Why You Shouldn’t Ride Elephants In Thailand

Saving Elephants in Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Everyone wants to ride elephants in Thailand. Including me. That was until I spent the day at an elephant sanctuary and learned the disturbing truth about this popular activity.

Just imagine how incredible it would be to sit atop a massive 9 foot tall, 4 ton beast while lumbering your way through deep rivers and pristine jungle.

This is an experience many dream about when planning a visit to Thailand.

I couldn’t wait to get my photo riding on top of a massive elephant!

However there’s a dark side to elephant tourism that many people just don’t seem to be aware of…

Elephants Playing in the Dirt

Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Nature Park (ENP) is a natural sanctuary tucked away in the beautiful jungles of Northern Thailand. Their mission is to protect & care for mistreated elephants rescued from the tourism and logging industries.

Increasing awareness and promoting sustainable elephant-friendly tourism is another goal. The park currently cares for 36 elephants on 250 acres of wilderness.

When I first arrived at ENP, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. How close could we get to the elephants? Could we touch them? Were they dangerous?

The only other time I’d seen an elephant outside a zoo was on Safari in South Africa, when one of them charged us! It was an intimidating experience.

Need a place to stay in Chiang Mai? Click Here For Accommodation Deals


Elephant Nature Park Owner

Hanging Out With Giants

You get to participate in many fun elephant activities at ENP. I was able to feed them fresh fruit out of the palm of my hand, watch them play in the mud, go on walks with them, and even get into the river to help give them a bath!

Watching these gentle creatures interact with each other is a magical experience.

They chat with friends and family members by chirping and trumpeting back and forth. You have a greater appreciation for how intelligent and social they really are.

You won’t find any elephant rides at Elephant Nature Park though. No circus tricks or elephant paintings either. This is because the elephants here have been rescued from such places.

Saving Elephants in Thailand

Plight Of The Asian Elephant

Asian elephants are an endangered species. Experts believe there are now less than 2000 wild elephants living in Thailand. The population is declining at a rapid rate due to loss of habitat.

Illegal capture and trade for use in the tourism industry is also a big problem.

This industry thrives because foreign visitors all want to ride elephants, or watch them do tricks, paying good money for the privilege.

But the fact is that wild elephants need to be tamed before they can be ridden. Except the taming process in Southeast Asia is not the same as with a wild horse. It’s much more brutal, and is accomplished when the elephants are very young.

Elephant River Bath

Baby Elephant Torture

Wild elephants won’t let humans ride on top of them. So in order to tame a wild elephant, it is tortured as a baby to completely break its spirit. The process is called Phajaan, or “the crush”.

It involves ripping baby elephants away from their mothers and confining them in a very small space, like a cage or hole in the ground where they’re unable to move.

The baby elephants are then beaten into submission with clubs, pierced with sharp bull-hooks, and simultaneously starved and deprived of sleep for many days.

You can watch a disturbing video of the process if you’re curious. Photographer Brent Lewin won an award for capturing this haunting image of the torture.

Elephants Swimming in Thailand

Elephant Trekking In Thailand

Elephant mistreatment doesn’t stop after they’ve been tamed. Many elephant camps continue to employ bull-hooks to control the animals. While they may not be stabbing them constantly like they did in training, it’s the fear of being stabbed that’s used to motivate them to work.

Elephants never forget.

If an elephant camp in Southeast Asia is claiming to be “responsible” with it’s animals, you should still be skeptical. Remember the process used to train them is often the same, even if they’re treated with kindness now. And usually there is no way to be sure.

Did you know that riding elephants can actually cause serious long-term harm too? Their spines are not made to support the weight of humans. I know it’s hard to believe given their size, but Zebras are the same way.

Baby Elephant Playing in River

Save The Elephant Foundation

Founder Lek Chailert has been fighting to save the elephants and change her country’s acceptance of their treatment since she was a young girl. Lek created Elephant Nature Park to rescue mistreated elephants from the tourist trade and give them a better life.

