Interact up close while also supporting ethical treatment and local economies
For many animal lovers, a visit to Thailand might not feel complete without seeing a beautiful elephant up close. However, the methods used to tame and train these gentle giants are becoming very transparent, and the reality is far from pretty. Thankfully there are ethical organisations and activists who are changing industry norms, and giving these mistreated animals a voice while trying to ensure that local livelihoods are not lost. As a general rule of thumb, ethical centres do not use hooks for training purposes, and don’t allow elephant riding.
Here are three sanctuaries that use positive reinforcement training methods and also allow visitors to feed and view elephants in their natural habitat:
Elephant Nature Park
Located 60km from Chiang Mai City, Elephant Nature Park is a unique project that has been ongoing since the 1990’s. Founder Sangdeaun Lek Chailert and her team rescue dozens of elephants from all over Thailand and take care of elephants, buffaloes, dogs and cats as well as other species. Visitors of all ages can feed and bathe elephants while walking through the jungle during the half, full and two-day visits.
How much: Prices start from THB2,500 (about $565) for a half or full-day visit. Click here to book online.
Elephant Nature Park, 1 Ratmakka Road, Phra Sing, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand, Tel: (+66) (0) 53 272855, www.elephantnaturepark.org
Phuket Elephant Sanctuary
This retirement home for sick, old, injured or tired elephants who previously worked for tourism entertainment or in the logging industry is pioneering ethical elephant tourism in Phuket. You can feed, walk and hang out with elephants as they play, bathe and give themselves DIY massages by rubbing against trees. The half-day experience includes a vegetarian lunch and most importantly lots of interaction with the elephants as they forage for food and splash about in the natural lagoon.
How much: A half-day tour is THB3,000 (about $680). Click here to book online!
Phuket Elephant Sanctuary Co. Ltd, 111/116, Moo 8, Saunneramit 1, Thombol Paklok, Amphur Talang, Phuket, Thailand, www.phuketelephantsanctuary.org
Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary
Built on 500 acres of forested land in Northern Thailand, Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary was founded by Katherine Connor in memory of a courageous baby elephant named Boon Lott. BLES’ primary mission is to rescue and protect elephants in Thailand from illegal logging, harmful tourism and extinction. They provide jobs and housing to several mahouts (elephant trainers) and their families in the surrounding village, which ensures that they support and involve the local community to help solve the problem. Guest numbers are kept low so that visitors and elephants can enjoy their time together. Experiences include hiking and walking with the elephants, scrubbing them down, and gathering their food. Guests typically stay for 2-5 nights.
How much: The fee per guest per night is 5,000 baht (about $1,130). This all-inclusive fee (excluding alcoholic beverages), includes pick-up and drop-off from Ultraditt bus/train stations and Sukhothai airport; all meals, including meals at local restaurants; internet access; laundry service; and unlimited elephant time. Email [email protected] to book.