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“Good with some disappointments”

Elephant Conservation Center
Ranked #1 of 1 things to do in Sayaboury
Certificate of Excellence
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Attraction details
Owner description: The Elephant Conservation Center marks a new era for conservation of the Asian elephant within the Lao PDR and offers a unique experience to visitors wishing to contribute towards the preservation of an endangered species. The first of its kind in Laos, the Center is not another elephant camp but an innovative approach that combines conservation of an endangered species with eco-tourism. Minimum stay is overnight, however we recommend our 2 nights package to experience all the activities and truly enjoy this tranquil part of the world. Volunteer experiences, 6 nights/7 days are also available. Now we have our own minivan departing Luang Prabang daily at 8am and it takes you back the following day or days arriving Luang Prabang 4.30pm. It is only a 2 hour journey from Luang Prabang, Laos' UNESCO World Heritage listed town.
Asheville, North Carolina
Level Contributor
6 reviews
3 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 31 helpful votes
“Good with some disappointments”
Reviewed May 7, 2014

We are a couple on a backpacking journey of the region for 6+ months, so to spend $420 for 2 nights/3 days anywhere was a big expense for us. However, we decided before we left home that we would spend time with elephants and not only that, we would do it at a location/organization that respected and did not exploit the animals. I feel confident that the ECC is such a place and my girlfriend and I are happy to have supported this organization and the good work they are doing.

However, it was a lot more difficult than we expected to come to this understanding during our stay. That is, we had to really go out of our way to learn about ElephantAsia and the ECC, which was strange because we were the ONLY guests there during our stay! We thought that since we were the only ones, we would be bombarded with info and learn a lot. This wasn't really the case.

The biggest issue for us was that the majority of the staff was not there during our stay, particularly the vet and the biologist. They and a handful of others, including the most experienced guides, were off training elsewhere on our first day and then left for Thailand our 2nd day to continue training. This was a huge disappointment for us as we were not only looking forward to being able to spend time with them and learn from them, but we were assured this was to be part of our itinerary just one day earlier when I was in direct contact via email to book our stay. Basically, the center confirmed our booking knowing that these vital staff members would not be on site and that these portions of our itinerary would be unfulfilled. Just from hearing conversations around camp we learned that this was the case--no one told us-- and we had to specifically ask to speak to the biologist before she left, otherwise that aspect would have been cut out completely from our program. And thank goodness we did because our very brief visit with the biologist was the most informative 30 minutes we had the whole time there. Until then, no one had explained to us what the organization's mission was, what work was being done there and what exactly our money was going to support. In fact, we barely got a hello from anyone but our guide. Unfortunately, our time was cut short because she had to leave--but big thanks to Annabel for taking the time to speak to us, she was super nice, helpful and informative!

Our guide, while very nice, funny and helpful was not very informative. In fact, on the first day when we were meant to receive our introductory information about the center, the elephants and Lao culture, he was so tired/hungover and distracted that he told us it would have to wait until the next day and we toured the museum ourselves while he laid on the floor. To his credit, everyone has off days and he did improve the following day, but even then his explanations of things were brief and lacking in any real info. We were always taken care of, though and he was great at facilitating our stay and always made good on any requests we had. However, I think it is imperative that the guide be knowledgeable about all aspects of the center as they are who guests spend the majority of time with.

Our time with the elephants was great. We rode them a few times which was exciting as we had never done that before. We also enjoyed the mahout lesson, watching them bathe and eat and we really enjoyed the visit to the nursery to spend time with the baby and mother. One of our favorite things to do was to use our free time to sit at the breeding area and observe the elephants while they interacted without humans around. This was another activity that would have been vastly improved had the biologist been on site because she would have been there to describe certain behaviors and answer questions.

The food was tasty, plentiful and the service of the kitchen staff was perfect. No complaints with the food.

The accommodations are what you might expect for a bamboo bungalow on a lake in the forest. We know that the center is not a hotel and we weren't expecting one. But be aware, once the sun goes down...the insects are brutal. Luckily, the mosquito net worked pretty well. The nights were hot and the bungalows could use a fan, but I know this is difficult as they are solar powered and probably have just enough juice for the lights. Mainly, the beds are really hard. A little softer mattress is something that seems like a reasonable expense and would vastly improve the comfort of sleeping guests.

All in all, we enjoyed our stay. The elephants seem to be happy and healthy and are treated well. The mahouts were kind and helpful. Our main issue was the missing staff and a general lack of interest in our being there-despite being the only guests.

Visited May 2014
14 Thank MillerMack2014
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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243 reviews from our community

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Brisbane, Australia
Level Contributor
21 reviews
8 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 6 helpful votes
“Special experience”
Reviewed April 14, 2014

This visit was a highlight for my family, on our 5 week visit to Laos. Our purpose was to be open to new experiences, not just those which were comfortable and known.

We arrived on Christmas Eve from Vientiene via the unusual route of Paklay and then Sayabouly. The views, woven hut and natural surroundings were relaxing and quaint. The elephants, other visitors and staff were casual, but consistent with other parts of country Laos. This is not a five star resort... it is an adventure. This should be apparent from the bus ride from Luang Prabang! We were very glad not to see the elephants being requested to work too hard, as we just wanted to interact with them, not necessarily ride them for five hours a day.

The food was terrific and plentiful, too. We were also happy to discover the groups were very small (around 8) which enabled us to get to know each other well before leaving.

