I fell in love with elephants and started to take them from the logging industry to work with tourists in 2002 with my former company Tiger Trail. During this time, many local business people would not give me a chance. There had been others who started before me and had offered private rides at the Tad Kuang Si waterfall, however they had to stop because of lack of tourists. What made my idea different, was that I established a camp in the beautiful landscape of Ban Xieng Lom on the riverbanks of the Nam Khan river, and I sold the rides in combination with bicycle & Kayak tours.
This was the key to its success.
Please Note: During this time, (over 15 years ago just as Laos was opening to tourism), offering Elephant rides was the only to get tourists interested and therefore the only way to get elephants out of the logging industry. It was and still is, extremely cost intensive to look after elephants and so money had to be raised so that we could support their new lives in comfort.
Nowadays the situation has changed for the better and elephant rides are not attractive any more. Luckily, many travelers are now much more interested in supporting businesses with an ethical background. Therefore, it was a logical move that I, after Elephant Village where we sold in this time only rides, started with an entirely no riding concept under the name of MandaLao.
What Makes Us Different?
While the market has shifted towards a pure "no riding" philosophy, I have seen the effect on the local culture that this is having. I noticed that the bond and traditions between mahout (elephant rider) and elephant, was slowly disappearing.
"Chateau Orientale" has decided to go in a different direction. Instead of banning our mahouts from riding their elephants, we are comfortable to let them continue their traditional ways. Whilst we still ban tourist rides, the use of the bull hook and any physical forms of control, we believe that riding creates a strong bond.
We hope that this can filter down to newer generations of mahout to create a much more gentle form of elephant ownership that can last for generations.
To be 100% clear: We do not, nor will we ever have riding as a tour, but we will always allow our mahouts to keep their connection with their elephants.
I can say without any doubt: After 20 years working with elephants in the tourism industry in Luang Phabang; the team of "Chateau Oriental" can call itself not only the first, but also the most experienced company in this field.