New Elephant Camp in Luang Prabang.
There’s a new elephant camp in town and my friend and I had the pleasure of visiting it the other day.
The Nam Ou Elephant Farm is nestled between a forested mountains and a friendly village along the Nam Ou river in the Pak Ou district, near Luang Prabang.
The experience started with tea and a chat with Pauline, the woman who runs the camp. She exudes a dedicated passion for elephants (and all animals) that makes me feel that these animals are truly being taken care of and not exploited. When I get on a roll asking questions I can’t be stopped and Pauline was more than happy to answer all of them.
Among the things I learned that morning:
If they’re on correctly (and not all day!), the seats that you sit on initially to ride the elephant through the village are not harmful. Pauline assured me they were okay-ed by the veterinarian from the Elephant Conservation Center and that with no more than 2 tour groups, the elephants will never have them on for more than an hour or so a day.
The elephants are mostly female as males tend to get more aggressive and difficult to handle.
The elephants are all rescued (bought) from logging camps where they were overworked and often abused.
The elephant camp has one mahout who used to work in a logging camp. When he came to work at Nam Ou Elephant Farm he actually recognized an elephant that he had worked with over a decade before!
The baby elephant will be named when he is 2 years old (he’s 15 months now) and the entire staff of mahouts will enter a name into a sort of raffle and then one name will be randomly picked.
The experience itself exceeded my expectations.
Feeding the elephants was hilarious – we fed them from a pile of banana tree trunks and the elephants were SO PICKY, wanting to chomp loudly on the juiciest ones first. The sassy little baby elephant would take a piece and then run away, wanting to eat in private, then come back and grab for anything resembling food – including my arm.
The whole ride on the chair through the village and to the river, I kept thinking that I just wanted to be on its neck! But my elephant didn’t want to cooperate and stopping randomly and stealing leaves from the villagers trees. The kids in the village were full of smiles and “sabaidees” though, which was adorable.
Once back at the elephant camp we changed into our swimsuits and walked down to the river. The elephants eagerly jumped (well, trotted) into the river and let us climb right up onto their necks. The mahouts provided us with a brush to clean all the mud off of their heads. My friend’s elephant kept plunging into the water, getting her fully soaked, while my elephant was a bit more timid and preferred to stand higher in the river.
After around a half an hour of bath time, we walked back up to the camp – this time on the neck!! I don’t love riding on the backs of animals, never been a horse girl, but the elephant was such a slow, steady, and caring ride! Anytime I started to slide one way or another, the elephant would use her big strong ears to push me back to center. She would also just flap her ears back and hit my feet every once in awhile, which felt like she was just saying “Hey, what’s up?!”
I’m glad that I was able to have an elephant interaction in Laos, ‘land of a million elephants’, and I hope that Nam Ou Elephant Farm and other camps with elephant-first attitudes continue to protect these gentle giants.
If you like to book a similar Elephant Interaction program in Luang Prabang,