Head to the “Land of a Million Elephants”, where now only 400 elephants are living in the wild. Volunteer at an inspiring rescue and rehabilitation centre, dedicated to conserving the species and promoting the survival of these gentle giants.
Duration: 1 – 2 weeks
Dates: Arrivals throughout the year
Arrival day: Sunday
Return day: Sunday
Eligibility: General level of fitness required. Some steep inclines at the project.
- Starting your trip in the UNESCO world heritage city of Luang Prabang, one of the prettiest cities in Asia
- Seeing the baby elephants frolic in the elephant nursery
- Amazing home cooked food – a delicious fusion of French and Asian cuisines that will leave you wanting more!
- Watching the sun rise and set over cloud-clad mountains, verdant jungle and the glittering lake
- Taking a kayak out to explore the lake, do yoga on the jetty or simply relax in the on-site bar
For generations, elephants in Laos have been forced to work in the logging industry. This backbreaking work, which involves dragging several tons of timber for 8 – 10 hours each day, leaves the elephants exhausted, weakened and often injured. The intensity of this work has meant that the elephant birth rate has plummeted, and within generations the population in Laos could die out entirely unless something is done. You can be part of the solution at one of Laos’ leading animal welfare and conservation centres.
This project is a haven for rescued elephants. There are currently over 30 elephants in permanent residence here, although many others pass through for hospital treatment, convalescence and to give birth in the elephant nursery. Elephants are encouraged to live a life as close to the wild as possible, bathing in the lake and roaming the land, which extends over 100 hectares.
The first three days volunteering with elephants will be spent in an orientation. This will enable you to comprehend the complexities of elephant conservation and get to know the Laos elephants. The orientation will cover:
- learning about the background of elephants in Laos and those here at the centre
- seeing the veterinary clinic and the work that goes on there
- watching the elephants bathe and roam in the wild
- basic interaction with the elephants
- learning about caring for rescued elephants
Once your orientation is complete, you will be assisting with biologists and other members of the elephant care team. Elephant volunteer tasks may include, but are not limited to:
- Creating enrichments for the elephants – encouraging mental stimulation and wild behaviour
- Monitoring the elephants – observing their behaviour and interactions
- Basic maintenance – eg. painting, building, checking fences, repairing the elephant swimming areas
- Habitat work – clearing vegetation, growing saplings and planting trees
- Biodiversity surveys – ensuring that the environment can support the elephants
- Ad hoc tasks – helping with marketing and promotion, making poo paper (dry season only), clearing leaves and chopping grasses for elephant food
- Typical Lao style wooden volunteer house on-site
- There are 5 bedrooms which hold 4 – 8 volunteers in each
- Bunk beds are equipped with mosquito nets and bedding
- Communal shower and toilet block nextdoor to the volunteer house
- Showers with hot and cold water
- Western toilets
- Balcony overlooking the mountains and lake
- Option to upgrade to a private room with shared bathroom facilities for an extra fee
- On-site restaurant where you will enjoy 3 delicious meals per day
- Breakfast usually consists of fresh bread, eggs, noodle soup and fruit
- Lunch and dinner are delicious Lao-style dishes with lots of soup, rice, noodles, seasonable vegetables and meats
- All dietary requirements can be catered for, however vegans should expect a much more limited diet
- Safe drinking water provided
- Tea and coffee station provided
- There is a small bar overlooking the lake selling soft drinks, alcoholic drinks and snacks
Airport: Luang Prabang (LPQ)
Arrival day: Sunday. Overnight in Luang Prabang with transfer to the project on Monday
Departure day: Sunday
- Access to your own personal ‘My Oyster’ account – our online portal where you can find out much more about the program and manage your booking
- Dedicated contact time with an experienced destination manager to discuss the project, answer any of your questions and for us to find out more about you
- Help and advice from our UK office before arrival and whilst you are away
- In-country support
- Pre-departure information covering medical, safety and project advice
- Gold level, 24/7 Pharos crisis management and incident support cover
