MandaLao Tours: Responsible Tourism with Elephants in Laos

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It is said that Laos is the land of a million elephants.The story comes from a long time ago, when the local people in the south of the country witnessed what seemed to be an endless herd of elephants in Laos crossing the Mekong river. If the legend is to be believed, there were enough elephants in this herd to cross the river for three entire days.

However, as beautiful an idea as that is, it is no longer a reality, or even a possibility.

Today it is estimated that there are less than 1000 elephants in Laos; half of which are wild and half of which are domesticated. Those in the wild are threatened by loss of habitat and, to a lesser degree, poaching. Those that are domesticated are mainly trapped in the logging industry; spending their lives in chains. But recent changes within Laos mean that elephants are slowly being siphoned away from the logging industry, and instead are being picked up for tourism. However this change in life is not always a positive one. Often these ‘rescued’ elephants trade their days in logging to days of being ridden by tourists; a practice that is equally harmful and dangerous to the well-being of the elephants.

Elephant tourism is popular not just in Laos, but throughout southeast Asia. I had hoped to go to a sanctuary in Chiang Mai, however since I was there during the Yi Peng festival, the tours booked up quickly. So instead I decided I would wait and find an elephant sancutary in Laos.

MandaLao Elephant Tours

I had a few days in Luang Prabang, Laos and was determined to spend one of them with elephants. As an animal lover and an eco-conscious traveller, I didn’t want to do anything that involved or supported riding elephants. In a country nicknamed the land of a million elephants, I figured it would be reasonably easy to find a good elephant sanctuary in Laung Prabang.

But it wasn’t.

As I walked down the streets I was greeted with sign after sign for Luang Prabang tours calling themselves elephant sanctuaries or reserves, but in big bold writing underneath flaunting the riding programs. Disappointed I just about gave up until I saw an elephant sanctuary sign that caught my attention. It wasn’t flashy, there wasn’t anyone waving me over, but the “NO RIDING” sign was all I needed to be drawn inside to MandaLao’s Luang Prabang tours.

About MandaLao Tours


Funnily enough, MandaLao wasn’t intended to be an elephant sanctuary. It was originally going to be a jungle escape for travellers interested in trekking, biking and swimming, with the main draw being it was only about thirty minutes away from Luang Prabang, not 3-4 hours like most other retreats.

And then the owners; Kellen, Michael, and Markus, met the elephants, and a whole new idea came into play.

MandaLao is a brand new elephant sanctuary and has only been open since September 2016. With the help of project manager Prasop Tipprasert (who has more than 30 years experience working with domesticated elephants) and a team of dedicated Mahouts, MandaLao has quickly become a popular tourist destination for eco-conscious travellers looking for an authentic and positive elephant sanctuary in Laos.


At MandaLao the elephants have about 15 hectares of jungle property to roam, eat, and play. During the day they are free, however the owners did not hide that they do have to be chained at night. Kellen explained to us that because they are domesticated, if they do break away from the property the elephants will seek out humans. Of course in doing so they may come to the wrong people, or destroy the local people’s livelihoods (ie: their rice paddies) along the way. For this reason they are chained at night only; for their protection more than anything else. However, Kellen did tell us that this is not ideal and the future goal is to find a way to create a natural barrier.

At this time MandaLao is a small elephant sanctuary, but the owners dream of expanding it to include and offer more in the future. Without a doubt, this company’s passion for the elephants in Laos and responsible elephant tourism shines through in everything they do.

About the Elephants


At this time MandaLao has six adult elephants and one baby. The adults are all females and the baby, Kit, is a male.

MandaLao’s elephants were rescued from the logging industry and, previous to being at the sanctuary, had spend their lives working in chains. Today they are happy to roam the land, eat, play and of course meet the tourists; especially if those tourists arrive with bananas.

About the Tour


MandaLao currently offers three different tours. There are two half day options (one with the baby, Kit, and one with the adults), and one full day option. I did the half day tour with the adults.

I was picked up at 8:30am from my hostel by Gum (sounds like kuum), our smiling guide for the day. I was the last one to join our small group of four. The tour maxes out at six people, however one of the elephants was unwell so they decided to cut it down to four for a few days in case the elephant wasn’t up to going, but also to maximize the experience for the visitors and not overwhelm the other elephants. The fact that they prioritized the elephants’ well being earned MandaLao a lot of respect from all four of us.

