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The Best Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand

  • Post last modified:February 20, 2024
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Thailand is full of fun and exciting experiences, and one for the bucket list is to visit an elephant sanctuary in Thailand. There are a lot of things to know about visiting these, and it's important to know your stuff before you choose a random tour.


Using animals for tourism can be quite controversial (rightfully so!). While there are many places that abuse elephants and don't treat them properly, there are a few that are completely ethical, with heartwarming experiences.


After a ton of research we finally found the perfect place to interact with these gentle giants. Located outside the city of Chiang Mai, you're sure to enjoy all of the fun activities this place has to offer, and will have an unforgettable experience in Thailand. Here we're going to cover all you need to know for your elephant experience. Let's jump right in!

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What Exactly is an Elephant Sanctuary?

There are three types of animal encounters: zoos, sanctuaries, and safaris. First let's take a look at the real difference between them, so that you can know how to ethically experience wild animals.


Zoos are by far the most unethical and horrible places for wildlife. They hold animals captive for human entertainment, and aren't able to live freely in any way.


Sanctuaries vs Zoos

Sanctuaries are also enclosed spaces for animals. However, there are a few differences that make the far more ethical (depending on the place) than zoos. Sanctuaries generally have much larger areas for animals, and aim to recreate their environment, while zoos have animals from all over the world.


Zoos buy, sell, breed, and captivate wild animals, while sanctuaries only acquire animals that can no longer survive in the wild, or save them from places like zoos.


Unfortunately, there are a lot of sanctuaries that operate more like zoos, and despite claiming to want to help the animals, they use them more so for entertainment. This is why sanctuaries can be tricky, and finding an ethical one is super important.

elephant sanctuary in Thailand

Sanctuaries have animals in a natural environment.

Animal Safaris

The absolute best way to experience wild animals is a safari. This is when you simply drive through natural environments looking to see wildlife from a safe distance. 


Animals are not enclosed, and humans are not allowed to interact with them (of course it would also be super dangerous). Safaris are available in quite a number of countries throughout the world. However, elephants are no longer found in the wild in Thailand, and the only way to see them is actually in sanctuaries.


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Are Elephant Sanctuaries in Thailand Ethical?

Elephants have been a part of Thai culture for thousands of years, and used for tourism since the 70's. Ideally, the elephants would be able to return to nature, and live like they once used to. Unfortunately though, this is not really possible anymore, as they wouldn't be able to survive in the wild, and all of the remaining elephants are now accustomed to living in elephant sanctuaries in Thailand.


Another thing that is very unfortunate is that while many sanctuaries claim to care for the elephants, they have in fact abused these beautiful creatures, so that they can make profits from tourists.


When I went to Bali in 2016, I couldn't wait to head to this "ethical sanctuary" I heard about. When I got there I immediately regretted that decision. Elephants were being whipped to perform circus tricks, and being fed by tons of overly excited tourists reaching over their tiny pens.


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How Do You Know Which Elephant Sanctuaries in Thailand are Ethical?

This time around, I did my research. I wanted to see the elephants in Thailand, but I also didn't want to in any way support this type of cruel tourism. I spent hours upon hours scouring through articles and reviews.


The number one red flag for a place being unethical, is if you see a lot of advertisement. It may sound crazy, but the more commercial the place, the more likely they are to be a place there for the money, not for the well-being of the elephants. See billboards or tour agencies promoting an elephant sanctuary? That's your cue to rule them out as a spot for your elephant encounter.


Another thing to keep an eye out for is the activities that are included. If there is elephant riding, that is a huge no-no. Elephants may be big, but their spines are actually quite fragile, and should not be ridden at all. If there are any activities that include shows, this is also a red flag.


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Where is the Best Place to Experience an Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand?

We found an excellent option for all of your elephant needs. The animals are taken well care of, they experience plenty of exercise, and there are no unethical activities involved. Not only that, but there are extremely unique activities like being woken up by the elephants, as well as trekking in the jungle with them!


I am not going to share the name in this article, in order to protect the experience. However, I loved the experience so much that we have decided to partner with them, and are offering discounted rates by booking with us! Simply email us at hello@scratchyourmapa.com for more info.