The park provides day trips and week-long volunteer opportunities that allow tourists to interact with and learn about elephants in a responsible way.

As a registered Thai non-profit foundation, fees collected go towards feeding and caring for the massive creatures, purchasing additional elephants from their abusive owners, and expanding the size of the sanctuary itself.

A trip to Elephant Nature Park includes a graphic video presentation that helps shed some light on the secretive elephant tourism industry. It’s not easy to watch.

Elephants Watching Sunset in Thailand

Choice Is Up To You

Brutal elephant training has been a traditional practice in Southeast Asia for hundreds of years. The problem these days is that most captive elephants in Thailand are used to entertain tourists rather than for traditional purposes like logging or military use.

It’s our demand for elephant rides and circus acts that leads to more baby elephants getting captured from their mothers, tortured, and sold off to entertain us.

Whether you ride elephants in Thailand or not is your choice. I try my best not to judge others because I’m acutely aware that we all have different moral codes & standards.

Most people who participate in elephant tourism in Thailand are completely unaware of how they are treated. I know many friends who have ridden elephants.

It’s easy to understand why people do it. I almost rode them myself.

I just wanted to share what I’ve learned after my own elephant experience in Thailand, to help you make a more informed decision moving forward. ★

Watch Video: Elephant Whisperer

(Click to watch Elephant Whisperer on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Chiang Mai, Thailand [Map] Company: Elephant Nature Park
Cost: $78 USD (day trip)
Accommodation: Click Here For Deals In Chiang Mai
Useful Notes: Day trips last from 8am to 6pm and include delicious all-you-can-eat vegetarian meals. It’s a wonderful & inspiring place with a dedicated staff who absolutely love their elephants. A fabulous alternative to the elephant trekking camps.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Thailand
Suggested Reading: When Elephants Weep

READ NEXT: Blessed By A Monk: My Magic Sak Yant

Do you still want to ride an elephant?


  1. Thanks a lot! Before reading this website, i thought of having a try on Elephant Rides on water in Thailand one day. But when I was searching for more informations, this website got my attention and i read it. I watched some videos regarding to how elephants were treated and i though of, “Oh, I was totally wrong! I shouldn’t have been thinking of riding elephants.

    So here’s a really short note for whoever who wanted to ride on elephants,
    Don’t hurt them, save them instead.

  2. Thank you for this amazing article! Many people don’t know or just ignore what really happens with the animals.
    I went to ENP and I was so amazed and touched by the way the elephants are treated. They are well taken care for and they finally have the chance to be normal animals again!

  3. I loved to read your article. What can we do about the elephant tourism because there are good Sanctuary like this one but the are bad ones. What an we do abou the bad ones?, what can we do to save the elephants?
    Thank you

  4. The same argument applies to riding horses. It is presumptuous to assume they are placed here so humans needn’t walk long distances. It is especially aggravating to see two people riding on one horse. Elephants should be free to enjoy their lives as they wish. It brings to mind the story of “Babar” who has the luck to meet the old lady who understands him and treats him with dignity. Elephants have leaders and live in tribal groups.

  5. I been in this place. Is not hard to guess elephants are mistreated and used for profit.

    Also, just look at what has been recently discovered at the Tiger Sanctuary in Thailand too.

    Just a shame.

  6. Is there any way to report the Sanctuary of truth in Pattaya? I saw their 2 elephants today both in poor condition tightly chained. In fact all their animals are poorly kept.

  7. I homeschool and I’m leaving on a trip to Thailand in July and I’m studying about places to go and visit. I was talking to my dad about riding an elephant and he said yes so did some research about it and came across this and I’ve read every word and it has definitely changed my mind about it so thanks so much for helping me with my school work and making sure i don’t ride and elephant. X

  8. Thanks for sharing this Matthew. It’s a shame so many people know so little about what goes on, but it’s articles like this that raise awareness and expose the truth. My husband made a fantastic documentary highlighting the sufferance these poor animals endure and is well worth a watch should anyone like to learn more. You can watch the full documentary here: https://vimeo.com/77203470. Thank you!!

