Laos or the ‘Land of One Million Elephants’ as it used to be called. If you’re planning a visit to the Manadalao Elephant Sanctuary in Luang Prabang, below is everything you need to know. Is Manadalao Elephant Sanctuary ethical? Are the elephants there treated well? Read below to find out.
Ever since we’ve started our journey of full time travel around Asia, one of our top bucket list experiences was to visit an ethical elephant sanctuary and interact with these majestic creatures. We wanted to find a place where elephants are treated kindly, where they’re not abused. A place where they can live their life in peace and happiness.
Although it might seem easy, finding responsible elephant sanctuaries in Asia, especially Laos is not an easy task. Even though some places advertise that they don’t have elephant riding tours, they still keep their elephants in chains or in poor conditions.
The truth is that elephants have become a tourist attraction. This only means that things are bound to get worse if people don’t realize that elephants should not be abused. Choose carefully who you’re giving your money to!
1. Why you should choose a responsible elephant sanctuary
Behind the exotic facade of elephant tourism, there lies the cruel truth. The elephants are beaten, their spirits are broken and they don’t receive enough food. They’re basically treated like slaves.
It might seem exciting to ride an elephant or to watch it perform tricks. However, behind all this charade the elephants must endure a life of cruelty.
The elephants are highly social animals. They like spending time with the herd, swimming and exploring. Unfortunately, in trekking camps they are deprived of everything that’s important to them. Moreover, they are beaten into submission and controlled through fear.
I won’t go into more details about how these animals are mistreated but you can read more about it here.
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It’s our responsibly to put a stop to these kind of practices. And this applies to all animals, not just elephants. Wild animals are not meant to perform tricks for our pleasure. If we choose only ethical sanctuaries, soon the places that abuse animals will run out of business. This time, we can really make a change. It’s your choice!
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2. About Mandalao Elephant Sanctuary
Situated deep inside the jungle, at about half an hour away from Luang Prabang, the Mandalao Elephant Sanctuary is an incredible place where both elephants and humans can find peace.
The beautiful jungle, combined with the knowledgeable staff and majestic elephants create the perfect setting to find out more about these amazing animals while interacting with them in a non-intrusive manner.
The story behind
Mandalao is Luang Prabang’s first non-riding elephant sanctuary and it covers an area of 80 hectares of forest where elephants can roam freely. It was founded by Michael Vogler, Prasop Tipprasert and Kellen Johnson, three people passionate about animals.
They wanted to create a place where abuse is replaced by care, a place where animal cruelty no longer exists. This is how Mandalao came to life.
“A non-riding elephant experience focused on education and animal welfare” – Michael Vogler, founder
The elephants living here were saved from logging camps or riding camps. They have all been treated badly but they are happy now. Although some of the elephants still have injuries from their previous activities, the people at Manadalo Elephant Sanctuary take good care of them and provide them with medical care and treatment.
Mandalao decided to involve the local community in this project. Local families in Luang Prabang grow crops and provide organic food for the elephants and visitors. This way, the staff makes sure that the elephants only eat healthy food, full of nutrients and vitamins.
3. Meeting the elephants – our experience
We chose the Therapeutic Trek tour and in the morning of our tour, a minivan came to pick us up from our hotel. The driver and the guide were kind enough to answer all our questions until we reached Mandalao.
The trip took only about half an hour. I was extremely surprised to see the Mandalao Elephant Sanctuary facilities. The wooden buildings were brand new and the whole place was an oasis of silence and relaxation.
We were then welcomed with tea and fruits while one of the caretakers instructed us about how to behave with the animals. Our group was formed by only three people (me, my boyfriend and another guy) which was incredible because that meant that we could each interact closer and longer with the elephants.
After we found out about the elephants’ past, what they eat and how to behave around them we traded our shoes for long, rubber boots and our adventure began.
The elephants are living in the forest, right across the river from where we had our organic breakfast so we had to take the boat for a few minutes.
As we were getting closer, I couldn’t help but notice that not even one elephant was kept in chains. Although they had their designated living area where they sleep and eat, they were completely free.
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Once we stepped back on land I couldn’t hold my excitement. I was about to get close to this incredible creatures and it has been a huge dream of mine for years. The fact that the elephants were all taken care of made the whole experience unforgettable.
We firstly met the elephants and then we were given bananas to feed them. Apparently, they love bananas as much as we love cake so it’s easy to understand why we became friends in a matter of seconds.
I fed my elephant one banana at a time and he would grab it with his trunk and throw it in his mouth. It was an incredible experience and I couldn’t help but smile and be grateful for this interaction.
After the elephants got their dessert, we started our journey through the forest.
