How to Have a True Elephant Experience in Thailand and Help Protect These Gentle Giants

by Andrea Petkovic

Anyone who has visited Thailand will agree that elephants are a huge and very important part of Thai culture. They are considered to be the country’s national symbol, as well as exotic snapshots many tourists are eager to capture on camera. However, due to the fact that elephants are essential to Thailand’s tourist trade, tourists are bombarded with different elephant shows and trekking tours. These shows are aimed to draw enormous numbers of travelers that visit the country looking for close interaction with these gentle giants.

Elephant trekking tours
Elephant trekking tours. Photo by Tom Gore

However, there is a dark side to these shows and trekking. The fact is, some mahouts and elephant trainers use the 'torture training method' to make these gentle giants obedient and tourist friendly. They use different methods such as tying or chaining the elephant, torturing them constantly with beatings, leaving them without water and food for days or even weeks, leading to the elephant’s exhaustion. The aim of this method is to break the animal spirit and take its sanity. These kinds of torture training methods have been used for centuries to domesticate wild elephants, and are still accepted as the only possible training method for elephant handlers, being used in almost every elephant attraction show or trekking in Thailand.

Furthermore, travelers are often offered to ride elephants in the jungle. Most people are not aware that riding on the back of an elephant is actually a very heavy burden for this huge, but gentle animal. You may want to know that the elephant’s neck and trunk are considered to be very strong, but the elephant’s back may support a maximum load of 100 kilos which may at the first sight seem to be a lot, but keep in mind that only the seat carrying a person’s weight is about 50 kilos. 

Elephant’s World 

Luckily, there are still a few places which you can visit and have a full elephant experience, while also helping to support the work of the park and help save these beautiful animals. One such place can be found some 250 kilometers from Bangkok, a bit outside the city of Kanchanaburi, in a place called Elephant’s World. 

Elephant’s World offers home stay for sick, old, abused, disabled, illegal and street animals. This is a sort of the shelter where elephants arrive after a lifetime of torture to enjoy the rest and joy that they deserve to have. Elephant’s world offers them living in their own natural environment until the day they die. 

You can choose to visit Elephant’s World as a day trip or you can stay there for up to a month and learn all about the elephants and help mahouts wash them, gather food for them, clean their area and etc. In general, volunteers and visitors contribute to the healing of these animals while also enjoying the chance to learn about their lives, past and present.

If you decide to do it only as a one day visit just to have a glimpse how a park like this operates, contact the park directly one or two days before the day you wish to visit the park  and let them know you are coming. Then hop on a bus in Bangkok and once you arrive to the city of Kanchanaburi, take a taxi to Elephant’s World. 

Raise Awareness! 

Unfortunately, there is very little animal cruelty awareness in Thailand. However, all of us can actually do a lot to help these animals, and to raise Thai awareness about animal cruelty in general. First and foremost, we should not encourage the brutal trade by endorsing these tourist tours which include elephant trekking, or even worse, elephant shows. Make your family and friends who also plan to travel to Thailand aware of this issue and ask them to spread the word. There is so much that can be done by just spreading the word. Of course you can also make a donation to this or several other organizations that fight this issue. By standing together, we can fight the abuse and exploitation of these gentle giants!