Chiang Mai, Thailand’s capitol of elephant sanctuaries, has a reputation for promoting ‘elephant sanctuaries’ which, in reality, mistreat elephants to make a healthy profits from tourists.
So how can you distinguish the genuine sanctuaries which treat its elephants which care and respect?
The most obvious answer to this question is: do your research. I’ve picked out a few elephant sanctuaries which I know to be ethical to help you on your way.
The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is located about 60km from Chiang Mai. The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is an ethical eco-tourism project spread across five different locations in Northern Thailand. The sanctuary, run by Karen hill-tribes and Chiang Mai locals, cares for more than 30 previous mistreated elephants.
As a tourist you can feed the elephants, bath them, play with them in the mud and go on walks with them. The visitor is given traditional Karen clothing to wear and keep. The elephants are not tied to anything or restricted so there is a briefing before you interact with them to ensure you take the proper precautions.
Half a day visit is 1,700 Thai baht or £39.50 (including lunch and transportation from where you are staying).
Full day is 2,400 Thai baht or £55.70 (including lunch and transportation from where you are staying).
Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary has 500 acres of land for previously abused elephants. The sanctuary strives to protect the elephants of Thailand from maltreatment and extinction. The sanctuary’s core goals include education, expansion and protection.
Boon Lott’s Sanctuary is located off the beaten track 8km outside of Sukhothai. You can fly directly from Bangkok. Due to it’s remote locations guests stay the night but reservations must be made in advance because of limited space. The cost per night is 5,000 baht or £116 (All inclusive, including alcoholic beverages).
Guests are involved in all aspects of Sanctuary life. Activities are seasonal and visitors will have a chance to collect elephant food from the jungle, maintain herding areas, walk the elephants to grazing grounds, repair elephant pens, scrub and wash the elephants, befriend village families and plant trees and vegetation.
Elephant Nature Park is one of Thailands best-known elephant conservation projects. More than 35 elephants roam free and many have been saved from exploitative camps. Single day visits and longer over-night stays are available and even longer volunteer placements. Guests will have the opportunity to bathe in the river with the elephants and help at feeding time.
Single day trips cost 2,500 baht including pick up from where you are staying. It is advised that you stay in the city the day before you plan to do the visit because transport can often be late and transport to the sanctuary will not wait for late arrivals.
Over-night visits cost 5,800 baht. It includes all the joys of an single day trip but you can spend a little longer with the magnificent mammals.