Along the way Gum told us we were going to play a fruit game. He gave each of us a word to remember for when we got to the fruit market. Being as forgetful as I am I forgot within seconds, and ended up blurting out all kinds of random nonsense words to everyone’s amusement until Gum saved me. Turns out my word meant pineapple. Fruity elephant treats in hand (and after nearly taking out Gum’s eye with the leaves on my pineapple) we headed towards MandaLao elephant sanctuary in Luang Prabang.

We arrived shortly after 9am to a beautiful, green space. At the lodge we we offered coffee or tea and invited to sit and overlook the river where the early group, the half day baby elephant tour, was getting ready to meet their elephant friends. We all laughed as the baby, Kit, chased after the visitors, eager for his feed of bananas.


After watching the other group set off we were asked to sit down for an educational video about Mandalao, the elephants, and their behaviour. This also included safety tips, advice, and fun little facts about the personalities of these amazing creatures. We were given information about how when elephants are happy they flap their ears and how they laugh (for a hilarious video of baby Kit laughing watch this video).

Safety tips in place, we headed down to the river to meet our companions for the day: three female adults named TongCoon, BounTem, and BungUn. TongCoon was the elephant they were worried about with a bit of a skin condition. However her mahout made a last minute call that going out with us and her elephant friends would be good for her, so she joined us in the end, seemingly happy to be out and about. Though her protective mahout kept a close eye on her throughout the day.

We started off our encounter with bananas; a sure way to win their hearts. With four people and three elephants there were plenty of bananas to go around, but Bung Un got all of mine. I couldn’t stop laughing as she shovelled them in as fast as possible.


Bananas and fruit gone, we took them into the river for a scrub down and a rinse before we headed off on our jungle trek.

We headed into the jungle, following the lead of the elephants. Crossing streams and climbing up muddy hills (if you go, wear good walking shoes that you can get wet!). Gum told us stories and all kinds of interesting facts along the way, and of course the elephants were aways entertaining. I became quick buddies with Bung Un; the elephant who ate all my bananas. She frequently came over checking me for more but was happy with some pats on the head and stroke on her trunk. She also was very photogenic, happy to ham it up for me and my camera. I loved walking alongside her and, given that flapping ears mean a happy elephant, I’m pretty sure she liked me too (check my adorable video of Bung Un).

Responsible no riding elephant experience at Mandalao Tours, Luang Prabang

About two hours after meeting the elephants, it was time to say goodbye. A few more elephant hugs, pats, and photos and we parted ways in the jungle. They went deeper for their lunch and we headed back to the lodge, via some beautiful rice paddies, for ours.

Lunch was delicious; an assortment of traditional dishes and fresh fruit from dessert. Again we were offered tea or coffee as we relaxed overlooking the hills, river, and rice paddies in the distance. Around 1:30 it was time to say goodbye to MandaLao and head back to Luang Prabang after an absolutely incredible day.

It is said the Laos is the land of a million elephants. And while this may no longer be the case, a visit to MandaLao Elephant Sanctuary will leave you feeling like you have taken the hearts of a million elephants with you, and that you have left a bit of yours behind with them as well.



So if you are looking for an elephant sanctuary in Laos, then look no farther than Mandalao tours and elephant sanctuary in Laung Prabang. My day with the elephants was one of the best travel experience I’ve had. The experience was authentic, responsible and left no doubt in my mind that Mandalao’s number one priority is the elephants’ well-being. As it should be.

Be sure to sure to check out MandaLao when you visit Luang Prabang. You can find them online here.

Need a place to stay in Luang Prabang?


Budget: Kounsavan Guest House 

Midrange: The Golden Lotus Palace

High end: The Three Nagas

A huge thank you to MandaLao for inviting me to visit for the half day tour! Of course, all opinions are, as always, my own.

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  1. Flo @ Yoga, Wine @ Travel on December 3, 2016 at 11:53 am

    Oh I’m so bummed I didn’t get to visit this sanctuary when I was there in August! Like you, I was horrified by the number of elephant riding tours in Luang Prabang – glad to hear there is a more ethical alternative now!