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The Ultimate Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand Experience

While many elephant sanctuaries are just open during the day, the one we found was a full 24 hour experience! It's one where you can spend a night in a wooden cabin, and truly be immersed in the elephant sanctuary.


The elephant sanctuary has 3 different activities, and we decided to do them all! Honestly I am not one to splurge like this, but I couldn't help it. It was seriously worth every penny.


Here are the different activities you can participate in:


Elephant Bathing

This is one of the most common activities. Elephants actually love being bathed because they have sensitive skin. One elephant will come down to the river and you'll get to splash around with them, feed them, and maybe even get showered by them!


Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand bathing
Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand bathing
Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand bathing

Elephant bathing is one of the most popular activities at elephant sanctuaries.

Jungle Trek

This activity is a messy one, but super unique and fun! You'll spend an hour to an hour and a half trekking through the jungle with the two elephants alongside. The guides simply walk with you to keep you safe, and the elephants walk completely at their leisure (which is why the tour can vary in length).

Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand trekking

Trying to keep up with the elephants

You'll be given food to feed them before the trek. In our case it was huge bushels of corn on the cob. It's amazing how much elephants can eat, and it's super fun having them grab the cob from their trunks sometimes faster than you can imagine.


Note:

I went during the rainy season, so it was truly a dirty experience, and one you should wear hiking boots for (as well as clothes you don't care about). The mud is very thick and slippery, so make sure to be careful with your belongings. You'll notice I am wearing flip flops, and that is because I had a significant wound preventing me from wearing sneakers.


Wake Up Call

This was definitely the most fun and unique of all of the experiences, as it is one-of-a-kind. It's only available for hotel guests, which is another reason we were so happy we didn't just come for a day trip.


Let reception know the day before, and an elephant will come to your cabin to wake you up. You'll get a few bags of corn to feed them, and play around right in the comfort of your front porch or window. 

Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand wake up call

You can feed the elephants from your window and on your porch.

There is no time limit, but the elephants start to leave when the food is up. So my suggestion is to have fun and feed them slowly.

Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand wake up

Once the elephants finish their food they will walk to the next cabin.


How to Prepare For an Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand

Depending on which activity you decide to do, will depend on how you should prepare for an elephant sanctuary in Thailand.


If you decide to do the trek, we suggest hiking boots, bug spray, a dry bag, and a change of comfortable clothes that you don't mind getting dirty. You can also bring some soap for when you wash off.


If you decide to do the bathing then you'll want to bring a swimsuit, sunscreen, and a towel. If you are spending a night, make sure to bring some toiletries, and a few changes of clothes. Finally, no matter what- make sure to bring your camera!

Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand bathing

Don't forget to bring your camera!

I personally just set up my tripod and had it recording during the activity. Guides are happy to take photos, but since they also need to watch the elephants carefully they aren't the most reliable source for having the best shots.


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How Much Does it Cost to Visit an Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand?

The elephant sanctuary that I visited in Thailand ranged from $65-$100/ night, depending on the room. Elephant experiences ranged from $25-$50, lasting on average an hour.

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Is it Worth Spending a Night at the Elephant Sanctuary?

Elephant sanctuaries in Thailand are actually mostly a day trip for tourists. However, I was so incredibly happy that I spent a full night. Being an hour from Chiang Mai, it really made the experience much more worth it.


My friend and I arrived mid afternoon and experienced the jungle trek (the last tour is at 4 pm). We then had an amazing dinner overlooking the sanctuary to finish our night. The next morning we did the "elephant wake up call", had breakfast (which was included), and then did the "elephant bathing" mid morning. We showered, checked out, and left around noon.


In my opinion, staying a night is a super unique experience, and truly lets you have an authentic interaction with the elephants.


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Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand feeding

There are plenty of activities to enjoy that make it worth a full day and night.



So are you ready to book your elephant sanctuary experience? I know you'll absolutely love it, just like I did. Have any questions? Just let us know down below. Ready to book? Simply shoot us an email and we'll set everything up for you!



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