Laos Elephant Conservation and Village Schools Project

Stay in a remote elephant sanctuary and help these amazing giants and work in village schools, building classroom blocks and teaching English to young kids. 

  • Day to day care and socialisation of elephants
  • Working within local schools teaching English
  • Restore the local primary schools
  • Cultural tour of the country – markets, temples
  • Adventure tour of Laos – cycling, kayaking, tubing, waterfalls

Volunteer feeding an elephant

Our program is based within the Nam Tien Protected Area at the ‘Elephant Conservation Centre’. VESA chose this project specifically because it was unlike the majority of elephant camps that currently exist in Asia; the ECC prides itself on its values. Firstly, there is strictly no riding of the elephants. The elephants are by no means a source of entertainment: we are there to work around them, and not the other way around. 

In Laos, approximately 50% of the elephant population is domesticated. This tradition dates back centuries, and elephants were used primarily in the logging industry. Each family-owned elephant has been brought up and trained by a ‘mahout’ - a carer. Often, they grow up in isolation and are deprived of the socialisation that wild elephants get from their herd. 

The ECC’s paramount objective is to rehabilitate formerly domesticated elephants and one day release them into the wild. This is a complex and lengthy process during which the elephants will reside at the ECC, receive treatment for their physical and/or mental injuries, and of course, spend time socialising with other elephants.Our volunteers assist the centre’s team in a variety of projects such as:

  • Planting and harvesting banana and sugar cane, 
  • The building and maintenance of the centre’s infrastructure (veterinary clinic, elephant nursery, viewing platforms…), 
  • Creating and setting up enrichment exercises, and 
  • Observing the elephants’ socialisation time. 

Just as importantly, our volunteers work within local primary schools teaching the cutest kids in the world. They are shy but so willing to learn. The education program focuses on teaching English, however our program also encompasses basic hygiene, nutrition, recycling and waste management. Providing an introduction to English is vital as it can mean escaping the poverty cycle and securing their future. 

We work in rural Laos in the Sayaboury area, which suffers from a severe lack of resources. As such, the schools tend to be in bad shape, so will be brightening things up with fresh coats of paint, some cute murals and installing much needed infrastructure. For instance, our volunteers work to  recondition existing buildings, as well as construct new classrooms, bathroom blocks and water-catchments.

Volunteer helping child

The second part of our adventure program encompasses both discovering the cultural aspect of the country as well as exploring its incredible outdoors. The activities include visiting the national museum and the country’s oldest temples, visiting an incredible community empowerment project at the ‘Living Land’ farm, as well as kayaking, tubing, caving and jumping off waterfalls! 

This program is one for the foodies. During your volunteer week at the conservation centre, a team of chefs will prepare a mix of traditional Laos & western cuisines using the freshest locally sourced ingredients. From fragrant soups, tasty stir fries or even their version of fried chicken chips this is one place you won’t go hungry. During the adventure week we eat out at a variety of popular restaurants where you can choose to try adventurous regional dishes or simply pick a favourite from back home. We cater for any and all food requirements.

A Volunteer Eco Students Abroad program allows you the opportunity to make a difference and enjoy incredible moments in some of the most beautiful and remote parts of the world.

"What an amazing two weeks - The best time of my life! Thank you so much for the opportunity to make a difference. Laos has been a huge eye opener and I am extremely thankful for the VESAbroad program for letting me better myself and others around me. The tour leaders were such a team and they worked so well together. Overall a life changing experience and the Laos people and children will be forever in my heart".  Annie – University of Colarado

"TMost amazing opportunity being able to volunteer with the program. Could not fault the experience, the Laos leaders were amazing at their job and made everyone feel so comfortable straight away". Siobhan – non-student

About Laos

The Peoples’ Democratic Republic of Laos is located in the center of Indochina, sharing borders with China to the North 416 kilometers, Myanmar to Northwest 236 kilometers, Thailand to the West 1,835 kilometers, Cambodia to the South 492 kilometers and Vietnam to the East 1,957 kilometers.

With a total area of 236,800 square kilometers, around 70% of Laos' terrain is mountainous, reaching a maximum elevation of 2,820 meters in Xieng Khouang Province. The landscapes of northern Laos and the regions adjacent to Vietnam, in particular, are dominated by rough mountains.