    • Hannah Logan on December 3, 2016 at 12:16 pm

      If it makes you feel better they probably hadn’t opened yet! But good excuse to go back 😉

  2. Jessica The Dining Traveler on December 3, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    This looks like an amazing experience. Elephants are beautiful gentle giants. Love that they are treated well in this environment. There’s so much abuse of these beautiful creatures in that region…

    • Hannah Logan on December 3, 2016 at 8:35 pm

      I know 🙁 it was hard walking down the streets and just seeing ‘Riding’ signs everywhere. I was so happy when I found MandaLao and it was such an amazing experience. Can’t recommend it enough!

  3. Supriya on December 4, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    THAT baby elephant looks adorable! I think elephants are my favorite animals and I wish I could reach over and give these elephants giant hugs! Thanks for sharing this post – I’d certainly sign up for an eco-friendly tour like this one whenever I visit Laos. This is on my bucket list 🙂


    • Hannah Logan on December 4, 2016 at 10:00 pm

      Yeah they were definitely huggable 🙂

  4. Vishal Vashisht on December 4, 2016 at 10:21 pm

    This is the first time ever I read about an Elephant adventure. Truth be told, I am really impressed and liked the story. Thinking about a million elephants makes me wonder what would the life be with that many elephants?

    • Hannah Logan on December 5, 2016 at 1:54 am

      Haha, well I think the idea of watching a million elephants cross a river would be pretty amazing 🙂

  5. Leanne on December 5, 2016 at 2:24 am

    How much is it to do a half day visit? Can you book on arrival in Luang Prabang? Sorry for all the Q’s. I will be there in early January with my two daughters, this is something I was looking for.

    • Hannah Logan on December 5, 2016 at 11:45 am

      Hi Leanna, there are different prices for each program. The half day with adult elephants is $100 USD. I might suggest booking in advance since there are at least three of you, the groups are quite small. I have linked to MandaLao fb page in this post, reach out to them there 🙂

  6. knycx.jounreying on December 5, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    Elephants are fascinating and I love them. I have visited an elephant in Bali and loved the experience. I would definitely visit another one when I am in Thailand or Laos!


    • Hannah Logan on December 6, 2016 at 2:22 pm

      Definitely suggest doing it again here if in Laos!

  7. Sally Kweskin on December 6, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    Loved hearing about your visit to MandaLao and cannot wait to book a tour w them for my February visit to Luang Prabang. Thanks for sharing!

  8. […] There are plenty of elephant experiences available around Luang Prabang, however most are not socially responsible. However for those searching for an eco friendly and responsible elephant experience, look no further than MandLao tours. Visitors are only allowed in small groups and can spend a whole (or half day) trekking, bathing, and feeding rescued elephants. It’s an incredible experience. […]

  9. Julie on May 22, 2017 at 9:37 am

    Awesome! This place looks amazing and most importantly ethical. I love elephants and would not want to support anyone that harm these beautiful creatures for tourism purposes, etc. I’ll look them up when I head over in a few days! Do you recommend I book in advance or can I just do when I get there?

    • Hannah Logan on May 22, 2017 at 1:01 pm

      It’s honestly amazing and I highly recommend it! I suggest booking in advance for sure. They only run with small groups so they book up quickly! If you go tell them I sent you 🙂

  10. El on June 1, 2017 at 8:46 am

    Best experience I ever had. I took the full day tour and it was amazing. The elephants are beautiful and the staff and caretakers are awesome. Highly recommend!!!

    • Hannah Logan on June 1, 2017 at 12:43 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! It was one one of my best experiences too!

  11. […] We did not do this last activity ourselves due to lack of time (we had a flight to catch on the last day), but we most certainly can recommend it. We had a chat with the organisers AND some fellow travellers who visited an Elephant Wildlife park. Don’t get fooled by all the (crappy) tours with elephant riding. Go for sustainable and choose wisely (a nice article for a tour over here). […]

  12. rizwan on September 30, 2019 at 9:11 am

    Great post thanks for sharing.

  13. […] Mandalao is a relatively new elephant sanctuary, that started offering responsible elephant tourism in 2016. At this time there are only 7 elephants; 6 females and one young male. Hiking, feeding, and bathing are all possible but there is no chance of riding. While it’s an amazing experience to spend a day with these animals, there no doubt about it; the elephants’ well-being will always come first. I experienced this first hand when my tour group got cut down to four rather than six participants because one of the elephants was unwell. While they wanted us, the tourists, to have a good experience, what they cared more about was not crowding the elephants. As an an animal lover, I was thrilled to see this, and for this reason, would recommend Mandalao in a heartbeat. […]

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