How to See Elephant Ethically in Thailand

The elephant is a proud symbol of Thailand.  There are many places to visit with these gentle giants, but the most popular location is near Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.  There are many tour companies to choose from for your elephant experience, however, I encourage you to not choose one that offers elephant riding.  In order to train the elephants to accept riders and be submissive to humans,they undergo a lot of torture from a young age.  This is can include being beaten with bull hooks, being chained up, separated from their mothers, and poor health care and nutrition.  Elephants aren’t designed to carry things on their backs so the long term effects of weight is damaging to their spines and feet from trekking daily.  The chairs tied to them rub their skin and cause damage that can easily become infected.  If we adore these creatures so much, why would we support this cruel treatment? So i decided to find out how to see elephant ethically in Thailand

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During my visit to Chiang Mai, I did a half day tour with Elephant Jungle Sanctuary (http://www.elephantjunglesanctuary.com/) and had an absolutely wonderful experience!  I was picked up from my hostel early in the morning to drive out to the countryside where the elephants live with the Karen Tribe near a waterfall.  The Karen Tribe is in charge of caring for the elephants and treat them as family.  It is their purpose in life to keep the elephants happy and healthy.  They do not use them to make money like other companies.

First we were dresses in traditional colorful shirts that the Karen Tribe ladies make that help the elephants recognize you as friends.  We fed them bananas, bamboo and took tons of photos with the darling elephants.  The trainers helped take photos for us on our devices and told us how the whole elephant family is related.  Next, we took them to the stream for a drink and some of us got a little playful spray!  After they had their water, we had a big mud fight with them!  We rubbed mud all over their skin which acts like sun screen, protection from bugs, and is good for their skin.  We ended up throwing mud all over each other as well, which was really fun to get messy!  You could tell the elephants were having so much fun rolling around in the mud together.  The baby was especially playful trying to climb over the others.  Then it was bath time at the waterfall where we were given brushes and buckets to scrub them down as they rolled in the water and played under the falls.  One of the elephants gave me a big kiss on the cheek and sprayed me!   Cuteness overload!  After rinsing ourselves off, we walked the elephants back had a traditional Karen lunch.  I can easily say that this was a highlight of my Thailand adventures.

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I connected with one of the enthusiastic trainers or mahouts named Sun.  He told me that he was starting a project to bring elephants back to the Karen village as a part of a restoration process, both for the elephants and the villagers. The project, Karen’s Tribe Native Elephant (www.karentribenativeelephants.com), is playing a part in returning elephants to their natural habitat and allowing elephant trainers to return their village to be with their families. He has been working diligently to organize his elephant place and prepare for visitors to have an authentic encounter with the elephants and the Karen people. This experience offers the chance for guests to have close one-on-one interactions with the elephants and to be a part of the care taking process, also playing a part in the larger goal of restoring elephants and families in my Karen village. It also offers the chance to interact with his Karen people, and learn about their culture and way of life.  They offer short distance bareback riding, which is a comfortable and safe way for the elephants to carry people.

Not only is Sun’s project a great patronage opportunity for him that allows him to connect his love for elephants with his Karen heritage, it also allows him to move his growing family back into his Karen village. Him and his wife have been working in Chiang Mai for many years and have long had the desire to move back to the village. After having their first child, they are excited for the opportunity that this elephant place allows for them to move back to my Karen village to raise their family. Sun is a gentle soul and was happy to share his passion with me, and he will surely do the same with you.

Prices for Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

Half Day

Adult : 1,700 Baht/ Person

Child < 10 years 1,500 Baht/ Person

Child < 3 years FREE

Full Day

Adult : 2,400 Baht/ Person

Child < 10 years 1,800 Baht/ Person

Child < 3 years FREE

Overnight

Adult : 4,900 Baht/ Person

Child < 10 years 3,900 Baht/ Person

Child < 3 years 3,000 Baht/ Person

Volunteer

[Minimum 1 week, includes 3 meals a day, accommodation, & transportation)

Adult : 11,500 Baht/Person/Week

Additional Day: 1,600 Baht/Person

Prices for Karen Tribe Native Elephant

  • 1 Day Trip Course: 2,500 THB./ person [ Share elephant 2 person / 1elephant ]
  • 1 Day Trip Course: 4,300 THB./ person [ 1 person / 1 elephant ]
  • 1 Day & Overnight Stay: 5,800 THB per person (1 person to 1 elephant)
  • Bonus: Both take photos and post them on their Facebook pages for you to have for free!

Please, reconsider putting elephant riding on your bucket list.  There are other ways to interact up close with these adorable creatures.  Support the Karen Tribe if you decide to visit in Chiang Mai.

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