When fresh restrictions were imposed on the logging industry in 2016, scores of elephants found themselves out of a job. Threatened by poachers in the wilds of the Bago Yoma Ranges, and with their previous owners unable to support them, a lucky few were given refuge at the Wingabaw Elephant Conservation Camp. U Khin Myint opened the Wingabaw camp in order to take care of the elephants, and allow visitors to learn more about these gentle giants.A natural lake at the camp site allows visitors to observe elephants, both young and old, splashing around and cooling down. Each elephant has an oozi (the Myanmar word for mahout or handler), with whom they forge a close bond.
Visitors can offer sweetcorn and sugarcane to the elephants. Photo opportunities abound, and five-minute elephant rides are also made available.The oozies and their families live in the immediate area, never far from their pachyderm charges. Set in a pleasant, wooded surrounding, there is a teashop onsite - as well as a clinic for treating any elephant ailments.The camp is currently home to a couple of baby elephants, who were brought to the camp after their mothers were killed by poachers in Ayeyerwady Region.
The youngest of these is Mary, a friendly six-month-old, who suckles milk from a baby’s bottle.
There are two sessions per day during which visitors can interact with the elephants (7am-11am and 4pm-6:30pm). In between, the elephants are left to their own devices. Whichever session you choose to join, it’s worth making a stop in Bago, just 30 minutes’ drive back along the highway toward Yangon.
Bago is a small city with a lot of history. The Shwethalyaung reclining Buddha is believed to have been built in the year 994 and, measuring in at over 55 metres in length, it’s one of the longest in the world. The Mahazedi Pagoda offers great views if you climb to the top, however it should be noted that this can only be fully appreciated by men: women are not permitted to ascend the final section.
There is a secret spot by the river behind Kothein Kothan Pagoda, where restaurants made of bamboo extend out over the water and serve salads and snacks - as well as khao ye or rice wine. The restaurants also provide guitars for patrons to use, and rubber tubes for those who wish to splash around in the river on hotter days.After spending a few hours relaxing by the river, you can head back to Yangon and arrive by early evening, refreshed and ready to face another week of city life.
Wingabaw is located just over two hours’ drive from downtown Yangon (depending on traffic), beyond the town of Bago along the Yangon-Mandalay Highway. With no direct public transport options for reaching the camp, it is best to travel by private car or hired taxi. Entry to Wingabaw is K1000 for Myanmar nationals, and K20,000 for foreigners.