  9. Thank you Mathew, i had no idea about the riding… I rode one myself when i was young. Now a bit older and wiser i had a feeling i rather take my kids to an elephant sanctuary instead of a tourist place ( my son loves elephants since he was a toddler).

    Your article was perfect.

  10. THANK YOU for emphasizing the fact that you should not ride elephants!!! My husband didn’t understand why you shouldn’t ride them and this article perfectly illustrates the reasons why it’s not right.

    Do you know if this elephant sanctuary offers volunteer opportunities for 2 or 3 week long stays?

    Thank you!!

    1. Thanks for the interesting read. If the animals are suffering from ongoing health problems and are not allowed proper exercise, they are not much better off than in a traditional camp. It take more than good intentions to make a difference.

      1. Actually this is libelous blog and completely full of lies from someone who hates what Elephant Nature Park are trying to achieve.

    2. What a ridiculous “article”.
      Do you have any proof to back up the ‘quotes’ you’ve added or the figures or the claims or in fact any of it?!
      Having been to ENP, I can attest the animals walk around in herds with their familes, no one rides them, no mahouts use spikes or beat them and yes a portion of the activities are staged (feeding/washing) but under no circumstances are the animals “controlled”.
      “Compared to riding camps where the elephants during the tourist rides, leave the grounds and are ridden out in the forest, Leks elephants are confined to her “park”, since they are more or less uncontrollable… the rest move around like a prisoner, not like in a Zoo where the elephants are allowed to walk free in the enclosure”.
      Are you serious?! You’re comparing an area of 1980 ACRES with a zoo ‘enclosure’ and saying the latter is better?!
      If your site wasn’t so ridiculous it would actually be offensive; fortunately it is just laughable.

      1. He wasn’t comparing them, he was giving an example of a good elephant park. He was saying that ENP treats them nicely and is a safe place for the animals.

  11. Thank you so much for shedding light on this issue. I greatly appreciate your article! Will definitely visit ENP when I travel to Thailand. Cheers!

  12. Just a quick thanks Matt for sharing this information on the elephants. I shared it yesterday and I’m stunned at how many responses (and repeated shares) I have gotten from friends all over the world on this issue. I was completely unaware.

  13. I am going to Thailand soon, and want to go and interact with these amazing animals, I have done my research and over and over again ENP comes up as the best place to do just that. I would love to ride one, but did not realise they are not built for this and so am more than happy to visit and just see them. I will report back on my experience once completed.

  14. Hi Matt, I went to the Elephant Nature Park in November this year and got to interact with these amazing animals. After seeing them up close and hearing the stories from the guides I will never EVER ride an elephant. I saw first hand the damage done to their spines from being ridden, then to see the kind and humane way that ENP is caring for them. I encourage anyone to visit ENP if you really love and care about elephants. Bathing them was an amazing experience that will stay with me forever

  15. Me & my girlfriend are travelling to Chiang Mai and after reading this we cannot wait to go to the ENP!

    One question I have is that we have been informed that anti-malarial tablets are not necessary in Chiang Mai, but as the ENP is in the jungle will they be needed?

    We love your articles!

    1. Connor, I went to Chiang Mai in November and didnt need malaria tablets. Its up to you but if you’re just doing a day trip to ENP you should be fine.

  16. I saw this first hand when I was traveling in Thailand a couple years ago. Some guy in a residential neighborhood not too far from where I was staying had two smallish elephants he kept in his front yard and he beat them brutally. When he beat them they’d scream. It was bad – there was something about their screams that sounded kind of human. I’m by no stretch an animal rights guy, but this was really an unpleasant thing to witness.

  17. Here is why I disagree with this post. The same person who wrote this probably eats chicken, meat, fish, etc. So why is it OK to torture and kill animals by beheading them, etc. but not OK to have a friendly elephant alive that ONLY rides a tourist and feeds hundreds if not thousands of what would be poor Thais if not for this form of income???

