While small populations of wild elephants may be found in the mountains along the Myanmar border and in fragmented forest areas on the southern peninsula, visiting captive facilities is the easiest and most popular way to see elephants in Thailand.  Travel agencies, hotels, and Thai based tour operators will entice tourists to visit elephant ‘camps’, see shows, or take an elephant back ride, called trekking.  Most of the elephants involved in these types of activities do not receive proper care and are suffering physically and mentally.  Please see our section on Elephant Tourism.

There is also a new type of elephant activity called ‘Mahout Training’ where tourists are taught how to mount and ride an elephant on the bare neck.  Elemotion Foundation prefers captive elephants to have the most natural existence possible, without giving rides, so we do not recommend mahout training.

However, Thailand does offer a few places where the elephants needs are put above tourist entertainment. Please consider visiting or supporting the following recommended elephant friendly programs and organizations in Thailand. Our list is in alphabetical order.

-Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary

When sanctuary founder Katherine Connor lost the battle to save the life of a special baby elephant named Boon Lott, she continued her fight for elephant welfare by founding a non-profit sanctuary in his name.  Located one hour’s drive from Sukhothai, Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary (BLES) is one of Thailand’s few true elephant sanctuaries.  BLES offers sick, injured, and abused elephants a chance to heal their physical and psychological wounds so they may live happily in their natural environment.

After a personal pick-up from the local bus depot, train station, or airport, you will be welcomed into the BLES family of mahouts, staff, dogs, cats, and 13 elephants.  Only three guesthouses guarantees that there are always more elephants than guests.  The mahouts, who do not use hooks, stand watch over the elephants as they play in the pond or wander into the forest.  You will witness the elephants’ true spirits as you observe them from a short distance.  But just in case, be prepared if an elephant decides to come closer and say hello.  A special observation platform at the bathing pond and daily walks into the forest will provide you with plenty of time to ask questions, take pictures, and get to know the elephants. Expect to leave BLES feeling like you have become a part of a very special family.

Read Elemotion’s interview with Katherine Conner, BLES’s founder, about the Star Medical Clinic.

-Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary

BEES-elephantsNestled in Mae Cheam Valley, about two and half hours drive southwest of Chiang Mai, you’ll discover a very special place called Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary (BEES). Founded by Australian, Emily McWilliam, and local Thai, Pornchai Rinkaew (Burm), BEES is a family and community based project providing a loving home for old, injured, and retired elephants. BEES puts their elephants’ wellbeing first, and their mahouts do not carry hooks. BEES’ three lucky elephants, Thong Dee, Mae Kam, and Mae Mor no longer have to suffer the hardship of working in logging or tourism. These ladies can finally retire and enjoy freedom in a caring and natural environment.

After booking in advance, pick up can be arranged for you in Chiang Mai on Mondays and Thursdays. For your authentic Thai experience, accommodations include four rustic but comfortable onsite guestrooms and 4 village homestay rooms. Elephant activities include washing, walking, preparing food, feeding, and observing the elephants’ charismatic behaviors. Participation in conservation, environmental, and community projects are also possible. Average guest volume is 3 to 7 people, so you will be able to enjoy the elephants, and the elephants are never overwhelmed. BEES is one of Thailand’s few true elephant sanctuaries, a place to reconnect with nature, and gain memorable insight into the lives of elephants.