- Financial protection: ATOL (if we book your flights); IPP (if we don’t book your flights)
- Thorough orientation on arrival
- Accommodation (see the ‘accommodation’ section above for details)
- Advice on visa requirements
- Oyster plants a tree in Africa with TreeAid to help reduce the impact of global carbon emissions
- Airport collection and transfer to your first night accommodation in Luang Prabang
- First night accommodation in Luang Prabang (breakfast included)
- Transfer from first night accommodation to meeting point for project transfer
- Transfer from Luang Prabang to the project site
- Return to Luang Prabang after your project
- Three meals per day at the project site
- Linen and towels
- Mosquito net in your accommodation
- Oyster will prepare you thoroughly before you leave and support you while you are out there
- ATOL financial protection (if Oyster books your flight)
- Oyster Worldwide volunteer t-shirt
- Oyster luggage tag
On your return:
- Welcome home pack
- Certificate of Recognition (on request)
- References (on request)
- Flights – as an ATOL bonded company, Oyster can book flights for you
- You need a valid passport that meets the requirements of the country you will be travelling to
- Insurance (covering your time with Oyster and any planned independent travel)
- Any costs associated with changing your return flight date if you need to
- Independent travel costs
- Home country travel costs
- Spending money for additional trips, food and entertainment
- Any further travel costs once you are returned to Luang Prabang at the end of your trip
- Visa costs – you should not need to apply for a visa in advance if you are from the UK and most western European countries. You will receive a visa on arrival for about £30. Advice given on longer stays – there will be costs associated.
Oyster is working hard to reopen this project. This will involve some changes to the running of the project including:
- Transfer amendments – to be confirmed
- Accommodation amendments – to be confirmed
- All volunteers must bring masks, gloves and hand sanitiser
- All volunteers must be able to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test (taken within 72 hours before departure)
- Prepare for a thorough orientation on arrival regarding health and safety measures at your project and in your country destination
- Social distancing of 1.5m must be observed during project work
- Volunteers must wear masks during the airport transfers
- There will be a daily check for temperature and symptoms
- Protocol is, and will continue to be, followed with the aim to minimise risk to staff and volunteers
- Strictest hygiene controls are in place for equipment and all public areas.
Volunteering with elephants is a huge draw on this project, however the most exciting part, for many, is to be helping create the future of elephant conservation in Laos. This project is rescuing elephants from logging and tourism, and providing mahouts with a sustainable alternative.
Volunteering with elephants is inspiring in itself – these are some of the world’s most loved animals after all. It is for that reason that this project is so important; elephant numbers in Laos are declining with terrifying rapidity, and it is estimated that, if nothing is done, the population will all but disappear within a few generations. This project is leading the way in finding a solution to this decline. The centre is rescuing elephants from the logging and tourism industries, and providing them with a safe haven to enjoy living a life as close to the wild as possible.
Becoming an elephant rescue volunteer will enable you to learn all about elephants and their conservation, and also help to create a future for the elephants of Laos.
Each day will be different, however you can expect your itinerary to look something like this:
7.30 – 8.30 Breakfast
9.00 – 12.00 Morning projects
12.00 – 13.00 Lunch
13.00 – 15.00 Volunteer projects / break (depending on the day)
15.00 – 17.00 Afternoon projects
During your initial 3 day orientation, you will be spending your time experiencing various parts of the centre. This will involve learning more about the elephant hospital, positive reinforcement, socialisation, enrichment, behaviour, the nursery and more. Once the induction is complete, you will be spending your mornings and afternoons on the volunteer project.
Volunteers need to be generally fit to do this project. It can get extremely hot during the day and so you need to be able to cope with the temperatures and undulating terrain. You need to be 17 or over.
