For many, seeing an elephant in the flesh is a once in a lifetime experience. These majestic giants are among the most fascinating and beautiful creatures on the planet, and interacting with one can be a marvellous and rewarding encounter.

Due to Thailand’s natural elephant population and its long history and association with these animals, the Southeast Asian nation has become a popular destination for tourists to interact with elephants both in the wild and domestically.

However, while there are many operators that offer elephant rides and experiences, some visitors to the country are reluctant to engage in the activity due to the “training” the animals have likely undergone and would much rather see these gentle beasts under much more ethical circumstances. If this sounds like you, read on to discover the best elephant sanctuaries that Thailand has to offer.

Elephant Nature Park – Chiang Mai Province

Around 60km away from the city of Chiang Mai, the Elephant Nature Park stands as a refuge for distressed elephants from all over the country.

With a number of awards to its name, the park allows visitors to feed the elephants, lead them to the river and even join in with bathing the beasts for their afternoon bath. Perhaps most importantly, people get to learn about each individual creature and hear their story.

The centre puts a great deal of emphasis on the education of tourists and considering the plight of elephants both short and long term. At this park, you are taught to see the animals as equals, not merely as things to tick off a bucket list. Tours can be taken in one day, or as an overnight stay.

With over 15 years of experience working with and rehabilitating elephants, you can be assured that a trip to the Elephant Nature Park will be a rewarding one.

Elephantsworld – Kanchanaburi

This not-for-profit organisation is located outside of Kanchanaburi and was founded in 2008 as a place for abused elephants to recover and relax in peace.

Currently, there are 11 of the animals at the sanctuary and travellers are welcome to visit and engage with the elephants, helping to clean, feed and interact with them. Most of them have come from the standard tourism trail and have been left weak from constant riding, which an elephant’s back is not designed to deal with. Perhaps the most telling thing about Elephants World is its motto: “We work for the elephants, instead of them for us!

There are three short term offers for tourists: a day programme, which offers feeding, washing and working with the creatures; an overnight programme, which offers the same as the day programme plus a forest walk with the elephants and the chance to sleep next to the River Kwai (two days, one night); and the forest programme, with offers all of the above as well as forest exploration, wildlife spotting and camping in the wild (three days, two nights).

The idea with this park is to recreate something that resembles the elephants’ natural habitat so that these animals can live out their days in peace.

Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary – Sukhothai

Another sanctuary located in the north of Thailand, Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary is an incredibly popular place to interact ethically with elephants.

Spread out over 500 acres of verdant forest, the centre once again cares for elephants from all walks of life, whether they have been retired or rescued. The park is named after the baby elephant Boon Lott and was started by Brit Katherine Connor, a volunteer who helped save the calf from certain death.

This particular sanctuary is much more isolated than the other two on this list and so one-day visits are not feasible. Longer stays are encouraged here, and the majority of travellers stay for a number of days on an itinerary that works for them – it’s usually a very bespoke itinerary.

Due to demand, the park is now fully booked for the remainder of 2015. This is because Boon Lott’s only takes on relatively small groups of people to ensure that the animals there are cared for properly and always safe. If you are looking at Thailand this year, the previous two options are your best bet, for a big trip in 2016, you can arrange a stay here.

For more information about a trip to Thailand and the possibility of creating a multi centre holiday to add an ethical elephant interaction to your next holiday, contact us today; we’re waiting to help plan your dream itinerary!

Michelle Porter Senior Travel Consultant

Michelle started with us here at eShores in early 2015, but has worked in travel most of her working life. Michelle has a wealth of knowledge from across the globe, so no destination is unknown to her. Although she does love booking trips to Asia, Australia and New Zealand, after falling in love with the region when she lived there.

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