only visitors there this morning.

We sat down for coffee with Prasop to learn about his mission and the work of the Conservation. While we were chatting, Sebastian was having fun coloring and playing with stickers.

Prasop here telling us all about the elephants in Laos and how they have one stomach and no sweat glands so they flap their ears and draw blood to them to cool off the rest of their body. They can get down to 6 degrees Celsius!

Laan getting down on Shibby’s level to color

So proud of his elephant poop paper. This is one pound of Elephant poop and nothing else. Isn’t he cute? Prasop and his team are all very passionate and care deeply about the health, happiness, and communication of the elephants.

Shibby being totally catered to and played with while we have some time to chat. We learned a lot and then headed off to go see the Elephants.

Walking down to the boat
There is always some smoke in a field. Always someone burning garbage or something
On the boat

The stairs to the Elephants camp

Just one small 💩

Doesn’t Laan look concerned? Sebastian was as well
Feeding momma some bananas

Mugging for the camera…or perhaps for some additional treats

Almost getting squished by mother and daughter…Shawn was nervous but I knew we were okay

Look at that face!

Sebastian trying to see inside her mouth 🐘

Me and Shawn having a moment to walk together without the Shibbster

Having a moment together

Headed back to the restaurant. Just before we let Sebastian get wet by splashing his arms in the water. He was loving it

Check out this video compilation of our time with the Elephants and how Sebastian reacted when he saw them for the first time. VIDEO HERE

Next up was the boat trip back to the restaurant for a fantastic lunch with food they grow and harvest on the property. It was flavorful and filling. This one major way they support their Conservation.

Sebastian chowing down

Then we headed back to town, in the van, with Laan. We pretty much just chatted about his life and family and the village he comes from. Laan loves that he is a part of helping his village to make additional income by selling the Conservation. The villagers also use the elephant poop as fertilizer to grow the food they sell to the Conservation to feed the elephants.

We had a very memorable day. While it will never wipe away the memory of our Sri Lankan Elephant episode

Bringing a Toddler with you?

My advice is, to be honest with the staff and tell them the kind of temperament your little one has. Sebastian is executable and has his moments but, he’s also a very good listener and obedient, will walk and also go to others. The elephants are sensitive and even scared of little kids because of their past treatment. This is why each elephant’s handler held Sebastian while engaging with the Elephants. It’s a safety issue for your kids so please make sure your kiddo is a good fit before coming here.

Want to help or donate?

It costs $3-4k a week to feed the 10 Elephants they have in addition to all the other costs associated. Please go to this site and learn how you can help.


40 thoughts on “MandaLao Elephant Conservation visit in Laos”

  1. What an amazing trip!
    It makes such a HUGE difference when you’re with a tour guide who is truly passionate about what they do…that they’d likely do it for nothing because they enjoy it so much.
    P.S. I got a kick out of your reference to the Love Boat! 😉

  2. I’ve been keeping up with your travels through your social media and I’m so glad you wrote this post. I really enjoyed this post. It was interesting to learn about the elephants as well as the river.

  3. I’ve heard horror stories about how elephants are treated in some places. So good you found a legitimate and compassionate elephant sanctuary. I believe I have some bookmarks made out of elephant poo.

  4. What a great post! It’s so sad to see how animals are abused by people trying to make a quick buck. Thank goodness there are some good people protecting them. Your pictures are amazing!

  5. Awww!! This post warmed my heart! We were just in Thailand at a genuine elephant sanctuary recommended to us by National Geographic. It was the most incredible experience of our lives! I am absolutely sickened by the ways people abuse these majestic animals (any animals really). I would be so thrilled to visit Mandalao and support their conservation efforts! Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

      1. We went to Elephant Nature Park outside Chiang Mai and specifically chose one of their projects that had a 4-month old baby elephant, who was born there. It was a very special and personal experience. I can’t wait to go back. Next year they are expecting another baby! 😁

  6. I love this post and that you guys were diligent about finding a place that is safe and humane. That picture of the chained up elephant is so sad! It looks like it was a great trip, and also one that immersed you a bit more into the culture of the place.

  7. It broke my heart to see and read about those mistreated elephants. I’m glad you shared your second experience with us. Oh, and the food looks delicious. I really love the way your passion comes through your writing, Wendy.

    1. Thanks Eva! I try to write exactly how I speak and think. The food was great and to see the elephants here treated with love and ‘friendship’ was amazing

  8. OMG, it’s hideous how humans can treat animals. Elephants are majestic creatures that should roam free. I would never ride an elephant due to the torture they go through. So glad you guys found a peaceful alternative and love the big elephant smiles

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this and including the link to donate. I am glad there are ways of viewing elephants that are better for the elephants’ health and life.

  10. This looks like so much fun. All of the areas around here are high on our daughter Payton’s wish list. She is learning to speak Vietnamese and wants to visit the region soon! Love the photos as well.

    1. She will love it. Learning Vietnamese is a good idea because they don’t speak much
      English in Vietnam unless it’s in a really touristy area.

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