Just a note for those considering the week long visit - your accommodation is dorm style and not quite as quaint as the short term visitors.

We have no regrets, and our children have very fond memories of Mr Lah, who we hope one day soon to see on MasterChef as he is a fabulous cook, too!

Visited December 2013
4 Thank Kylie M
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Turner Valley, Canada
Level Contributor
45 reviews
19 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 49 helpful votes
“Overpriced and Unprofessional....”
Reviewed March 26, 2014

I arrived Sayaboury a day before my 2-night/3 day visit to the Elephant Conservation Centre. I had advised the Centre of my hotel name for pickup. I waited for an hour after my scheduled pick-up time and contacted the Centre. They had forgotten to pick me up....so I spent another night in the hotel with the promise of pick-up the following day.

They did remember me the following day; I arrived at the Centre and was welcomed by my guide who took my information and gave me a rushed tour of the facility - the highlight of which was going to be a visit with 2 female elephants in the training compound. Two visitors from the UK has just finished their 'mahout' lesson when one of the employees outside of the compound decided to ride his motorcycle.

The employee and the bike were on a hill overlooking the compound. He could not get the bike started so a couple of the workers decided to push-start it - down the hill and onto a path right beside the elephant training compound. They were all cheering and laughing when the bike started down the slope - soon to be laid down on its' side, throttle wide open, wheels spinning next to the elephants compound.

All the employees, including the 'mahouts' were laughing and carrying on like children. In the mean time, the two female elephants were terrified! One was chained so she couldn't back away far enough and the other, larger elephant backed tightly into the fence surrounding her. They trumpeted in terror and relieved themselves in fear. No one tried to comfort and calm them as the workers were too busy laughing. We three (visitors) were disgusted at the employees behaviour - all of them.

The mahouts are not experienced (except the mahout at the nursery) or empathetic to the elephants needs. In training, they yell their commands at the animals and are very rough with them. I have worked with animals during my lifetime and visited other elephant sanctuaries and these actions are totally unproductive as they are trying to intimidate the elephants - which is contrary to the animals natural learning processes. I am not an expert but do believe there are far better methods of training.

The two women from the UK arrived at the centre at lunch time (rice and vegetables). No lunch was offered to them but they were told they could purchase lunch for $10.00!! Unbelievable as a meal in Sayaboury restaurants were a third that price. They had each just spent over $200.00 to be there and the least the Centre could do was offer them lunch as the location is very remote and no other food is available until dinner.

There is no one 'in charge' of this centre - no one to speak with regarding the shortcomings of the Conservation Centre. The idea of elephant conservation is admirable; however, I believe this centre has a long way to go to become a credible conservation program open to tourism.

If you have the opportunity to experience elephants at another location, I would suggest you do just that and, chances are, you'll have a more rewarding and valuable experience than you would here.

On the positive side of things, we did have the opportunity to spend some time with the vet which was enlightening and interesting. She is providing medical assistance to elephants in the area which is a very worthwhile program.

Overall, I was very disappointed with the Elephant Conservation Centre....but, as with everything in this world, it's 'beauty' is in the eye of the beholder.

Visited February 2014
15 Thank 176Travelbag53
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Victoria Capital Regional District, Canada
Level Contributor
3 reviews
“Definitely worthwhile”
Reviewed February 20, 2014 via mobile

This was a magical and peaceful way to see this part of the country and learn about the elephants. Our kids loved it and our host, mr. Lay, was extremely warm and helpful. We would absolutely return. However, we would recommend perhaps a new family bungalow for our family of five as a bit tight in the bungalows built for two. Also our first night the staff had a party and had speakers blaring music until ten...but they apologetic.

Visited February 2014
Thank Paisley A
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Manchester, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
16 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 13 helpful votes
“Wow, amazing experiance”
Reviewed December 29, 2013

Right from the start we could tell this was a well run and organised operation, before we had even got off the bus from Luang Prabang the tuk tuk driver was aboard to meet us. A short trip to the boat jetty and an even shorter trip on a small long boat and we were at the centre. The staff were there to great us and take our luggage up to the bungalow, where they left us to get settled before checking in.

We booked the two night three day trip well in advance before we left the UK, which was just as well as it's very popular.

The accommodation is a little basic in the bamboo huts but the beds were comfy and warm and we had mosquito nets (not that there were many about during December). Bathrooms are shared and again a little basic but for us this was all part of the experience. The food was great and always plenty of it.

The staff were all very friendly and the three guides were extremely knowledgeable and all spoke very good English. During our stay we never felt ignored and were looked after very well. We got the impression that everyone really cares about the elephants. We learnt that by staying there we were helping to fund the great work they do all over Laos, their vets will travel all over the country providing free treatment and training for anyone with an elephant that needs their help. They also provide a service that a mahout with a pregnant elephant can bring her to the centre and they will provide food and accommodation for both elephant and mahout until both mother and baby elephant are ready to travel back home.

This is not some tourist elephant park where the elephants walk a continuous circuit with a never ending stream of tourists on their backs, they really are doing some great work here to ensure the Asian elephant in Laos doesn't end up on the endangered list.

This was the highlight of our trip so far and would highly recommend it to anyone that enjoys spending time with theses animals in as close as possible to their natural habitat.

Visited December 2013
6 Thank Chrispypancake
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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