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Elephant Tourism in Thailand: Why we chose to visit a sanctuary?

Christmas Eve was a little different this year, as we spent it at an elephant rehabilitation and rescue sanctuary in Northern Thailand near Chiang Mai.

One of them lost their child and came to the sanctuary depressed. The other befriended her and now they’re best friends.

We decided this would be a Christmas we wouldn’t forget by contributing to the Save Elephant Foundation, a Thai non profit dedicated to providing care and assistance to the captive elephant populations in the area, rather than seeking out elephant riding opportunities which is a popular thing to do here.  

Uninterested to be part of the photo opportunity with elephants who are abused to obey by their “masters” so tourists can ride them, my friends and I chose to spend it instead with elephants who have endured such abuse, worked arduously under terrible conditions, or been part of land mine accidents and much more tragic events.  

Read the travel vagabonds article on why you should NOT ride elephants in Thailand here. 

recently rescued family

Elephant Nature Park is the result of the inspiring vision of Sangduen “Lek” Chailert to create a better world for Asian elephants. Lek is from a little known hill tribe called the Khamu and has been fighting for the rights of Asian elephants for decades. 


By providing care and assistance to Thailand’s captive elephant population through outreach, educational ecotourism and rehabilitation programs, Lek and the organization started with 4 rescued elephants in 1995 and twenty years later are at 66. 

It’s not easy maintaining all of these giant beauties, along with oxen, buffalo, birds, cats and dogs who use this space as a safe sanctuary, as well. 


The elephants alone eat multiple tons of food a day and the organization, not funded by the government raises money through volunteers and visitors. I couldn’t think of a better way to have spent my Christmas Eve and my money. Of course at this point I’m missing home and the family, but grateful to have been part of this cause. 

Bathing Elephants at the nature park

Being on site was of course a bit upsetting at first thinking of each elephant’s story about how they were blinded, injured, separated from their family sometimes though vicious mahouts, their caretakers. 


Mahout and Elephant
But seeing how all the animals were well taken care of by their current caretakers, we were able to let go and take advantage of some photo opps, bathe them, and at times make sure we clear the path for them so they wouldn’t step all over us.


 At the end of the day, who knows what could have agitated them. They live with such horrific memories. 

Tiff and May

Our lovely guide May prepped us well on how to make sure to be close to the elephants without hurting them nor ourselves. Look for her if you ever come this way. 

Handstand with elephant

Overall, it was a great opportunity and I highly recommend that if you come to Thailand please make sure you do your research before going to a sanctuary or indirectly being part of the elephant tourism that is actually harming some of these lovely creatures.


Happy Holidays and may all of you and all creatures around the world be of no or less harm today and everyday. 

For more blog posts on the sanctuary check out this link.

Sanctuary info:

Location: Chiang Mai, Thailand 

Company: Elephant Nature Park

Cost: ~ 2500 baht per person day trip)

Useful Notes: Day trips last from 8am to 5pm and includes a delicious all-you-can-eat vegetarian meal. 

2 thoughts on “Elephant Tourism in Thailand: Why we chose to visit a sanctuary?

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