If you're traveling to Thailand and want to hang out with some elephants, make sure you're going to the right parks.
Millions of tourists flood to Thailand every year - for good reason. There are some incredible places to see in this part of the world! From the dreamy beaches in the south to the underrated jungles found in Northern Thailand, it's no wonder it's one of the most popular vacation spots in the world.
Headed to Thailand soon?
All our favorite spots are in this Thailand Destination Guide
One of the things everyone wants to do in Thailand is hang out with elephants. These beautiful animals are so gentle (and so beautiful to see up close) it's no wonder everyone visiting Thailand wants to make some elephant friends. Sadly, way too many tour organizations horrifically mistreat the elephants for tourism. Elephants are beaten, mistreated, brutalized, and more .... not something you want to support!
If you're looking to interact with some elephants while in Thailand, please make sure you do your research to make sure you're visiting an ethical and sustainable organization. If you really care about the animals you're here to visit, you make sure you are going to an elephant park that has the best intentions for both their elephants and for you.
- Where Are The Best Parks
What Makes A Good Elephant Park?
Some Recommended Parks
Where Are The Best Parks?
There are elephant parks all over Thailand (because there are tourists all over Thailand), but chances are high that you will be in Chiang Mai when looking to play with elephants. This is the part of the country that's a more natural habitat for these elephants, rather than the sandy beaches found in Southern Thailand, and the deafening noise of Bangkok.
We suggest visiting Northern Thailand for the best elephant interactions, but even in Chiang Mai (and nearby areas), not all elephant parks are created equal.
What Makes A Good Elephant Park?
You can easily weed out the parks to avoid if you see a few things. Any park that has the elephants doing something unnatural like painting, standing on their hind legs, wearing a seat for tourists to sit on or anything else like that isn't something to support. For years, elephants have been brutally trained for entertainment shows for tourists, or unnaturally forced to wear a metal-frame seat to give rides for tourists. Not good at all!
Instead, look for rescue or sanctuary parks that are out there to provide a better experience for the elephants and for you. Reputable organizations often take elephants from where they are being mistreated and give them a better life, one where they're able to heal and do elephant things, all day long.
It's a good sign if they limit the number of people who can come see the elephants each day - meaning they're likely not pushing as many people through as possible and not putting extra strain on the animals. You'll want to step into a typical day of a healthy elephant, volunteering to do things like give them a bath, prepare food, or trek out into the jungle to see how the elephant family is interacting. Riding isn't something to look for — the bamboo or metal saddles is incredibly harmful. Even riding in general isn't the most ethical, especially 2-person rides which forces one person to ride on the back, which is harmful to the elephant's spine. Riding, if it happens at all, should happen right behind the elephants neck, not on its back.
Some Look For These Things
- The number of daily volunteers is restricted
- Have private tours + 1/2 day or longer tours
- Don't allow elephant rides (with or without a saddle)
Volunteers participate in daily activities (bathing/feeding)
Once you make a list of parks you're interested in (we have some suggestions below), do more research on the individual parks. Don't be fooled, all of their websites will say they do not abuse the animals because they know that tourists are picking up on this practice and expect them to be treated better.
We suggest reading reviews to see what other visitors are saying. Look for pictures and reviews that mention any elephant tricks (like standing on their hind legs) or elephant rides to let you know how the elephants are treated.
Another thing to look for is price — you can find some really inexpensive options and some more expensive options. As a general rule the more expensive organizations are the way to go: most are using your cost as a donation to provide the care and food these animals require. Your cost also helps reputable organizations raise the tens of thousands of dollars it costs to buy an elephant from an abusive trainer, so this animal can hang out in a sanctuary.
Some Organizations To Look Into (In Chiang Mai)
Our ILP volunteers almost some time to spend with elephants while visiting Chiang Mai, and have loved their experience at these parks.
- Elephant Nature Park
- Ran-Tong (Save And Rescue Elephant Center)
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
Just so you know, there are many parks that will rip off the name of the good ones and try and lure people over there. Don't let that happen to you! Book and make any plans directly through their website.
This Sanctuary Near Phitsanulok
If you're not planning on visiting Chiang Mai (if you can, make sure you leave room in your itinerary! It's a fan-favorite for a few reasons) there is another elephant park in Phitsanulok worth looking into. The Sappraiwant Elephant Sanctuary found right by Phitsanulok, Thailand is all about a more natural experience between humans and elephants. Get more info here.
Looking for ways to get to Thailand?
Come volunteer in Thailand for a semester! International Language Programs (ILP) is a non-profit organization based out of Utah with years of experience sending college-aged volunteers abroad to places like Thailand where they can make a difference, really live in the culture, and of course travel all over the country.