We were told that wild elephants walk long distances in nature and the fact that we trekked alongside them was a great benefit for their health. However, the elephants were never, under any circumstances, forced to do anything.
When they wanted to take a break, we took a break with them. When they stopped to eat roots, we stopped with them. They were the bosses during the whole morning, we just followed along.
What I’ve found interesting is that elephants are relatively clean animals. When they saw that the path was getting muddy, they avoided it by all means even if that meant going through the dense jungle.
Halfway through our trip, our guide asked us if we would like to meet Mr Kit, the baby elephant. Our answer was a big YES so we wondered a little more inside the jungle when suddenly we saw Kit.
He was so cute but naughty at the same time. Jumping left and right, we weren’t allowed to get very close. I guess he was just playing around, like all the kids do. I was happy for him. I was happy to know that he lives with his mom in a place where their happiness and health are put first.
After seeing and meeting the baby elephant, we went back to our older elephant friends and continued our journey.
When it was time to say goodbye, we gave them a few more bananas as a sign of our love and hugged their trunk.
Although we had quite a few bad experiences in Laos (more about it here), our visit to Mandalao Elephant Sanctuary was one of the highlights of our full time travel journey around Asia. It’s good to see that kind people still exist and that there are still such places where animals are treated with the respect and love they deserve.
4. Is Mandalao Elephant Sanctuary ethical?
The answer is YES! Mandalao is one of the few places around Asia where animals live in a loving environment, deep inside the nature and where they receive all the attention they need.
I totally recommend Mandalao Elephant Sanctuary to those looking for an ethical elephant sanctuary in Luang Prabang, Laos. There are no riding tours here and the elephants roam freely, they are not kept in chains. They have a vet to take care of them and each elephant has his own caretaker – a mahout.
The mahout is the person who bonds with the elephant. He is a trusted friend and caretaker. An interesting fact is that elephants choose their own mahouts depending on the chemistry they have with a certain person.
Note: Our trip to Mandalo Elephant Sanctuary was NOT sponsored. We paid fully for this experience and these are our honest thoughts about this place.
5. Things you need to know before visiting
There are a few things to keep in mind when visiting the Mandalao Elephant Sanctuary in Luang Prabang.
One meal and pick-up are included in the tour
If you’re worrying about getting from Luang Prabang to Mandalao Elephant Sanctuary, you don’t have to! Somebody will pick you up in a comfortable minivan and bring you back to your hotel. Also, after trekking through the jungle with the elephants, you will be welcomed with a delicious meal back to the lodge.
How to dress
Trekking alongside the elephants through the jungle can get messy. For a hustle-free experience, follow these rules:
- don’t dress in your ‘good’ clothes. You don’t want mud stains on your new dress or designer pants.
- wear long pants and long-sleeve blouses. There are many mosquitoes and insects inside the forest. If you’re covered, you won’t have to worry about insect bites even though the staff can help you with mosquito repellent.
- bring a hat to protect you from the sun
- you will be given rubber boots. Use them!
- if it’s raining, the staff will give you raincoats
There are leeches!
Me and another person who took the tour were bitten by leeches. My boyfriend was the only lucky one who escaped the leech feast. 🙂
This is one of the reasons why I recommend wearing long pants. I wore shorts and got one leech bite. Although it’s not painful or dangerous at all, you might want to avoid the discomfort of being bitten.
Don’t let leeches keep you away from this experience! As much as I hate leeches or any type of insects, I would go back to Mandalao in a heartbeat. Being so close to such majestic animals is a humbling experience.
6. Mandalao Elephant Sanctuary tours
There are several tours to choose from at Mandalao: the Therapeutic Trek, Inside the Hearts of Elephants, New Beginnings, Into the Wild and Communicating with Elephants. To read more about what each of these tours means, click here.
To book your tour, you can go directly to the Mandalao Elephant Sanctuary offices in Luang Prabang (adress below) or use the following email – [email protected] .
Address: Sisavangvong Road Building 82, unit B, telephone 0305664014, Luang Prabang 06000, Laos
7. Final thoughts
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – my visit to the Mandalao Elephant Sanctuary was one of the highlights of my trip so far. Elephants are incredible animals and being so close to them thought me a lot about respect, love and caring. It has been an incredible experience and I can’t wait to do it again!
For those looking for an ethical elephant sanctuary in Luang Prabang, Mandalao is the place to be!
8. Where to stay in Luang Prabang
Below is the best accommodation in Luang Prabang, according to each budget:
- Budget – Villa Phathana – excellent location, breakfast included, clean rooms
- Mid-budget – Parasol Blanc – new property, modern and spacious rooms, quiet area
- Luxury – Satri House Secret Retreats – incredible pool, breathtaking area, excellent staff & food, clean and spacious rooms
May the travel bug bite you!