I don’t know about you, but I knew the minute I booked my flight to Thailand 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 do a lot of research in order to find a truly ethical elephant sanctuary in Phuket, Thailand. By the way, if you really want to cry watch that documentary. You’ll also learn about why you should avoid elephant-based entertainment and stick to ethical sanctuaries only.
You really do need to do a lot of research in order to find an honest, true ethical elephant sanctuary in Thailand. Because many will claim they are ethical, but if the “sanctuary” allows you to either bathe with or even worse, ride an elephant, you are unintentionally contributing to continued abuse of these animals when you thought you were contributing to their rescue. So many places truly scam you, and here is an amazing list of ethical elephant sanctuaries in across the world. But, I will share my experience with the one on the list in Phuket, the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary.
The Phuket Elephant Sanctuary is a truly ethical elephant sanctuary in Phuket, Thailand you will be not only comfortable with visiting, but ecstatic about it.
What Tours Can You Do at the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary?
There are a few different types of tours you can do at this elephant sanctuary, that you can book either on the sanctuary site or from TripAdvisor. I personally did the half day morning, but here are the tours you can book below:
- Full day tour on the ground with the elephants
- Half day morning tour on the ground with the elephants
- Canopy walkway tour
What’s It Like to Visit An Ethical Elephant Sanctuary in Phuket?
I was staying at the Thavorn Beach Village Resort & Spa near Kamala (which I definitely recommend), and as luck would have it the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary was only about a 35 minute drive away.
The day started with an overview of elephant tourism and the levels of abuse it takes to “train” elephants. This was truly heartbreaking, but after learning about the horrible conditions elephants involved in tourism have historically gone through, it makes you realize just how special the work is that the team at the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary (and their sister location, the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai) is doing.
These true elephant sanctuaries don’t force the elephants to do anything they want. They are truly free to roam around and live the best version of life they possibly can.
Our guide shared with us stories about each of the elephants we came across. Stories about how and from where they were rescued, and about how they have grown into their space at the ethical elephant sanctuary. Many of these elephants were being ridden for hours a day with heavy “saddles” that are super harmful to their skeletons, and had been doing this their whole lives.
Phuket Elephant Sanctuary actually boasts on their website about the fact that you cannot bathe with their elephants. This is because bathing with them is very unnatural behavior and to get the elephants to regularly do that with hundreds of tourists per day includes the same abusive training tools and techniques other “sanctuaries” are claiming to save them their elephants from. So if you see a sanctuary claim to ethically “bathe” with elephants, know. that you are being scammed. A true ethical elephant sanctuary would never:
- Let you bathe with the elephants
- Let you ride the elephants
- Make the elephants interact with people if they don’t want to
- Use bull hooks and other abusive tools
You might be asking yourself, “okay well I know what I can’t do at an ethical elephant sanctuary in Thailand, but what can I do at one?” And let me tell you, you can still do a lot and it’s a super magical experience. This is what we were able to experience while visiting the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary:
- Feed the elephants during a designated snack period where they would come over if they wanted
- Pet some of the elephants if they allowed us to (many of the elephants were previously involved in tourism and despite what they went through at the hands of their previous abusers, still enjoyed physical companionship and contact with people)
- Walk up to the areas they were foraging and learn
Is It Worth It?
So, so very worth it. 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, Thailand you should absolutely consider spending a morning or afternoon with the elephants at the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary; 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. A always, if you have any questions please feel free to reach out. And I hope you have the absolute best time at an ethical elephant sanctuary in Thailand!
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