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.