Friday, 27 January 2012

For the Love of elephants (Part 2) - The Elephant Conservation Centre in Sayaboury, Laos

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012

The bungalows of the Elephant Conservation Centre (ECC) situated on the shores of Lake Nam Tien and set in protected and pristine forest in the province of Sayaboury, Laos.

In my last post For the Love of Elephants, in Sayaboury, Laos I wrote about the inspiring work being done at the Elephant Conservation Centre, work that is vital to the survival of the Asian Elephant in Laos, and to the survival of the centuries old tradition of mahoutship.

A quick recap......I visited the Elephant Centre back in December of last year (2011) and was blown away by the beauty of the location as well as the labour of love that goes into ensuring a healthy future for these amazing animals and their mahouts.  If I was just a little in love with elephants before my arrival I was smitten by the time I left!  

Here in this second post I am going to write just a little of what is on offer at the centre for both the volunteer and the guest, for more detailed information you can visit their website click

There are many possibilities for the visitor at the ECC, basically you can get your hands as dirty as you like (or not).

You can come for the day, stay a week or volunteer and stay for weeks or months at a time. 

Whatever you do you can be sure to have a unique and special experience, surrounded by like minded people (locals and other visitors from all over the world) who care about the welfare of the Asian Elephant and its natural environment.

The centre and its 106 hectares of surrounding forest is a place of stillness, calm and beauty and is relatively isolated. Sayaboury the closest town is a 45 minute trip by Tuk Tuk and boat so don't expect to be popping down to the corner store or dining in restaurants such as those you will find in the town of Luang Prabang, and this is what makes it even more enticing and relaxing. (Luang Prabang by the way is around a four hour drive away).

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012

The 'zen' bure (as I call it).....take a book with you (or don't), sleep, meditate, or just appreciate the raw beauty of nature from here

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012

Settle in here with a beer Lao and watch the sun set 

However, have no fear, you will eat well here.....the food at the centre is fresh and delicious. Meals are prepared by local staff in the kitchen attached to the terrace of the main bungalow, and it is here that guests gather to get to know each other, eat and relax.

The dishes are made using the best and freshest local ingrediants and there is always plenty of sticky rice, along with tasty meat and vegetable dishes, soups and noodles.  

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012

As far as scenery goes it doesn't get too much better than this

Volunteer or be a 'guest'
Volunteer and 'muck in', or come as a guest and learn, observe, relax and contribute.

As a guest you may come for a day visit only or stay as many nights as you wish. Accommodation is in traditional wooden Lao cabins (there are currently six) which sit above the ground on stilts and run on solar power. 

While the cabins are basic, (they consist of a double bed with the mandatory mosquito net) they are clean and have their own private balcony, which by the way overlooks some of the most incredibly beautiful and serene scenery you will find anywhere in the world.

© Copyright Millie Brown
The toilet and shower facilities are shared and for those who love their hot shower (me)! the centre now has hot water for both the cabins and the dormitory.

A guesthouse consisting of five rooms is in the planning stages at the moment with construction commencing this year sometime. When it is completed you will get to enjoy private bathrooms and one large shared terrace....sounds wonderful and will definitely be my choice of accommodation when I return.

Even if you do have only one day to spend at the centre the program is run in such a way that you will get a great overview of the work being done there as well as taking in some of the most spectacular scenery in Laos.  You will meet with the mahouts and get up close to some of the most beautiful creatures on the planet, the Asian elephant. The trip by boat on Lake Nam Tien into the protected forest where the centre is situated is itself an experience not to be missed. For more info on a 'typical' visit at the centre click here

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
Mounting an elephant - A mahout showing how it is done 

©Coopyright Millie Brown 2012
A visitor showing how it is NOT 'done' !

It is totally up to the guest as to how much relaxation time they take for themselves and how many activities they take part in at the centre, however spending time with elephants in an environment such as this is a rare and special opportunity so I imagine most guests are keen to be as close to these animals for as long as is possible (we certainly were)!

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
Take your daily exercise in the forest with the elephants and their mahouts

The possibility to spend a  month volunteering at the centre is only possible if you have completed the ECC's 6 day / 5 night Eco Volunteering program. (If after one month volunteering at the center you should wish to extend your time then this can be assessed and will depend on your skills and the centre's needs at the time).

This program however is not only open to those wanting to volunteer for a month (or longer) but open to all those interested in getting closer to the elephants and learning the basics of mahoutship. 

If you decide to join up to this program you will have the possibility of feeding the elephants, helping out at the hospital or another area of the centre,  and assisting the mahouts with their elephants in their daily routine.  You can also extend this one week program to a longer duration if you wish to.

Once a 'long term' volunteer your work will be varied; you could be working closely with the elephants, working in the field, building, painting, gardening or giving a helping hand at the hospital, amongst other chores.

For more information on the Eco Volunteering program click here

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
This museum has a view like no other

During my few days at the centre I had the chance to meet and chat with quite a few of the volunteers working there at the time and they were all passionate, enthusiastic and loving their experience.

The volunteer's dormitory accommodation (currently five twin rooms) is located in part of the traditional Tai Lue house that now also houses the shop and museum.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012

The museum and shop fit perfectly into the natural environment. They are housed in a traditional Tai Lue house that once belonged to a famous elephant master and was re-located to the centre. 

The museum at the centre is another place to sit, relax and learn. There are books, wonderfully informative panels on the Asian elephant, its history and its significance in Laos (all presented in three languages, Lao, English and French), and soon to be 3D models illustrating the various and changing relationship between elephant and man over the ages.

While spending time in the museum I read everything I could get my hands on, (see below for a list of a few of these beautiful books). Grab one of the books and snuggle up in the old elephant seat now situated on the terrace of the museum, its a comfortable and unique place to relax.

Also displayed in the outdoor area of the museum are artefacts and equipment from a time gone by, including old saddles, training cages, hobbles and logging gear. 

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
A favourite meal with the elephants, they're all grown at the centre

No matter how you spend your time at the centre (as a volunteer or as a guest), and no matter what you decide to do with your time when you are there.....enjoy a refreshing swim in the lake, take exercise with the elephants, soak up information at the museum, visit the nursery, enjoy the fun from the pontoon during elephant bath time, or lend a helping can be sure that you are contributing in a large way to ensuring these magnificent Asian elephants, their mahouts and their families all have a healthy future.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012

©copyright Millie Brown 2012

Take a peek at some of these gorgeous books I found while I was in Laos. 

A Journey Beyond the Mekong by Ben Davies here  

Au coeur du Laos pour la protection des elephants d'Asie by Helen Segara here 

Laos sur les rives du Mekong by Francis Engelmann, Yves Goudineau, Photography Serge Sibert  here 

If you would like to show your support for the conservation of elephants in Laos you can help by spreading the word and clicking 'f' below to share on facebook, thank you.
These photos are copyrighted, please do not download, thank you.


  1. Hi Millie, you are such a wonderful writer. Got lost in your writing and was imagining and wishing I was there. What a wonderful experience at a most beautiful place. They really have set it up nicely, so that everyone wins. I like that! And the scenery really is amazing. Also like the cute elephant butt pics at the end too ;) I know you are known for your photos but with writing like this, do I sense a book with photos on the horizon. Or perhaps photos with travel notes? Great Work! Vee

  2. Thank you Vee, so generous of you.
    You're right it is a total win / win set up. It was an incredible experience and one I would love to repeat (of course), I'm also pretty sure you would absolutely love it too.... and an amazing experience for children.
    A book?...lets see! Thanks again x


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...