We wanted to create a place where the 13 elephants under our care could live as close to natural lives as possible….
Travellers are definitely looking for ethical elephant experiences like Mandalao, the scales are really tipping. We were the first elephant project in the Luang Prabang area to go completely chain free, to say we’re not going to ride elephants and to train our mahouts to use positive reinforcement rather than less humane practices. A lot of people told us it couldn’t be done but after four years, our staff really believe in what we’re doing and our success is entirely based on our choice to be a high-welfare establishment.
We opened Mandalao in 2016 with a group of six elephants rescued from a logging camp and today we’ve grown to have 13 under our care. Over the last 10 years in Laos, the government has put more restrictions on using elephants in logging, so there are many owners who don’t know what to do with their elephants. We wanted to create a place where these animals could go to live happy, healthy and as close to natural lives as possible.
As well as 12 adult females, we have a four-year-old boy, Kit, who guests don’t get to see. Kit came to us with his mother when he was just nine months old and we decided to try and put him back in the wild, which to our knowledge, has never been done in Laos. We’re currently talking with the government to see if we can release Kit into Nam Pouy National Park, which has the largest wild elephant population in the country.
We’re also proud to have reunited a mother Mae Mhan, who was one of our original six elephants, with her daughter Mae Moen. They were separated when Mae Moen was just two years old, when she was taken to a different tourist attraction in Luang Prabang. Fortunately, eight years later, we were able to bring her to Mandalao. The pair recognised each other immediately and Mae Moen ran right over, making lots of noise. It was a pretty emotional moment and now they never leave one another’s side.
When you arrive at our centre for the Therapeutic Trek, there’s a 30-minute talk where you’ll learn about our elephants, what struggles the species is facing in Laos and what we’re doing to help. We get lots of positive comments above this educational aspect of the tour but what people really love is getting to see the elephants in the jungle. The trek starts with a short long-tail boat ride across the Nam Khan River where the elephants live on around 300 hectares of land, with several night enclosures.
You’ll get the chance to feed the elephants bananas and sugarcane and then trek up a small hill through a teak forest. The elephants love to be in the water so they’ll typically wade through the stream while guests walk alongside. There’s a point where the elephants come around the corner and walk straight towards you; it’s just a beautiful, wild image of elephants emerging from the forest. I think that’s one of the best parts of the tour, seeing the elephants in their natural environment.
The trek is moderate and we provide guests with knee-high boots, water bottles, sunscreen and bug spray. We also limit our tours to a maximum of eight people accompanied by one of our Laos guides, who all speak fluent English. They’re with the elephants all day and know each individual’s temperament and special quirks, so they can answer all your questions. At the end of the trek you’ll return to our restaurant, which has a three-tiered deck overlooking the river, for a traditional Laos lunch.
Your journey will start with one of our UK team – someone like Adele, who's travelled extensively in Laos. They’ll shape your ideas into the trip of a lifetime. But they won't do it alone. They'll draw on the expertise of our contacts on the ground, connecting you to the people who'll make your holiday one you'll always remember - the guide who can hone your pétanque skills while playing with the locals, the conservationist who can take you trekking with Asian elephants and the monks who can school you in the craft of Makbeng and Pasaat Pheung making.
Freephone an expert 01306 744 656