Elephant festival in Laos draws jumbo crowd

A GRAND parade of 69 elephants was the main feature of the opening ceremony on Saturday, which took place at Sanamluang in the provincial capital, Xayaboury district.

The festival, which runs from February 17-22, is being attended by thousands of people and is the highlight of the province’s activities for Visit Laos Year 2018.

Deputy Provincial Governor Bounphak Inthapanya told Vientiane Times she had seen many tourist attractions around the country but nowhere else provided the spectacle of elephant shows and rides like Xayaboury, which was hugely popular among visitors.

“It is clear that riding these great beasts is a popular activity. Since December until now, many tourists, both Lao and foreign, have come to ride elephants in Xayaboury. Some days, about 100 people take rides,” she said.

Visitors like to pose for photos with the elephants and watch them perform shows, believing this will bring them good fortune.

President Bounnhang Vorachit presented with a bouquet at the Elephant Festival. – VIENTIANE TIMES/ANN

During Visit Laos Year 2018, the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism is actively working to draw about five million visitors, with every province offering a colourful programme of events.

Last year, more than 100,000 foreign tourists visited Xayaboury province.

Xayaboury district has more than 50 elephants to entertain visitors, who can also visit the Elephant Conservation Centre at the Namtien reservoir, about 10km from the town centre.

There, they can see the elephants bathing and can help wash the animals.

Deputy Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Ounethouang Khaophanh, said tourism has links with many aspects of life and can generate income, create jobs, and reduce poverty.

Xayaboury province has staged an Elephant Festival every year since 2007. Other countries have an interest in Laos’ elephant activities and conservation efforts.

Elephant tourism is becoming increasingly popular and many people want to see elephants taking part in various activities.

“During the festival, the town is packed with Lao and foreign visitors who are occupying all the hotels and guesthouses. The rooms have been full since Friday or earlier,” Ounethouang said.

The festival celebrates the longstanding relationship between Lao communities and elephants, and highlights the animals’ place in Lao culture and history.

It aims to engage the interest of the younger generation and encourage them to understand the importance of preserving the elephant population.

Elephants are recognised for their intelligence, ability to learn, and insight, and for the close relationship they form with their mahouts. – Text by Vientiane Times/ANN