I don’t know about you, but I knew the minute I booked my flight to southeast Asia that I absolutely had to do some sort of elephant encounter. I had only experienced elephants at the zoos and circuses in the US so far in my life. And after watching An Apology to Elephants I realized if I were to see them abroad, I needed to go to an ethical elephant sanctuary. By the way, if you really want to cry watch that documentary. You’ll also learn about why you should avoid elephant-based entertainment. But still, you’ll fully sob.
THE SHORT VERSION
Phuket Elephant Sanctuary is an ethical elephant sanctuary you will be not only comfortable with visiting, but ecstatic about it.
THE LONG VERSION
I knew going into planning that Thailand is full of elephant sanctuaries. However, every one of these is not an ethical elephant sanctuary. Actually, many are tourist traps that don’t treat elephants as well as they should, or well at all.
Since I was staying in Phuket, Thailand, I looked on the island and as luck would have it the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary was not too far from where I was staying. After doing research (looking on reviews on Instagram, TripAdvisor, and more), this location and its sister location the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai are truly ethical. And by truly ethical I mean they don’t do the following:
- Let you bathe with the elephants
- Let you ride the elephants
If a sanctuary you’re looking at does involve those two items specifically, it is not as ethical as it is claiming to be – if ethical at all. True sanctuaries let the elephants roam during the day and bathe, snack, etc., as they please. What we did get to do was the following:
- Feed the elephants
- Pet some of the elephants
- Walk up to the areas they were foraging and learn
I learned so much in our 4 hour experience at this sanctuary and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was a wide range of emotions, from sheer sadness learning how they break the elephant’s spirit to teach it tricks in order to perform in circuses/similar tourist events worldwide to resounding joy finding out how resilient and powerful they are as creatures.
If you’re going to be in Phuket, you should absolutely consider spending a morning or afternoon with the elephants; you won’t regret a second.
If you’re looking for other mind-blowing experiences in the Phuket area, here are my 6 must sees while you’re there.