An encounter with a gentle giant is truly extraordinary. Elephants have such powerful and positive energy, it is naturally passed on through their presence. They symbolize strength, wisdom, kindness and loyalty. Spending time with them is such a stimulating experience, but it’s important to visit an ethical sanctuary. Due to the mistreatment elephants have undergone in the past, they deserve to be in a cruelty-free and no-ride environment. Thankfully, there are many ethical elephant sanctuaries you can visit in Thailand.

Elephants have been a national symbol of Thailand for centuries. The sacred animals are represented in national emblems, artwork and literature. One of the reasons, is due to their contributions towards society. However, they were exploited in many ways. As a result, the population dropped by 90% in 100 years and they became an endangered species. Today, there are roughly between 3,000-4,000 elephants in Thailand. Approximately fifty percent are domesticated, and the others are taken care of at elephant sanctuaries.

At a real elephant sanctuary, elephants have pure freedom. First of all, they have caretakers (also known as mahouts in Thailand.) Secondly they are not forced to do anything. Thirdly, they have the proper space to move around freely. For your information, visiting an ethical sanctuary can actually help elephants survive. The funds go towards the development of these parks and provide necessities to the 4,000 kg mammals. Sanctuaries organize half day, full day and overnight tours. On average, a day tour costs $100 USD and an overnight tour costs $180USD. The fee includes your transportation, meals, activities (feeding, mud cleanses, water baths) and accommodation (if overnight).

A food for thought. According to Elephants World it costs $80USD daily to feed one elephant. Therefore to save this endangered species, it is important to support the parks . Here is a list of 7 Ethical Elephant Sanctuaries You Can Visit In Thailand.

1. Elephant Nature Park // Chiang Mai

Photo Cred: Trunks Up

The Elephant Nature park was established in 1990, in Northern Thailand. It is one of the best elephant conservation projects in Thailand. Located 60 km outside of Chiang Mai, the sanctuary has provided a haven for dozens of elephants. The park also features a tree-planting program that focuses on restoring the rain-forest.

2. Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary // Sukhothai

Photo cred: Blesele

Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary is a unique elephant sanctuary because they offer a homestay experience. You will have the opportunity to help take care of the elephants and the park’s facilities. There are currently 28 elephants of various ages, that were previously victims of cruelty and neglect.

3. The Happy Elephant // Mae Taeng 

Photo cred: gamper.anna

The elephants at the Happy Elephant are surrounded by bamboo trees and mountainous landscapes. During your visit you will spoil them with banana leaves and fresh cane sugar (chopped by yourself.) Then you will bathe with them in mud, and take a dip in the river together.

4. The Surin Project // Baan Tha Klang

Photo cred: The Surin Project

This elephant non-profit organization differentiates from others because you have to volunteer there for minimum of a week. Individuals can spend up to eight weeks (upon availability) in natural surroundings with elephants . Volunteers will feed, bathe and take daily walks with the elephants. They will also learn about the local Gwi culture in the remote village of Ban Tha Klang.

5. Phuket Elephant Sanctuary // Paklok 

Photo cred : Phuket Elephant Sanctuary

The elephants at Phuket Elephant Sanctuary were rescued from logging and tourism industries. This conservation park was one of the first ethical sanctuaries in Thailand. Phuket Elephant does not allow bathing with elephants. However, you can witness the bathing ritual from their Observation Sala. You will be able to interact with the elephants during a feeding moment. Many parks impersonate them in Phuket, so make sure to visit the one in Paklok.

6. Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary (BEES) // Mae Chaem

Photo cred : Got_kaven

Burm and Emily’s sanctuary teaches how to love, protect and respect elephants.Volunteer work is a requirement in order to visit this sanctuary. The program runs from 3 days up to one month. Most of your time will consist of hiking through the forest and uneven terrain. Therefore, an intermediate fitness level is suggested.

Many will say, a major part of visiting Thailand is spending a day at an elephant sanctuary. Without doubt, it is an out of this world experience. However, please make sure to plan your visit at an ethical elephant park. One that is compassionate towards elephants and follows ethical guidelines.