Being a conscientious traveler has always been top of our minds when planning our trips and activities. The first time we came across Elephant Sanctuaries was on YouTube, thanks to LostLeBlanc. You see images on Instagram with travelers riding on the backs of Elephants, trekking through the jungle, in the water for that picturesque photo, performing in the circus’ but do you really know what happens to get Elephants to do such unnatural acts?
Did you know?
- When they’re babies, elephants are taken from their mothers and families in the wild. Due to their high sale value, not only are babies illegally captured, but their protective mothers are also often killed or captured as they try to save them.
- “Training” begins immediately. The babies are tied down and beaten with bullhooks and other instruments designed to inflict pain until their spirits are broken until they are willing to obey their “trainers” to avoid pain.
- Researchers have found that elephants who are subjected to this “breaking” or “crush” process often develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
- More than 3,000 elephants—including babies—are held captive in elephant tourist-attraction “orphanages” and “parks” across Asia, and the number is growing…
Be a conscientious traveler and make better choices. Think before you invest money into inhumane tourist traps.
Why Visit an Elephant Sanctuary
Elephant Sanctuaries raise money to save Elephants from inhumane conditions, providing them with the best life possible for their remaining years. They are an ethical and sustainable eco-tourism project. The Elephants’ welfare is their main priority and you can tell based on the interactions between Elephant and their mahout, or caregiver.
Not all Elephant Sanctuaries are created equal. Please do your research before booking. There are some locations that label themselves as “sanctuaries,” in reality they are not. With the label of “sanctuary,” they still allow tourist to ride Elephants.
If you are planning to visit an Elephant Sanctuary, we recommend this one.
What to Expect
If you would have told me a year ago that I would be in a pick-up truck on my way to feed and bathe Elephants I would have thought you were nuts. But here we were enjoying an adventurous ride through the windy coastline roads.
It’s a relaxing adventure navigating the rolling hills, farmlands, and forests. An experience that I will never forget.
When we arrived at the Sanctuary around 8 am, we were immediately greeted by the warm & friendly staff along with 1 of the 4 Elephants that we would be getting to know. I hopped off the truck, smiling ear to ear, and introduced myself to my new friend, one of the elder Elephants at the sanctuary. There’s something magical about being that close to an Elephant, eye to eye.
The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary offers a variety of different experiences including half-day, full-day, and overnight packages. Remember not all camps offer the same packages. Be sure to book at least 24 hrs. in advance online. We opted for the half-day tour. Transportation is free from Kata, Karon, Patong, Kamala, Nai Yang, Bang Tao, Surin Beach but there may be additional costs if you are coming from outside the area. Also, make sure that you bring a small daypack with you. It will be easier to keep your gear when it’s time to swim and if you plan on bringing any souvenirs back. (All proceeds from souvenirs go to helping raise funds to save other Elephants in dire need of saving.)
A Run Down of the Itinerary
After an educating introduction on Elephants, our guides explained more about what their program offers and reviewed our itinerary.
We helped prepare Thai bananas, and watermelon to fill our buckets before the guides introduced us to the rest of the Elephants. We were lucky enough to visit a Sanctuary with a two-year-old baby Elephant. To say that she was the star is an understatement. The guides described her as both charismatic and naughty. If you weren’t careful she would easily take your entire bucket of food from you. Like a rambunctious toddler, she thought everything was hers.
Listen to the guides and be sure to fill your bucket with a variety of food. Watermelon is a special treat for the Elephants and one of the quickest ways to win them over. Don’t be shy and let the elephants take food from your hand with their trunks.
After we all had a chance to get more comfortable with each other. It was time to get down and dirty. Twice a day, guest are able to join the Elephants in the mud pit to help them cool down and protect them from the sun. I haven’t had this much fun playing in the mud since I was a kid.
Invest in some water shoes. These aren’t necessary but will certainly come in handy. You will get dirty so just embrace it. Throw some mud on your body and have fun. The Sanctuary has a photographer that will take pictures for you to capture the memories. If you want to capture your own videos I recommend using a GoPro with chest harness. Stay away from the rear of the elephants, if they have an accident you don’t want to be behind them.
After the mud spa, the Elephants are ready to rinse off in a nearby lake. Grab a bucket, sponge and jump in! Don’t worry the water is not that deep. This is where we got a chance to really see the Elephants let loose. The best part is when they used their trunks to spray water! They love being scrubbed so don’t be afraid to get close and give them a rub down, especially right behind the ears.
Bring a microfiber towel and a plastic bag to put your swimwear in when you are done. You will be given an opportunity to shower and rinse off when you are done, soap is provided so no need to bring it.
We really worked up an appetite. The food is authentic and homemade. We had a chance to enjoy pad thai, chicken masala, stir-fried vegetables, white rice, and french fries (for the western tastebuds). Water, tea and coffee are free and if you wanted a beer or cola they were available for purchase. The food was simple yet perfect. As we enjoyed our meals we had a chance to watch the Elephants enjoying theirs, as they wandered the area snacking on plants and sugar cane.
Be sure to bring some cash along with you for drinks and souvenirs. You can purchase Elephant Sanctuary swag (Shirts, Hats and Water bottles) and some unique tchotchkes. We purchased a T-Shirt and bracelets to remember the BEST DAY EVER by.
After our meal, we had a chance to say our goodbyes to the Elephants and guides. As a parting gift, we were all given an incredible handmade poncho to remember our experience. Shortly after we were back on the road enjoying a cool ocean breeze on the way back to our hostel.
Pay attention to which group you rode in with because you will want to ride with the same group on the way back.
They Genuinely Care About Each Elephant
The Elephants at these sanctuaries have lived hard lives, and it can be difficult to adjust to their new freedom. The guides and mahouts genuinely care for their well-being and safety. This was a once in a lifetime experience and something we are passionate about.
Interested in visiting Thailand make sure to check out Thailand | Top 10 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Phuket