Floppy ears, wise eyes and an iconic, grey trunk: getting up and close with Thailand’s national animal – the Asian elephant – is an enthralling highlight for many visitors to the Kingdom. Known for rocking the jungle with their shrill pawooos, the friendly pachyderms hold a special place in the hearts of animal experts and lovers alike – and rightly so!
Fortunately, Thailand knows modern travellers want authentic experiences that honour the animals’ interests – which don’t include performing tricks and carrying humans. More and more destinations around the country seek to create unforgettable experiences not just for travellers, but also for the sensitive mammals (remember, elephants have outstanding memory!). Like the sound of an Asian elephant safari or a visit to the world’s first elephant hospital? Read on.
Elephant Hills, Khao Sok National Park
Elephant Hills is exceptional in every way: Think African-style safari tents dotting a vast grassland surrounded by the unspoiled nature of Thailand’s third largest national park! Watch the elephants bathe in a mud pool before scrubbing their leathery skin with natural coconut fibres. Once the grey giants are released back into their extensive pens, sink into a comfortable chair (this isn’t camping, it’s glamping!) outside your tent and observe the animals roaming around a tropical paradise. Want another jungle adventure? Join fellow glampers on a scenic trek or canoe through nearby mangrove forests. This is a proper safari experience – one of only a few in Asia – with a real Planet Earth feel and unforgettable elephant encounters at its heart.
Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, Paklok, Phuket
Less than 30 km from Phuket’s legendary Patong Beach, the island’s first ethical elephant sanctuary is set within 30 acres of evergreen jungle. Visitors and elephants get to sniff at each other (sometimes literally!) during intimate feeding sessions that will see the gentle giants kindly help you part with the bananas and pineapples in your hands. Much to the joy of sustainably minded tourists, the sanctuary’s utmost priority is animal welfare – getting ‘up and close’ here means keeping a distance during certain activities: there are no crowds of tourists bathing with elephants at the sanctuary. Instead, travellers have the unique chance to get their Attenborough on and witness the animal’s natural behaviours as they engage in play and dust one another. Then you can head back to LGBT delights of Patong in the evening having enjoyed this magical experience in true Thai style!
Friends of the Asian Elephant Foundation, Chiang Mai
Elephant camps are all the rage around Chiang Mai, but a trip to the Friends of the Asian Elephant Foundation makes for an especially meaningful experience: founded in 1993, the charity proudly runs the world’s first elephant hospital and has treated over 4000 cases over the years. Ethics are at the forefront of everything FAE do and we can’t think of a better place for children to learn about animal welfare. Curios elephants are free to greet visitors and kids are sure to rejoice at the sight of playful calves! Speaking of which, explore the on-site nursery caring for expecting animals and have an elephant ‘friend’ talk you through some astounding elephant pregnancy facts. FAE offers an educational and alternative way to meet Thailand’s gentle giants – visit for a truly rewarding day out!