    1. John, most of the staff at Elephant Nature Park are Thai. They have jobs there. Thais don’t NEED to torture elephants to make a living. This is a perfect example of that. I’m sure vegans will disagree, but comparing eating chicken for food with torturing elephants for profit is not the same in my opinion.

      1. I am a vegan and most of the food at the ENP when I went there was vegan. Still you can’t solve every animal rights problem at once.So it’s ridiculous to say that just because someone eats meat we shouldn’t welcome his/her support when it comes to helping other animals .My guess is that John isn’t doing anything more to help farm animals than he is to help elephants. Whereas I use every opportunity I get to help both.

        1. Well said Eric. People can be ignorant. No you cant solve the worlds problems with animal abuse, but you have to try. Never give up, be their voice.

  18. I really wish I knew more and did proper research before I went elephant riding. It was one of those situations where a tour guide showed me a list of tours and I just picked one, which I thought was a great price and it included an elephant ride. Having experienced the horror elephants endure first hand I had to find better ways for people to enjoy elephants…

  19. When the earth returns to Jesus Christ someday all of the animals will return to their natural habitat!!
    This will be so wonderful!! There is much evil in the world and money is the root of all evil!
    If you see animal abuse report it!!

    1. I don’t understand people getting so bent out of shape! Why ridicule someone for being religious? Especially when their religious views promotes hope for a better future.

      Doesn’t that give people more incentive to begin important conservation work now, if their belief in a re-newed Earth is strong?

      Seriously, people get so tiresome making fun of others simply for having hope of something better.

  20. Hey Matt,

    Thank you for sharing this important information; the ecotourism industry will surely improve with this information circulating. I had no idea about all of the disturbing practices associated with riding elephants. I had no plans to ride them in the near future or anything but I will definitely not be partaking in this activity now after reading this!

  21. Hello! I know this post was written quite a while ago, but I’m hoping you may still see this. I’d love to get your thoughts on one aspect of the ENP.

    We are planning a trip to Chiang Mai next summer, and I’d like to take my children to the ENP. It sounds like an amazing place! However, I’m concerned about my young children hearing too much about the abuse the animals have suffered, or still suffer from the trekking companies for the ones that are still there. We don’t need convincing – we’re already on board with no riding, no trekking, no tourist companies – so I want them to just enjoy the day with the elephants. It’s not that I want them to be oblivious; I am trying to raise them to be good stewards of the earth and to care for animals deeply, and it seems to be working. My youngest recently and accidentaly saw a shocking picture of a dog that was being neglected and abused, and he was a mess for several weeks. They love animals very much and are very upset by atrocities towards them.

    I guess what I’m asking is whether the ENP has a healthy message that isn’t too graphic for young children. Thanks in advance!

        1. I visited ENP this August and also HIGHLY recommend! Don’t take your kids to any other elephant park! Was truly an amazing experience!

    1. I have recently returned from spending a week at ENP with my 12 year old grandson. This experience enlightens children, albeit the information may be graphic, children will share this information with others which is a good thing

  22. Omg! The linked pic and video are nauseating. I’ve boycotted circuses for 30 years because of the abusive “training”. Had to share on Facebook. I had a discussion on Facebook awhile ago and was surprised at how many people never gave it a thought. When I provided links and tried to educat these people, some of whom are rescuers and animal advocates!!, they either didn’t believe me or care. Maybe because they aren’t small and cute and fluffy. Ok. Then what about the big cats?! Even if the training wasn’t horrible, their living enviroment is cruel! Oooooh! Why do “humans” have to treat living creatures this way!!!

  23. Thank you for posting this. It was a great read and very entertaining.
    As a parent who travels often with his young children, elephant rides would have been a top draw. Your article pointed out the dark side of what is otherwise thought of as a token of the tourist industry.
    I’ll look up some lists of sanctuaries for our travels in the future. This give us and our children a much better angle of approach for our travels and the amazing feeling of giving back.