The elephants that you will be working with have been rescued from the logging industry. Day in, day out for most of their lives they have had to be dragging tons of timber around the mountainous regions of Laos, often living a solitary lifestyle. This project is all about giving them back the life that they have never had. You will have the opportunity, during your orientation, to interact with the elephants and really get a feel for these impressive animals. Following on from this period, each day you will be able to enjoy the elephants from a close distance, watching them bathe in the lake, roam in the wild and enjoy their enrichments. At times, hands-on work and interaction may be required, but this is not to be expected.
There is no elephant riding, elephant feeding or elephant bathing on this project.
Oyster assesses projects carefully to ensure that they offer high standards of animal welfare and environmental practice. We also check that volunteers understand key points of good practice before working with animals. To find out more, see our animal welfare policy.
These elephants were all humanised and trained at a young age by their mahouts. The calling of a mahout is an admired and respected one, and knowledge is passed down from generation to generation. This area of Laos has a long history with elephants, and mahouts from this area are particularly respected. The mahouts are gentle and loving with their elephants, and it is amazing to see the bonds that exist between elephant and mahout.
The elephants on this project are encouraged to live a life as close to the wild as possible. Each day they will have limited interaction with humans, usually once in the morning and once in the afternoon, so that people can learn about these gentle giants and get a good appreciation of their size and intelligence. At other times of the day they will roam freely in the jungle or within the enrichment area, under the careful eye of the mahouts and the volunteers.
At night time, the elephants will be alone in the jungle, without the volunteers and the mahouts with them. In order to protect both the elephants and the crops that they might raid, the elephants are chained overnight. Their chain, which is loosely around one leg only, stretches to over 45m, allowing the elephants to fully graze and interact as normal, just over a shorter distance.
The elephants are allowed to graze where they please – something which is a luxury to them after many years of working. Elephants in the wild eat for about 16 hours each day, and this lush jungle environment is perfect to allow them to return to their natural habits.
Each mahout has a small hook which they use to guide the elephants, where necessary. As is traditional with mahouts, they may sometimes ride their elephants to guide them into the forest to sleep at night time. They ride on their elephants’ neck, the strongest part of the elephant. The elephant’s head weighs about 150kg alone, with the trunk weighing a further 150kg, so its neck muscles are incredibly strong.
This project was founded in 2011 to offer an alternative for working elephants. Their mission is to start a new era for conservation of the Asian elephant within Laos. They are very keen on education, wanting both locals and foreigners to understand the threats facing elephants, and what can be done to save them, With only two elephants born for every ten that die, the sacred national emblem of Laos is under serious threat of extinction.
The centre provides a home to elephants, both on a longterm and a short term basis. They have an elephant hospital on site, where they will treat injured elephants who will stay here to convalesce before going back to their owners. They also have a small nursery, where pregnant mothers can come here to have their baby safely, ensuring that mother and baby stay together for several years so that the baby is strong enough to survive. 90% of babies that are taken from their mothers too early will die, and so it is essential to keep mother and baby together for as long as possible. This helps to ensure that the survival of elephants continues.
This project is leading the way in researching elephants that have been captive, and that are now semi-wild. Their research is helping other owners of elephants to help their elephants to lead a better and more fulfilling life. As this project grows, more elephants can be rescued and cared for here.
Whilst late-availability is possible, we would advise booking as soon as you can to guarantee your ideal dates. Our projects are very popular and spaces can fill up several months in advance, especially for the months of June to September.
This area has four quite distinct seasons. Generally these are:
Cold season – December to February. The weather is generally dry at this time of year, with the weather nice and warm during the daytime. In the evenings however it can get quite cold, so you will need some warmer layers.
Dry season – March to May. The jungle looks very dry at this time of year, and it can get very hot during the day time.
Rainy season – from May to July there is usually just short bursts of rain in the morning. This is a beautiful time of year to come, as the jungle is very green and the temperatures comfortable.
Wet season – from August to October the weather can be very wet. The elephants love the rain however, and the jungle is stunning at this time of year.
This being said, it can be rainy or sunny at any time of the year, so you should always have your sun block and raincoat to the ready!