The Mekong River is the main geographical feature in the west and, in fact, forms a natural border with Thailand in some areas. The Mekong flows through nearly 1,900 kilometers of Lao territory and shapes much of the lifestyle of the people of Laos. In the South the Mekong reaches a breadth of 20 kilometers, creating an area with thousands of islands.

The people of Laos

Laos has a population of 6.5 million people. There are 49 ethnic groups and four main languages.
Lao people are frank, open and friendly, and they possess a strongly developed sense of courtesy and respect and our volunteers will receive a warm welcome.

Laos Traditional Dress

Buddhism is an inherent feature of daily life and casts a strong influence on Lao society. Lao woman can be seen each morning giving alms to monks, earning merit to lessen the number of their rebirths. It is expected that every Lao man will become a monk for at least a short time in his life.

The Elephant Conservation Centre

The Center was launched in association with conservation organisation ElefantAsia. The NGO has been working towards the protection of elephants in Laos for over 12 years, running welfare, vet care, breeding and mahouts training programmes. 

"Domesticated elephants in Laos are traditionally used in logging. Worked to the point of exhaustion, these elephants are not reproducing, with life spans, birth rates and quality of life considerably below acceptable standards."

Laos Asian Elephant

Laos Education

With only two elephants born for every ten that die, the Asian elephant, the sacred national emblem of Laos, is under serious threat of extinction. If immediate action is not taken, the Lane Xang or 'Land of a Million Elephants’ stands to lose not only its elephant populations, but a major component of Lao cultural heritage.

With these threats in mind, the ECC and VESA have joined forces to:
  • Encourage natality by creating an elephant nursery and a “Baby Bonus” programme
  • Enhance access to veterinary care by offering the qualified services of a permanent hospital
  • Propose training sessions to mahouts in various fields (tourism, care and welfare, traditional medicine)
  • Reconvert logging elephants into fair, environmentally friendly ecotourism
  • Ensure the viability of the ECC through visits on site
  • Inform the public about the condition of Lao elephants
  • Protect a highly endangered species from regional extinction
  • Ensure a sustainable and fair income for mahouts and their families
  • Support an environmentally friendly and fair business approach
  • Protect ancestral cultures, knowledge and traditions
  • Protect a rich and fragile tropical ecosystem

Laos Asian Elephant

Some useful tips for our volunteers:

  • When you visit temples (‘Wat’) avoid wearing sleeveless shirts and short skirts/pants.
  • When you enter a Wat or a private home please remove your shoes. In traditional homes, people sit on low seats or cushions on the floor. Men usually sit with their legs crossed or folded to one side, women prefer solely the latter. Upon entering, guests may be served fruit or tea. These gestures of hospitality should not be refused.
  • Since the head is considered the most sacred part of the body and the soles of feet the least, please don't touch a person’s head nor use one’s foot to point at a person or any object.
  • Men and women rarely show affection in public. It is also forbidden for a woman to touch a Buddhist monk.
A Volunteer Eco Students Abroad program allows you the opportunity to make a difference and enjoy incredible moments in some of the most beautiful and remote parts of the world.

Southeast Asia Encountered

Itinerary 2019

Day 1

Flight to Vientiane’s Wattay International Airport.

Day 2

Upon arrival in Vientiane, you will be met by our local VESA team, easily recognisable with their VESA shirts and signs.  Whatever your travel arrangements, please ensure you are at the international arrivals halls at the time of the group flight arrival. From here, you will be transported by minivan to Dream Home Hostel where you will spend your first night. 

Day 3

We depart at 8:00am to head to the Elephant Conservation Centre, which is in the Nam Tien Protected Area in the Sayaboury Province. This will be your home for the duration of your volunteer week.

Day 4-9
These will be your volunteering days! You will be split into two groups and work on a rotation to undertake the following:
  • Construction and maintenance of the elephant nursery, socialisation area, veterinary clinic.
  • Planting and/or harvesting crops for elephant food.
  • Conducting enrichment exercises and observing the elephants during socialisation.
  • Working with children in a local primary school in Sayaboury teaching English, as well as basic hygiene, nutrition, recycling and waste management.
  • Renovating the primary school’s current infrastructure (sanding, painting, repairing and up-cycling), installing new play equipment and building new classroom blocks and bathrooms.
The daily schedule will run as follows:

