We recently had a fantastic experience on this trip from Vietiane.
Organising it through a tour company, or calling Ban Na village, it is possible to arrange for a couple of guides to take you to the observation tower on the edge of the Phao Khuey National Park and then spend the night there awaiting wild elephants. Our trip was well organised through the staff at Ban Pako Guesthouse/Bungalows (another good stay within an hour of Vientiane).
Our guides were great and looked after us well on our overnight stay at the tower (lao lao included for free!!!). Having read the visitor book in the observation tower, it seems it is quite likely that the elephants won't turn up. However, if they do turn up (as happened for us), then the experience is unforgettable. And even if they don't this really is a lovely part of the world to trek through.
We saw over 10 wild elephants in all, including a couple of babies. We were even able to take some great photos and get within a few metres (from the safety of the tower, of course). Truely an unforgettable experience.
The trip isn't the cheapest thing to organise (about 100$ for two people - cheaper per head if there's more of you). However, some of the money goes in to a revolving fund for the village that the villagers can borrow against, and most of the rest goes to the project and the entrance fees for the national park. All in all, a very soundly run and thought through project.
We can send photos of the elephants is you wish. Just make sure and go and see them for yourselves!!!!!
#1 luciehayes has been a member since 14/3/2006. Posts: 4
Travellers beware - we just spent the night (Feb 2012) on the unfortunately misnamed "Elephant Observation Tower" (cost for 2 people, with dinner and breakfast: 800,000 kip). The "trek" from the village to the tower was not especially charming (much of it was through rice paddies - have these replaced the forest?). The guide, who was moving to another part of the country shortly thereafter and didn't have the worry of losing his job, admitted to us that elephants have not been seen near the tower since late 2010. We felt totally cheated, as the "director" of the program in the village had convinced us to stay overnight to have a better chance of seeing the elephants, putting significantly more cash in his pocket than if we'd stuck to our original plan of a quick daytime trek to the tower. By the time we realized this, it was too late to turn back. We were able to get 100,000 kip back the next day. The director and his daughter, in limited English, told us that the reason for the much-increased cost is that they need to cover the cost of some damage to villagers' crops done by the elephants in 2010 (we read later that damage resulted in villagers killing several elephants in one night, which is probably why they don't come to this area anymore). We felt bad but didn't feel it is fair to mislead and overcharge tourists in order to compensate for that misfortune. Even the village restaurant we ate in vastly overcharged us for Ramen noodles - it was as if the whole village was ready to get what they could from unwitting foreigners. The tower project may have started out with the best of intentions, but it does not seem to be the case anymore.
#2 carolinamoon has been a member since 16/2/2012. Posts: 1