We would recommend budgeting approximately £30 a week for food and free time activities.
Your closest cash machine is located about 30 minutes drive from the project. You should make sure to have cash for at least the duration of your stay here.
If you are from the UK and most western European countries you should not need to get a visa before arrival. Most nationalities will be able to get a visa on arrival allowing you to stay for up to 30 days and costing about 35 USD. You will need to bring a passport photo with you for the visa. You will need to make sure your passport is valid for a minimum of 6 months after you arrive in Laos.
It is easiest to stay in Laos for a maximum of 4 weeks. If however you would like to stay for longer, you will need to do a visa run.
Most of our volunteers are independent travellers and you will become part of a group of people from around the world here. It is fine to travel with friends or as part of a small group too however- more the merrier!
The simple answer to this question is, yes absolutely!
It is important to bear in mind however that this may not be like other holidays that you have taken. Remember that you are volunteering, and this means that you will be put to work! This sort of holiday is a world away from sun loungers and cocktails, with our volunteers often heading home tired but immensely satisfied. If you think that you will need a bit of relaxing time on your trip too, do make sure to factor this in when your time on the project is complete.
You should visit your doctor or travel nurse to find out what vaccinations you will need.
It is strongly recommended that you are vaccinated against Hepatitis, rabies and tuberculosis. These are entirely optional (at your own risk) as these diseases do occur in Thailand but have not occurred at the centre. Please follow your doctor’s advice.
You may be asked about malaria in the area – whilst this is not present in Luang Prabang or in the area where the sanctuary is located, it may be in other areas that you travel to independently.
There are medical facilities in the local town, approximately 20 minutes from the project sites. Larger hospitals can be found within 2 hours drive.
The centre is in a very secure and safe area and a full safety briefing will be given upon arrival. There is a safe on site for storing valuables. You will be sharing on-site accommodation with other volunteers and the coordinators live on site too. You will be fully trained for all aspects of the role.
The sanctuary is about 2 hours from Luang Prabang, which is a bustling tourist city – you should follow the same precautions as you would in any city, and keep an eye on your belongings. The local town is small and friendly, and having foreigners living there brings you many smiles and waves. Please be aware that this is a Buddhist country, and you should not have too much flesh on show.
You are located about 20 minutes from the town of Sayaboury.
There is no wifi at the centre. Most volunteers choose to unlock their phones at home and buy a local SIM card to access data. This is often faster connection than wifi!
There is mobile phone signal at the centre and you can receive incoming emergency calls at the centre too.
Laos is 7 hours ahead of GMT (GMT+7).
In Laos, a 2 pinned American style plug is used.
You will have your evenings free and you can take one day off each week.
- There are kayaks available at the centre that you can use to explore the lake.
- There is a fascinating museum on site where you can learn all about the history of elephants in Laos and in Asia in general.
- There are lovely balconies, a bar and a restaurant where you can relax with a book or with other volunteers.
- The beautiful UNESCO city of Luang Prabang is two hours away
Supervision will be fairly intensive during the first few days, when you will receive a thorough induction and work-related training. Once you are comfortable with things, you might not always have a supervisor working alongside you, but there will always be staff and other volunteers around to help, and you will always be accompanied for any high risk activities.
Staff at Oyster’s head office and in-country will be responsible for your safety and welfare while you are at the project. This will start from the moment you are picked up from the airport until the day that you are dropped off in Luang Prabang at the end of your project. Before and after these times, you will be outside Oyster’s responsibility and should make sure that you act safely and avoid risk. This is also true if you choose to leave the project during your time off. We will give you plenty of guidance and advice about this.
Please note, in contrast to your time on the project, whilst you are in Luang Prabang you will not be under direct supervision. We expect you to make sensible choices and follow our advice on staying safe.
Oyster has personally hand-picked some of the best volunteering projects out there. With so much amazing choice, it can be hard to make a decision. Our Animal Welfare Destination Manager, Anne, has written a guide to help you to choose the best animal volunteering project for you.