Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand

by Tsvete Popp
Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

What pops into my mind when I think of Thailand? Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai? Well, let’s start with temples, smiling people, Buddhism, white sand beaches, the best food in the whole world … and Chang = Elephants (ช้าง)! Elephants are the icon of Thailand. They represent wealth and power, and even the royal Thai flag bears the symbol of a white elephant.

Before travelling to Thailand, one thing was certain to me – we are heading to Northern Thailand and we are going to spend some unforgettable time with elephants! When visiting Thailand, many people want to have experience with elephants. But not many people think about this experience in a responsible way.

Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

My missions is to help raise awareness for responsible and respectful experiencing animal sanctuaries around the world. I hope your mission is the same …

Elephants in Thailand have become a controversial topic during the last couple of years. Elephants have been captured and abused for the amusement of tourists riding for decades. They have been abused and taken out of their natural habitat. The result of this is unaccountable tourism.


My responsibility as somebody who has the online opportunity to share a message with the World is to promote responsible tourism.


Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

By raising awareness of why riding an elephant is erroneous, together we can help to end this form of tourism. We can start by informing people why riding elephants is wrong. One way to make a difference in the elephants’ welfare is by visiting the elephant sanctuary.

But Thailand has a long way to go.

… So, do all tourists, influencers, and locals too.

Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

In 2018 the elephant topic continues to be affected by this abusive tourism practice. I still see people on Facebook, Instagram Reel Views and Twitter posting their peacockish selfies on the back of an elephant.

I am a responsible traveller. I do my best in researching and choosing the best practices in relation to tourism. I try to raise awareness of responsible and respectful tourism wherever I go. But it remains one of my biggest and most valuable lessons in travel about wildlife tourism in South East Asia.

While travelling to Thailand and South East Asia, it is impossible to oversee the cruelty in animal tourism. When it comes to elephants, it is about back riding or circus shows. But this practice doesn’t stop here. It goes even further with monkey tours, tiger tours, tiger temples, etc. Animal tourism is huge in Thailand. Many clearly unethical practices are accepted as standard.

Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

I still ask myself how ignorant tourists really are. I hope that more people will become aware of the activities that involve animal sacrifice. Luckily, nowadays many companies, locals and travellers are becoming more and more aware of responsible tourism. Every little step toward a better life for animals is a big thing in our selfish world as humans.

No riding, no hooks, and no chains!

This is the message you should look for when visiting an Elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai. It is important to choose the right one that takes care of the elephants and does not provide any harmful environment.

Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

Why You Shouldn’t Ride Elephants in Thailand

There are 4000 elephants in Thailand living in captivity, 3200 of which are used for tourist riding, circus training or logging. One of the many problems is that only the wild elephants in Thailand are considered endangered. The living in captivity animals are classified as domesticated and are not protected by the government.

! Did you know that ...
In 2018 there are still no strict penalties for abuse and mistreatment of elephants in Thailand.

Why does abusive elephant tourism in Thailand still exist? Because there is still a high demand from travellers…

Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

Together, by raising awareness of why riding an elephant is wrong, we can help to end this form of entertainment.

For a long time, the animals were used by the King and his army for war tactics in the Thai jungle. Later on, the elephants were the main source of labour in Thailand. In 1989 logging was officially banned. Many of the animals were sold to neighbouring countries such as Burma where they continued working as slaves. Some of them were killed. Others took over to the tourism industry to suffer once again as riding or circus attractions.

The population of elephants in Thailand quickly declined.

There is a multitude of reasons why you shouldn’t be riding elephants in Thailand. Riding an elephant or buying a ticket for a circus show where elephants are performing, makes you more than just a spectator. It makes you a participant.

Most riding tours don’t take care of the elephants. They abuse them with spikes and hooks. Chaine them down. Many companies told us: “There is no problem if you don’t want to ride” – don’t give your money to those people! It is all a scam.

Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

Elephants are not like horses. Their back is not made to be ridden upon. The boxes for catting people are very heavy and painful for the animals. The elephants are riding many kilometres, carrying tourists on their backs. Every single day. And often they get beaten with sticks and bullhooks if they don’t want to. These beautiful giants know a great pain and their numbers on the continent continue to decrease.