07:30 am - Breakfast
08:30 am - Begin volunteer work
12:30 pm - Lunch
01:00 pm - Continue volunteer work
04:00 pm - End of work day 
04:30 pm -  Free time & activities (kayaking, swimming, lounging on a hammock…)
07:00 pm - Dinner
08:00 pm - Free time/activities

Following your last day of work, you will depart immediately for Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage town where we begin our adventure tour! Dinner will be upon arrival in Luang Prabang.
Day 10

Our adventure week is packed with activities for you to discover what makes Laos such a special place:

  • A full-day city tour of Luang Prabang. We visit a local market, the national museum, temples, U.X.O. museum, a silk-weaving workshop, ethnology center and a stunning climb up Mt. Phusay for a 360-degree view of the city! 
  • A pool & pizza party at La Pistoche

Day 11-12

A visit to the Living Land Farm to learn all about rice farming and how they have created project to empower the local community, followed by a visit to the Kuang Si Waterfall and bear sanctuary run by the Free the Bears Foundation or A scenic bike ride through the countryside for a kayak trip downriver past rural villages and elephants!
A scenic bike ride through the countryside for a kayak trip downriver past rural villages and elephants! 

Day 12-14
We spend the next few days in Laos’ adventure capital, Vang Vieng, and the schedule is just as busy. 
  • The Blue Lagoon awaits you with its crystal clear turquoise water and chill-out booths. Check out the zip-line option and cool off in the refreshing river water. 
  • See Vang Vieng from above in the optional sunset hot-air balloon tour! 
  • Experience the stunning karst limestone mountain scenery, trek through rice paddies to 4 great caves and cool off by tubing inside a cave. Then kayak and tube down the beautiful Song River back to Vang Vieng.
Day 15 Transfer by coach from Vang Vieng to Vientiane for your flight home or onward travels!


  • All accommodation: dorm accommodation with electricity, bed linen, pillows, full bathrooms and common areas. 
  • All meals except 1x lunch on transfer day back to Vientiane.
  • All volunteer materials and local builders/assistants/staff/guides.
  • Drinking water.
  • All in country transportation.
  • Entry fees to temples, palaces, museums etc.
  • All activities except where indicated as optional

This program is one for the foodies. During your volunteer week at the conservation centre, a team of chefs will prepare a mix of traditional Laos & western cuisines using the freshest locally sourced ingredients. From fragrant soups, tasty stir fries or even their version of fried chicken chips this is one place you won’t go hungry. During the adventure week we eat out at a variety of popular restaurants where you can choose to try adventurous regional dishes or simply pick a favourite from back home. We cater for any and all food requirements.

Optional extras: (approximate prices only): 

  • Zip-lining: $30 
  • Hot-air ballooning: $90
Please note that while at the ECC, there is no internet/wifi access (our staff will have an emergency phone). During the activity week, our hostels have complimentary wifi.
CURRENCY:  Laos uses the Kip. This can be withdrawn using your ATM card/travel card, or you can exchange Dollars/Pounds/Euro/Thai Baht in Luang Prabang. You can use ATMs and exchange money throughout the activity week in both Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. 


1 night Sihome Backpackers - Vientiane
Electricity, full bathrooms, bed linen/pillow

6 Nights Elephant Conservation Centre - Sayaboury 
Mosquito netting, linen, pillows and drinking water supplied.
All meals.

3 nights Khammanay Guesthouse - Luang Prabang 

3 nights Alisson Guest House - Vang Vieng

Electricity, full bathrooms, laundry facilities, bed linen. Internet available 

"I just wanted to say this has been the best experience I have had so far in my life. It was so enjoyable and fulfilling.  I especially loved working in the Laos school - the children were so appreciative and I was so impressed with how much they had learned. All people; volunteers and staff have been fantastic. Best experience of my life I will miss everyone so much!". Taylor – Trent University

Southeast Asia Encountered 2019

Please note positions are highly limited for positions in our 2019 programs so submit your application early to secure the best chance of travelling with VESA this season.


Southeast Asia Encountered


Thurs May 16th  - Fri May 31st 2019


Thurs May 30th - Fri June 14th 2019

How much does the program cost?

To secure your place with VESA a non-refundable deposit of is payable immediately after you have received notification of your acceptance to participate in the program.

The balance or final payment of the program costs is due 45 days before departure. 

