Spend a quick weekend at this sanctuary, which is home to a big happy family of elephants.
Hanging out with elephants is one of the reasons you’re beyond excited to visit Thailand, right? These animals have become a huge part of the culture, a symbol of the country, and are one of the main tourist attractions. And for good reason! Seeing these gentle giants up close is a pretty amazing experience. Sadly, there are too many organizations out there more than willing to exploit these animals just for tourism’s sake ... You want to be careful when choosing where to hang out with elephants while in Thailand!
Luckily for you, there are a few options where you can have a day with some happy elephants. Our newest find? The Sappraiwant Elephant Sanctuary found right by Phitsanulok, Thailand.
See more Thailand than you ever could as a tourist
Come volunteer in Thailand for a semester!
ILP volunteers who are living in Thailand for a semester have more time than tourists who are just visiting for the week, which comes with some major perks, like figuring out the best elephants parks in Thailand to visit. We’re more than happy to add another sanctuary to that list! Here’s your go-to for visiting the Sappraiwan Elephant Sanctuary:
- All About The Sappraiwan Elephant Sanctuary
- What’s A Visit There Like?
- What To Wear + Bring With You
- Getting There + Other Details
All About The Sappraiwan Elephant Sanctuary
How It All Got Started
This sanctuary is focused on connecting people and elephants in a more natural way. You’ll find this elephant sanctuary and resort tucked away in a northern corner of Central Thailand, near the city of Phitsanulok.
Sapparaiwan is surrounded by thick jungles and rolling mountains, cut by the Kek river: a perfect jungle paradise for elephants. The space first started as hotel and resort (built here in the 1990’s) but the purpose of this jungle space completely changed on a visit to Bangkok. On the outskirts of the capital city, the resort’s founder found an adult bull elephant begging on the streets with its owner: the congested streets of Bangkok were the opposite of where an elephant should be living. That elephant — Boonmee — became the sanctuary’s founding elephant in 2001, free to hang out in the jungles, munching on pineapple leaves, and cooling off in the river at the newly established Sappraiwan Elephant Sanctuary.
Other elephants were quickly added to the growing elephant family. In 2018, the sanctuary was home to 18 elephants who had been rescued from working in logging or entertaining tourists in cruel shows. Several of the elephants at the sanctuary are here to recover from injuries or receive special care. The space is all set up for elephants to learn how to be elephants again: plenty of room, and an observant team who keeps an eye on their health and their diet. You can read more about the sanctuary’s beginnings and mission here.
More About The Elephants
All here have some really endearing personality and too many sad stories. It’s mentioned before but the elephants at the sanctuary have been rescued from really horrible conditions that some elephants can’t fully recover from. You can meet Sribua who came to the sanctuary in her late 30’s after a hard life of logging and working as a tourist taxi. She walks with a limp, but happily lives in the sanctuary. Or meet Gumrai, who is “40 years young with the most beautiful eyelashes”. This elephant worked her whole life logging and in the entertainment industry and came to the sanctuary with a severe digestion problem and anemia. She’s on a special diet to help her conditions (but loves eating lots of bananas). Just a few of the cuties you can meet!
Just as important as the elephants are the people who work with them — there’s been a really long relationship between people and elephants in Thailand. Tradition has people known as mahouts who devoted their lives to these elephants to help them travel through the thick jungles of Thailand. Being a mahout is more than a job in Thai culture, it’s more like a lifestyle and deep tradition that’s passed down through generations. The Sapparaiwan Sanctuary has team of mahouts who care for a small set of elephants while at the sanctuary, some of whom are 2nd or 3rd generation mahouts. You’ll get to know part of the team on your visit.
Learn more about some of the elephants and the mahouts here.
What’s A Visit There Like?
No matter what elephant adventure you’re here for, it’s all about a connection between people and the elephants — things like feeding these cuties, giving them a bath, learning how they play with each other and other glimpses into their natural life.
