This privately-owned elephant camp was started German Markus Peschke, one of the first foreigners to found a travel company in Laos in the late 1990s. Located about a 30-minute drive outside of central Luang Prabang, Elephant Village occupies a truly lovely perch on a hillside above the Nam Khan and with sweeping views of the Laotian jungle beyond. The grounds, which include stables for the elephants (all rescued logging animals), has tent-covered patios with lounge chairs overlooking the river, a small restaurant and lots of information about Laotian wildlife that visitors can read in preparation for their elephant ride.
Most visitors opt for the half-day tour, which includes a pick-up at your hotel, the transfer to the village and a 30-minute ride, crossing into the river and looping around the property through a small Laotian village. Peschke’s more ambitious project is trying to preserve the acres of Laotian jungle in this area and with every tour booked at Elephant Village, the company can purchase one square meter of forest. The half-day concludes with a homemade Laotian lunch and transfer back to town. In all, it’s a fun experience, especially if you are traveling with kids, and even those with mixed feelings about riding elephants as a tourist thrill (as I did) can rest assured that these animals are treated kindly here. It’s incredible to watch the mahouts communicate with these majestic creatures using just their bodies, a few words, sounds and—most amazingly—song.
Those more interested in an immersive elephant experience can sign up for the multi-day mahout course. Participants stay on property (Peschke is currently building Shangri-Lao, a high-end tented camp with cabins along the river) and work with the elephants, feeding, cleaning and training them. Considering how many tourists swarm around the property during the day, one of the biggest advantages of this program must be the peace and serenity of this location once the day-trippers have left.
Who Should Go: Travelers interested in elephants and conservation and who believe in supporting a company that gives back to the local communities.
Who Should Not Go: People on a tight time schedule and those expecting to be alone. Elephant Village is a popular activity and unless you’re taking a multi-day course, you will be surrounded by other tourists.
What to Know: The staff at Elephant Village is lovely and tries hard to manage the visitors, but due to the numbers, expect everything to take time. My husband, who opted for taking a bike ride to the camp was stuck for an hour back in town while his guide tried to sort out a confusion about the bike rental while I waited the Elephant Camp, never informed what the hold-up was about. Expect the day to unfold on Laos time.
Indagare Tip: Each tour includes a boat ride to the Tad Se waterfall. The boat ride along the Nam Khan river is wonderful, thanks to the incredible landscapes along the route. You really get a sense of daily river life. The waterfall, however, is slightly depressing and it’s not worth spending a lot of time there. If you have another river boat tour on your itinerary (like to the Pak Ou Caves), skip this one and just have a coffee at Elephant Camp and enjoy the views from there.
Read about Indagare member Tiffany Schauer’s visit to Elephant Village.