The total cost (inclusive of deposit and exclusive of flights) of the VESA program is: 


 Program  Deposit  Final payment  Total

Southeast Asia Encountered 2018 (2019 TBA)




What is included in the cost?

The cost includes:

  • Non refundable deposit to secure your space.
  • All accommodation for the duration of the program.
  • All ground transportation in country.
  • All meals (three meals per day) whilst in Laos, except for the free day.
    We can cater to vegetarians and some types of food allergies.
  • Some snacks.
  • Building materials needed for volunteer project.
  • Hiring of local skilled trades people to assist in the volunteer projects.
  • A monetary donation to the local host organisation.
  • 5 day Laos adventure tour.
  • All admission fees to local parks and sites.
  • All accompanying VESA staff members.
  • All administration costs.
  • Certification (if requested) of completion of the volunteer program. Great for your resume.

What is not included in the cost?

The cost does not include:

  • International airfares
  • Airfares to the International point of departure (if required)
  • International Departure Taxes
  • Travel insurance
  • Vaccinations
  • Any visas (if required)
  • Passports
  • Meals on one free day

What if I need to cancel?

If you wish to withdraw your enrolment please notify us in writing by post or by email. Please note that if you wish to withdraw your agreement you will be bound by the cancellation fees set out in the VESA Cancellation Policy.

Am I able to fundraise to offset the cost of the program?

Absolutely! In fact, we encourage all our students to actively fundraise to help pay for their program costs. Upon receipt of your deposit and confirmation onto a program, VESA will send out a fundraising package. The fundraising package contains a letter from VESA introducing you to potential donors, a letter from the local host organisation, a list of proven fundraising ideas and a receipt document.

Many of our students have raised all of the funds necessary for their program and flights costs. Join our Facebook group and page Volunteer Eco Students Abroad to see some of their ideas.

Please note, whilst VESA is a volunteer organisation it is not a registered charity so donations will not be tax deductible.

Trip Extension

Please note there are currently no trip extensions for the Southeast Asia Encountered Program, but watch this space.

Group Flight Information

Group Flights to Vientiane in Laos are arranged by VESA through reputable licensed travel agents and offered to our volunteers.

There are many advantages to travelling with the group:

  • You only have to pay the initial deposit to hold your seat rather than the whole amount leaving loads of time for fundraising.
  • You will be travelling with a big group of fellow volunteers.
  • You will be met by our friendly staff on arrival at your destination

VESA Group Flight booking forms will be emailed to all confirmed volunteers on or around the 1st December 2018. You may book your own flights and then inform VESA of your itinerary so that we can be assured you will be able to meet our schedule. 

Group Flights: Southeast Asia Encountered 2019 TBA

Laos Flights
Group Depart Los Angeles Depart Vientiane


Frequently asked questions

Is Laos Safe?

Safety is a good question, and a matter we take very seriously. Laos was actually chosen as our destination because of the security of the location. 

VESA staff members meet the designated Group Flight at the arrival hall of the airport, where they are accompanied to our hostel and then on to the elephant Conservation Centre. Our VESA staff members are with the volunteers in the centre’s accommodation overnight and the whole group stays together. 

The volunteers are supervised and accompanied on all volunteer work, activities, overnight accommodation and in country transportation by a VESA rep.

 As with all our programs, safety of our participants is our #1 priority. 

We are aware that for some of our participants this may be their first experience abroad or even away from their families. Should they have any queries or need any assistance while on program there will always be someone nearby to help and you should not hesitate to ask any question at all. We are definitely there to make our volunteers have the best possible experience.

VESA closely monitors all political, civil and environmental situations in Laos. Should we deem that the area is unsafe for travel we will readjust the program accordingly.

Please visit your government’s travel website for further information on travelling conditions throughout the South Pacific.

Who is leading the program?

Volunteers on the VESA programme will be accompanied at all times by members of our staff who are all qualified Senior First Aid technicians. 

In Laos, we work with an already established Non Profit organization. The Elephant Conservation Centre, and at all times will be accompanied by the organization’s staff as well as two VESA staff members. On tour both staff members as well as a local guide will travel with you.

How is the weather?

The climate in Laos is tropical and warm year round.

I can't speak Lao, is that a problem?

Not at all - all our guides in Laos speak the local language. It doesn’t hurt to learn a few greetings which will be sure to garner some smiles from the locals!

