Vientiane Times


Home Lao

Bond between Lao people and elephants on display at festival

The Boun Xang (Elephant Festival) held annually in Xayaboury province celebrates the longstanding relationship between Lao communities and elephants, and highlights the animals’ place in Lao culture and history.
The festival aims to engage the interest of the younger generation and encourage them to understand the importance of preserving the elephant population in Laos.

An elephant and its mahout across a river.

Elephants are recognised for their strength, intelligence, ability to learn, and insight, and for the close relationship they form with their mahouts.
According to the Department of Livestock and Fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, in 1975 there were as many as 900 domesticated elephants in Laos. But by 2008 that number had dropped to about 700, and now the population may be reduced to less than 500.
As well as a lack of breeding opportunities and a rapidly ageing population, the elephants are at risk from poachers and disease. However, elephants now undergo more health checks and their mahouts have been given training on how to treat them when they fall ill.      
The Deputy Governor of Xayaboury province, Mr Phetphixay Sounvily, said the province has staged an Elephant Festival in February every year since 2007.
“Xayaboury has more elephants than any other province in Laos,” he said proudly.
The preservation of these huge mammals is doubly important given Laos’ moniker “The Land of a Million Elephants”, so everyone has a duty to protect them and ensure they remain a part of Lao life, as well as letting the world know about the enduring presence of elephants in Laos.
This year’s festival took place at the main stadium in Xayaboury provincial capital, which is next to the elephant garden on the banks of the Namhoung River.
During the festival, the elephants exhibited a wide range of skills and performed circus acts they had been trained to do for audiences.
They held festival signs and flags, presented flowers and other objects  to people, danced, painted, hit gongs and drums, played a khaen, played football, took part in a running competition, gave a massage demonstration, and performed other activities to entertain spectators.
Nowadays, elephant tourism is becoming increasingly popular and many people want to see elephants taking part in various activities. Visitors like to pose for photos with the elephants and watch them perform, believing this will bring them good fortune.
Xayaboury district has many elephants and is also home to the Elephant Conservation Centre at the Namtien reservoir, about 10km from the town centre. There visitors can see the elephants bathing and can help wash the animals if they want.

The Elephant Festival in Xayaboury province.

These elephants know how to greet people, ask for food and other treats and how to show respect or thank someone who has given them gifts. The elephants have been trained well by their mahouts over a long period of time and aren’t dangerous, like those that roam wild in forests.
However, as with people, visitors should be friendly to the elephants and treat them with respect to ensure they remain calm and do not get agitated.
It is clear that riding these great beasts is a popular activity with both Lao people and foreign visitors.
During a visit to the provincial capital, visitors should also take time to explore the area’s historical and cultural sites, such as Sibounheuang, Sisavangvong and Phou Thork temples.
Sibounheuang temple is believed to be the oldest in the town and perhaps the province, and many aspects of its past evoke its history, such as the ruins of the ordination hall.
The temple, by the Houng River in Yai village not far from the town centre, has some striking architecture and a beautifully decorated interior.
Built in 1456, the original ordination hall was made of wood and was badly damaged by fire several times, resulting in the tragic loss of historic palm leaf manuscripts.
The last fire occurred in 1889 and since then the temple has been restored several times. In 2010, a 6-metre long sleeping Buddha image was built.
The temple also has a Buddha image called Patchanchay which is believed to be more than 600 years old. People entering the temple like to pray to the Buddha for protection, particularly when planning a long trip.
Sisavangvong temple, located in Simeuang village in the centre of Xayaboury district, is the largest temple. It serves as an administration and education centre for monks and novices in the province.
It was built in 1920 and named after the king who ordered its construction. King Sisavangvong ordered the construction of many temples during his reign and two bear his name in Xayaboury province, with the other in Sisavang village, Paklai district.
The temple was originally situated by the Houng River but the area was subject to flooding and landslides so it was rebuilt in its current location in 1942.
The temple was rebuilt in the original style, with construction once again under the supervision of King Sisavangvong.
In 1943, a sizeable ordination hall, known as the sim, was built to house Buddha images and mixes traditional and modern architecture.
Meanwhile, Phou Thork temple, which is a much newer structure, is located on top of Thork Hill at about 330 metres above sea level in Thana village, just north of the town centre.
The temple opened to the public in 2013 and has become a popular spot for sightseeing and selfies with the hill-top affording stunning views over Xayaboury town and surrounds.
There visitors will be greeted by the 19.99-metre high Buddha statue standing in a blessing position. The site has become a popular spot for people wanting to pray as well as for those who want to get some exercise by climbing up and down the steps.

By Khonesavanh Latsaphao
 (Latest Update February 24, 2023)


Newspaper Subscription Prices l Newspaper Advertisement Prices l Online Advertisement Prices l Online Subscription Prices

Vientiane Times Phonpapao Village, Unit 32, Sisattanak District, P.O.Box: 5723 Vientiane, Lao PDR
Tel: (856-21) 336042, 336043; Fax: (856-21) 336041; Email:
Copyright © 1999 Vientiane Times.