After reading about this place on the internet I decided it seemed the best place to experience elephants in their natural environment. I was sceptical to the "elephant riding treks" that are advertised all over the country and wanted to make sure my money was used for the good of the elephants and not to exploit them for tourist money.
Yes this place is expensive at 70$ for a day with the elephants (or 40$ if you do volunteering) but I looked at it as money well spent for a good cause. The 25$ you spend for a 2hr elephant ride goes into the pockets of the locals and you can never be sure whether that elephant is working 10 hr days, was caught in the jungle as a baby for the purpose of making money on it, and broken down for one year to be "trained" to become a money-maker. This is not a practice I would want to support. I am sure there are some responsible locals that do not overwork their elephants, but how can you make sure?
The EVP is a fantastic project. They spend their money on making the life of domesticated elephants in Cambodia better, they give back to the local community by providing health care and they help protect the remaining wild elephant population by protecting the forests in the surrounding area.
We stayed in Tree Lodge guesthouse, and upon arrival we told him we were going to the EVP the next day (even though we had not booked it yet). He told us he was very much against them as they are overpriced, run by foreigners and all the money they make goes into the pocket of the very rich british owner. He tried to convince us that they are bad for the local economy, and he also said that the reason that they have such good reviews on tripadvisor is because they talk to you about all the good things they do, but that everything they tell you are lies. I asked him if he had been there to check it out himself and he said "of course I have!!" I asked Jemma at EVP and she said she knows very well who he is and he has never been there. We also got into a moral discussion when it comes to the elephants, but he did not seem to get the point that elephants are actually living and breathing individuals with feelings like us, and all he cares about is the "local" economy - ie his own pocket... He then proceeded to tell me that I do not have enough education to have an opinion on the subject... without knowing anything about me.. ahhem, I have worked and studied animals since I was 17 years old and I am an experienced doctor of veterinary medicine.. nuff said..
So I am sure I know who to believe, definitely the NGO that tries to work with conservation of the wild elephants, understand the needs of the domesticated elephants while working with the local community to create sustainable tourism. When you go there it is just obvious to anyone that what they are doing is a good thing, its a no-brainer.
So.. Our day in EVP started with finding the elephants in the valley. They walked over to the river to bathe, so we got to throw water on them which was fun. We could touch them when they walked past, while showing respect for them. After washing they decided to go into the mud and throw it all over themselves, then into the jungle to eat bamboo the rest of the morning. Nobody told them what to do. We just got to walk with them while chatting to Gemma who has loads of information about the elephants and the project.
Lunch was buffet style, and good. Then there was 1hr of relaxation time in the hammocks and chairs, and then we got to scrub the elephants in a cleaning station (these were different elephants than the ones in the morning). They were brought to the cleaning station by mahouts, so in one way told what to do, but they really seemed to enjoy the scrubbing and hosing. There was a lot of throwing around buckets of water and we got very wet and muddy but it was so much fun. After that we got to feed them chunks from banana-trees.
The people that did the half-day volunteering had to pull nails out of wood for 3 hours, so I think our choice of paying more to spend time with the elephants was the right one.
One of the other visitors told me she had done the elephant-riding in Laos, but said that the EVP was a much better experience as you actually get to see what the elephants are doing naturally. They are domesticated elephants, so unfortunately they have to be chained at night (30m chain in the jungle so they can eat all night, which they do! They only sleep for 2-3 hours!). If they let them loose at night they would go into the villages and eat crops from the locals, as they associate humans with food. It makes sense!
All in all - GO THERE and learn about the elephants!! Donate your money to a good cause!! Do NOT listen to the locals who are only looking after their own pockets.
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