Before my trip to Southeast Asia, like many others, I knew I wanted to sit atop a glorious giant in all its exotic splendor. However, I knew the reality of this popular tourism activity is widely rooted in some serious animal cruelty. If I was going to do it, it could only be in a right and beneficial way. Thankfully, I found Elephant Village in Luang Prabang, Laos. I was able to learn, care for, ride, and feel good about my experience and sharing it with others.
I did my research. Elephant Village was by far the most expensive elephant riding organization I had seen, but for good reason. These animals had been rescued from logging work and cared for in one of very few places that provided an elephant hospital and an on site elephant vet. These creatures were only available to the public until around noon, bathed, then lead into the jungle within the perimiter of the sanctuary which was very vast. They all had days off and because the cost of spending the day with them was so high, it ensured a stress free environment with fewer people. The day I went, there were only two other women in my group and we enjoyed a peaceful and personal day with the elephants.
The cost was almost $100. That was by far the most expensive part of my entire trip, and some serious $$ for Southeast Asia. Although I was on a backpacker’s budget, this was the only big splurge I allowed myself. This money went into feeding and maintaining the elephants as well as educating locals about the impact of slash and burn and teaching them other skills and alternatives on how to earn a living. Elephant Village even denied the leasing of the land to the government to establish a tourism project! How cool is that?! I saw how dedicated they were to the land, community, and elephants, which meant a lot in deciding where I put my dollars.
All in all, it was a memorable experience. I wouldn’t say to anybody, ‘Don’t ride elephants!’ The important point is to find an organization that cares and is not perpetuating animal cruelty. There were many places that were ‘no ride’ which I think is great, but I had the opportunity to ride with a clear conscious and know that I was contributing to something positive. It’s not so much what you do, but how you do it!