This isn’t a place to go elephant riding. The sanctuary and resort has a couple of options, depending on what’s best for you. We’re thinking our ILP groups are going to be a fan of their half-day excursion, which we have details on below, but you can also book a multi-day stay. You’ll be staying at the resort and get a more in-depth and immersive experience with the elephants. That link has more information about the multi-day stays and prices.
You can also join in on some of the daily and weekend activities at the camp, which we’re thinking will be a better fit for our ILP volunteers living in Thailand. Here are some more details about those activities:
Have A Half-Day Adventure
This is your all-in one experience, where you’ll be picked up in Phitsanulok, join the elephants' staff for a couple of hours of up-close interaction. You’ll hike out with baskets of food for the elephants if you start out in the morning. You might get to join in on bath time too, joining the elephants in the muddy water, spraying them down to help keep them clean and cool.
Sometimes you’ll be a part of their rehabilitation process where you’ll use positive reinforcement to help encourage good behavior from the elephants. After your time with the elephants, you’ll head back for a set lunch, then back to Phistanulok. It’s 2300 Baht (about $75 USD) for the half-day package which includes transportation from Phitsanulok, but you can email email@example.com to ask about group pricing if your ILP group wants to go together!
You can learn more about the half-day package here.
Go For A Morning or Afternoon Safari Walk
You have a couple of options for walking around with the elephants. There’s a morning walk (from 7:00 AM to 8:00 AM where you’ll trek into the jungle to see the elephants get ready for breakfast. Your 700 Baht donation goes towards keeping the program running.
For a longer adventure join a safari — they have a morning safari (9:00 AM to 11:00 AM) and an afternoon safari (2:00 PM to 4:00 PM) with both safaris giving you the chance to trek to find where the herd of elephants are hanging out and watch them graze, socialize, and rumble around. There’s a 1200 Baht fee for both of the morning and afternoon safaris.
Help With Lunch Time
Join in at 10:00 to 11:00 to help the staff make food for one special granny elephant, and get to meet her up close! You’ll be able to learn more about elephant care and get up and close with one elephant on this experience, for 850 Baht.
Watch The Elephants Play
Called elephant enrichment, you’ll help the elephant team set up toys and piles of their favorite food just for the elephant. You’ll hang out with your guide and learn a bit more about how elephants eat and play with this front-row adventure for 850 Baht. This happens on weekdays from 9:00 AM to 10:00 PM, and on weekends from 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM.
Learn more about all of these daily and weekend options here.
What To Bring + Wear
You’ll want to dress for what you’re doing with the elephants. The sanctuary suggests you wear comfortable, closed-toe shoes, and bring some insect repellent and sunscreen. Please do your part to make sure you’re wearing/bringing chemical-free bug repellent and sunscreen to help protect the environment!
Long pants and long-sleeved shirts are also recommended to protect you from the sun (which isn’t that much of an issue for a 1 hour walk in the early morning), but is something to think about. Bring plenty of water too!
Getting There + Other Details
Getting To The Sanctuary
The sanctuary is outside of the city of Phitsanulok. There are some packages that include a shuttle service from Phitsanulok (like their half-day elephant experience) but you can also pay for a shuttle service if that works better, depending on where you are in Thailand. Just use the contact information found in the “some other details” section in the next paragraph!
If you’d like to get there on your own, here’s their address: Sappraiwan Elephant Resort, Tambon Kaeng Sopha, Amphoe Wang Thong, Chang Wat Phitsanulok 65220. It’s about an hour’s drive outside of the city center of Phitsanulok.
Some Other Details
Some of the tour options require a reservation, some as much as 24 hours in advance, others just a 4-hour heads up. To make sure you're covered, I'd message them about coming at least 1-2 days beforehand.
The sanctuary does limit the number of people interacting with the elephants and these reservations help keep the staff aware at how many people are visiting each day. Make sure you’re contacting the sanctuary before your visit! You can reach them on Line (Sappraiwan) on Instagram or send them an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Are you looking for an adventure?
Come volunteer abroad with ILP! We're accepting applications for college-aged volunteers who want to teach English and come live in Thailand for a semester. You'll only be teaching part time with weekends off and scheduled vacay time to really experience southeast Asia (AKA, plenty of time for elephants!)