People want to see elephants living a happy and full life. As more people become aware of the awful conditions of riding camps, fewer will be interested in riding elephants. This doesn’t mean you can’t have contact with these amazing animals. Just go and visit an elephant sanctuary!

Chose an Ethical Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

Please make your research! I spent many hours researching online and going to the local kiosks just to inform myself which sanctuary is ethical enough. I collected many promotional flyers about activities with elephants offered by local companies. And probably 80% of these companies offered activities with riding elephants. AVOID THESE!

Take some time to dig up solid information on the sanctuary you want to visit. An ethical sanctuary should take care of the animals, give them enough food, shelter them, love them, respect them, and make their life safe and comfortable.

Nowadays, there are several sanctuaries that offer all of these: The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Elephant Paradise Chiang Mai, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Save the Elephant Foundation, and Elephant Nature Park. We chose the Elephant Paradise Chiang Mai.


Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

What the Elephant Sanctuaries of Chiang Mai Are Doing? The Elephant Sanctuaries have been slowly buying back the riding elephants that were misused and giving them a sanctuary to live out their days in peace. Sanctuaries offer love, comfort and freedom from chains and abuse. There is no need for elephants to be working here or to walk for kilometres in circles with tourists on their backs. The sanctuaries give them as much room as they possibly can.

The Elephant Paradise Chiang Mai Experience

At 7:00 am our guide arrived at our hotel, the luxurious Pingviman Hotel in the old town of Chiang Mai. We were a group of six people, two Germans, two French and two. Everyone said they didn’t want to ride the elephants and instead, chose the elephant sanctuary to see elephants in a happy and natural environment.

First, we visited the local market of Chiang Mai to buy some fruits, coffee and water. Then it took about 90 minutes to get to the Sanctuary. As we get there, we changed our clothes and learned interesting things about the history, life and needs of elephants. The first activity at the sanctuary was to feed the adorable elephants. We spend about an hour feeding them with sugar cane and bananas. The elephants at the sanctuary are receiving a lot of food thus you don’t need to stuff them too much.

Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

Then we learned how to make vitamin balls for the elephants which are usually used for detoxifying their stomach, especially when they have some issues with it. The ball was a mix of sticky rice, bananas, tamarinds, corn kernels, oat, salt and bran.

It was lunchtime! We had some delicious Thai Food made by the locals who live in the sanctuary.

After lunch, it was time to bathe with the elephants where you can rub the elephants down with mud. The mud protects the elephants’ skin from the sun and bugs. And they love it! From what I saw, it seemed like they enjoyed every minute of it. I hope I am right… After the mud bath, we all went over to the river where we rinsed off the elephants in the cool water.

Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai


Half Day Visit

  • Duration: 7.00-13.00
  • 07.00-07.30 a.m. Pick up from your hotel.
  • Cost: 1,700 TBH (EUR 45,00) p.p.

Full Day Visit

  • Duration: 8.00-17.00
  • 08.00-08.30 a.m. Pick up from your hotel.
  • Cost: 2,400 TBH (EUR 64,00) p.p.

What is included:

  • Hotel pick up & drop off
  • English-speaking tour guide
  • Drive to the local market to buy fresh fruit, coffee, tea
  • Learn how to take care of the elephant
  • Feeding, Observation and Interaction with Elephants
  • Enjoy a Delicious home cooked lunch for you
  • Learn to make herbal Ball medicine for the elephants
  • Walking with the elephants to some beautiful viewpoints
  • Walk down the hillside towards bathing and brushing the elephants in there at the river

What to bring:

  • Hat
  • Bathing Suit
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect Repellent
  • Towel
  • Walking Shoes
  • Change of Clothes

Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

Above all: it was an unforgettable experience and a dream of mine came true!

But please, I still beseech you to be responsible, to be aware, to act sustainable, and to respect and love the animals.

Please don’t ride elephants, and don’t make yourself a participant in this cruel animal tourism.

Thank you for being kind!

Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

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