Can I ring/email home?

There is very limited cell phone coverage whilst on the first week of the program. Internet is not available during the volunteer week, but will be available for a fee at reception at our hostels in Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. 

How much money do I need?

All accommodation and food is included in the cost of the program. However if you wish to buy that special necklace or souvenir for back home, then you will need to bring along some cash. 

At Laos International airport on arrival there are ATMs for you to take out local currency, the ‘Kip’, for drinks, snacks and souvenirs. $US Dollars are accepted for larger purchases and are easily changed.  It is extremely important that you alert your bank and credit card company that you will be travelling overseas so that they do not put a hold on your card. A quick phone call is all it takes.

Optional activities in Laos i.e. hot air ballooning can be paid for by cash on the spot

What is the currency in Laos?

The Lao Kip and $US dollars are accepted for larger purchases and are easily changed.

What transport in country will be used?

In Laos we travel by coach!

What do I need to bring?

VESA will be sending all participants detailed travel information approx 45 days prior to departure. This will include information on the Volunteer Project, the centre you will be staying in, packing lists, and other valuable tips.

Do I need any vaccinations?

No vaccinations are mandatory however VESA strongly recommends that you speak to your medical practitioner about any further immunisations you may need.

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date. Pack a travel first aid kit, especially as you will be travelling away from major city centres. Malaria is a risk factor in rural Laos. Malaria prevention options should be discussed with a travel medicine specialist prior to departure. There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.

Do I need insurance?

Yes. All participants must provide VESA with proof of medical insurance prior to departure.

Do I need a Visa?

Most travellers need a visa to enter Laos. A 30-day tourist visa can be obtained on arrival at the airport in Vientiane. The current price for a visa is between $30 and $50USD (USD cash only, passport photo required). Visas cost an extra $1USD on weekends and public holidays.

Health and Safety – Laos

Every aspect of the program, from your departure to your return, has safety as the highest priority.

Laos and the Elephant Conservation Centre were chosen as our destination because of the security of the location and the friendliness of the people.

We are aware that for some of our participants this may be their first experience abroad or even away from their families. Should you have any queries or need any assistance while on program there will always be someone nearby to help and you should not hesitate to ask any question at all. We are definitely there to make our volunteers have the best possible experience.

Laos Health and Safety


  Health and Safety - Laos
1If you chose to travel on the group flight you will be travelling with the people who will be your companions on the program.
2Your flight will be met at Vientiane International Airport and we will have a fleet of mini buses to take you to your accommodation
You will be living in a shared, same sex room, in picturesque accommodation at the centre located in Sayabouri with the whole group and our VESA staff. You will have access to all the usual facilities you would expect. You will be in a safe and secure environment with facilities to lock up your valuables.
VESA and centre staff will prepare all your food, and you will have access to unlimited supplies of bottled water where necessary.
5Each day you will be accompanied at all times by one of our Group Leaders, and any activities you are involved in will be conducted under the supervision of qualified on-site mahouts and veterinarians.
6All VESA Group Leaders are first aid qualified. There is a European private hospital in Vientiane.
7At the end of the program you will be transferred to the airport and accompanied to your flight. You will travel home with your new friends and a great sense of accomplishment.

“I just wanted to thank you, the VESA staff, as well as the VESA tour leaders for an outstanding job that you do throughout the year, and that you continue to do. We need more people in the world like you guys. The trip was so well organized and Juliana had an amazing time in South Africa. She feels so privileged to have worked with your organization, meet wonderful people during her journey, work with the beautiful children, and volunteer in aiding to make a difference in an individual's life. South Africa and Swaziland are two countries that Juliana will never forget about; it will forever have a place in her heart. As a mother, it was with great comfort to know that she was in good hands with the VESA organization and every time I needed a question to be answered you were patiently there for me along with VESA. I would highly recommend your organization to all those who are willing to visit a beautiful country and partake in volunteer work.”
Cheers to you all,
Franca (mother of Juliana C)




Season Report NH 2018

Season Report SH 2018

  • Achievement


    • Four primary schools fully refurbished and painted with two classroom blocks added.
  • Achievement


    • Over seven hundred hours of hands on elephant conservation work
  • Achievement


    • Over eight thousand hours of face to face English language education

Go on, step into an adventure that will change your life!

Apply Now

South East Asia Project Location