Your Guide to the Annual Laos Elephant Festival

by Samuel on September 28, 2012

Elephant and mahout in Khiet Ngong, Laos by flickr user gardnergp

It is an annual event that brings elephants and their handlers here from near and far. The Laos Elephant Festival is an event that tests the skills of the elephants and offers fun for everyone including elephant rides for spectators. In Laos, the Asian elephant is considered a sacred animal and is now threatened by deforestation. Today the festival is trying to raise awareness before these magnificent creatures are further threatened.

The Laos Elephant Festival is held every February. It celebrated its sixth year in 2012 and plans are already underway for 2013. It is a celebration of the elephant and human relationship and now, more than ever, about conservation and protecting the elephant. It is pageantry with a purpose.

To most of these animals’ handlers, the elephant is a pet or even a family member. Handlers are known as mahouts. They train and care for the elephants, developing a deep, life-long bond. The elephants learn skills like clearing logs and some are even taught to paint. When these amazing creatures learn a skill, like the saying goes, they never forget.

The three-day festival is filled with activities, starting with a parade of elephants across the river from town. It is a sight to see. From there the events are non-stop. Imagine watching elephants bathe or getting your photo taken with one in the elephant photo booth. Even more popular are the elephant rides, a chance to find out first-hand what it’s like to be a mahout.

Elephant in Laos by flickr user Rossi Remy

Throughout the festival the elephants show their prowess in painting, drawing, physical labor, and more. It’s not all work and no play for the elephants however. There are events like Elephant of the Year, the Monks Blessing, and yes, even an Elephant Beauty Contest. Elephants are also treated to the Elephant Buffet which is a fun sight to see.

The festival offers events where you can learn about what it takes to care for the elephants, conservation, and the culture of Laos. You can learn a lot while having fun. You will learn about the important role the elephants play in the lives of the families who care for them. Without these magnificent creatures, the people of Laos would face difficult times. Their conservation is crucial to the survival of its people.

While attending the festival, it’s important to note that these elephants are neither wild nor tame. They can become spooked or nervous. Small animals like dogs, loud, sudden noises, and even being approached by strangers can cause them to react unexpectedly. Never approach or touch an elephant without permission from its handler. Approach them slowly, avoiding any sudden moves that may spook them.

The 2013 Laos Elephant Festival will be held in Sayaboury. It is held in a different town each year, so if you plan on attending the event in coming years, be sure to find out the dates and places well ahead of time. You can get to the festival by car or you can take one of many buses that run throughout the day. Some of the traveling can be a bit bumpy and rough, so be sure to dress comfortably. The cool, dry season in Laos runs from November to February, so the temperatures generally run in the low to mid 80’s.

The Laos Elephant Festival is an event worth seeing. It is steeped in the tradition of man and beast working together as one. The Asian elephant is more than a tool for its mahout. It is a lifeline, a companion, and a family member. If you love elephants, this is the event not to miss.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrea October 7, 2012 at 8:42 pm

One of my fav animals – this sounds awesome!!


Spencer October 10, 2012 at 11:27 am

I would absolutely love to do this. I am sure it would be amazing.


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