I have always thought of elephants as being truly amazing creatures. They are intelligent, enormous and undeniably majestic. When I was a kid, my father used to give me little elephant knick knacks every birthday, and they have remained some of my favourite figurines.
I have always wanted to see an Asian elephant in real life, but in recent years I have become much more conscious of the ethical treatment of animals – especially in tourism – and as a result, had been incredibly hesitant to book myself in to visit any elephant ‘sanctuaries’.
The reality is, most of these ‘sanctuaries’ are just giant enclosures which appear to be ethical – but really are not. A good way to be certain that you are not supporting the mistreatment of elephants (especially in South East Asia where this is most prominent) is to thoroughly research the facility and see if it has received any legitimate awards for eco friendly practices.
In Thailand, one of the very few places offering ethical elephant experiences is Elephant Hills Tented Camp in Khao Sok. Winner of many prestigious awards – including the Pacific Asia Travel Association’s gold award in the category ‘environment/ecotourism’ and the Thailand Green Excellence Award for animal welfare; as well as being a finalist in the National Geographic Traveler World Legacy Awards in the category ‘conserving the natural world’ – Elephant Hills is arguably one of the most ethical and eco-friendly places to interact with Asian Elephants in all of South East Asia.
So what is it that Elephant Hills does to make its elephant encounters so eco friendly?
Well, first and foremost – it absolutely, undoubtedly and unwaveringly does NOT offer elephant rides.
Instead, Elephant Hills offers its guests the chance to wash, watch and interact with these animals – in an environment which ensures their comfort.
There are no chains. There is no torture.
There are just enormous open areas for these majestic animals to roam and explore, it is so incredibly lovely to watch.
So, without further ado, let me take you with me on a truly wonderful elephant encounter!
After a glorious kayak down one of the many rivers in Khao Sok National Park, we finally arrived at the large open areas that are the home for a small handful of Asian Elephants.
Growing up to 2.75m tall and weighing up to 4 tonnes, when you first catch a glimpse of these lovely ellies, the sight will most definitely take your breath away.
This elephant was considered a rather small one, but it still towered over everybody with ease!
The elephants also appeared to love frolicking around in the water, and it was so heartwarming to watch them interact with one another.
After going over some basic safety rules (more so for the elephants than for us) it was time to get closer to some of these ellies and see if they were up for a play!
As it turned out, they seemed to be really quite amenable to meeting us!
We were lucky enough to spend over 30 minutes patting, washing and observing these animals from up close, but that 30 minutes felt like it was over in just 30 seconds!
Whenever we stopped washing this elephant she would take over and start cleaning herself! What amazed me was that no matter how much any of us washed (elephant or otherwise) she was never fully clean – there would always be leftover dirt coming off!
I loved being able to feel their tough but kinda furry skin. I loved watching them throw their trunks all around. I loved watching their bug ears flap in the wind. I just loved everything about it really!
All too soon, my elephant experience was over. I left the ellies that day feeling comfortable that they were being treated in an ethical way and ecstatic that I had been able to meet them – if only for a little while.
If you find yourself in SEA and want to have an elephant encounter, please please please do your research first. You really do want to be certain that you are only supporting companies that place a big emphasis on the ethical treatment of elephants.
As always, happy solo (and ethical) travelling! xx
Getting to Khao Sok: From Phuket, Khao Sok is about a 2 hour drive north
Elephant Hills: 3 day all inclusive adventures start at 19,399 THB (approx $730 AUD), click here for more
Camera: Images captured with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in conjunction with M.Zuiko 12-40mm f2/8 lens
Remember: Don’t just rock up to any place labelled a ‘sanctuary’ – often these are the worst offenders