    Keep on travelling!

  24. Hi Matthew great post. I orginially wanted to ride an elephant in Asia but after visiting Thailand and Cambodia twice and visiting Phnom Tamao in Cambodia and talking to the people there about how badly some elephants are treated, I refuse to ride one now. I’m going to the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai next month and getting to feed and bathe these amazing animals, and have actually convinced some friends and work mates why you shouldnt ride them. Keeep up the great work

  25. Thanks for this brilliant article Matt. As you mention, these problems exist behind the scenes and hidden from tourists across many countries in Southeast Asia.

    Save The Asian Elephants (STAE) is campaigning to save Asian elephants from terrible abuse in captivity and tremendous decline in the wild.
    STAE is currently collecting signatures on a petition to the Association of British Travel Agents, the Prime Minister of India and the Prime Minister of the UK, as we enter crucial meetings with the UK Foreign Office and Defra and need maximum public support to strengthen our hand.

    I encourage everyone to please add their name to the petition and help to end this cruelty. http://stae.org/help-us/

  26. I am going to Chiang Mia this October and I was looking forward to riding these magnificent animals but after reading all this information on how cruel the elephants are treated I certainly will not be riding them, instead I hope to visit this place or a similar one where they are taken care of, I only hope that my money goes 100% for the protection of the elephants, they are beautiful animals and deserve to be treated well like all animals with passion and love. Elephants have had a terrible time over the years with the Chinese using their tusks for so called medicine and the evil people who poach them for profit, I for one will not add anymore missery for them and I hope I am not alone.

  27. I to am in a dilemma as to the ethics of elephant tourism in Thailand. I think the old taming techniques are disgusting and more newer animal friendly ways of taming could be the answer. In a perfect world, all animals should be wild and running free and people wouldn’t have to go to work but we don’t live in that world.
    It’s the same with horses, people ride them, old fashioned techniques were also disgusting but the newer kinder ways are much better. I don’t think the answer is to ban elephant camps because what would happen to the elephants then. The answer is education. I was recently in Thailand at Phang Nga and went on a short elephant trek and bathing elephant. It was great and the elephant was aloud to just wander where it wanted to and eat grass and branches with a few guiding words from the mahout who was walking along side. Both the elephant and us enjoyed the wander and never once did the mahout hit the elephant. Then we gave one a bath and it was just like a dog having fun in the water and enjoying being scrubbed.
    I don’t agree with shows like Fantasy and would never want to see it but I think the elephant camps are ok as long as the elephants are well looked after and trained in an ethical and animal friendly manner.

    1. There is no kinder way that elephants are ‘broken’ in Asia. They all go through this horrendous Pajaan torture all for the sake of enjoyment of tourists. The idea is to stop poaching of young elephants from the wild and to stop forced breeding. The existing elephant camps will continue to abuse their elephants as long as tourists insist on wanting to sit on them. Which I personally find very boring, as apposed to watching their behaviour and the bond they have for one another is very moving

  28. I’m not a fan of riding elephants or the process that they go through to make them “suitable” for riding at all. But am curious as to the strong support for places that allow other interaction, such as washing / feeding etc. Surely these elephants have been tamed in a similar way for tourists to be so close to them? You wouldn’t walk up to a wild elephant with food in hand and start trying to wash it – so why the support for places that offer these experiences yet the condemnation of those that offer riding? All elephants that are safe to approach have been tamed to some degree. Using the argument that these have been rescued from worse conditions is a little, in my opinion, useless, as many places that offer riding have also rescued their elephants from worse places. I don’t know what the solution is, and am neither in support of mistreating any animal nor removing the livelihood from people within a society that has had the elephant at a central role for hundreds of years and is now seeing a rapid decline in the wild population numbers. Am just curious why so many people are in support of interacting with these huge creatures yet condemn those who ride them? Cheers.

    1. i fully agree with you. if tourists not go to elephant parks (and tiger kingdoms) than there is no money any more for these very profitable businesses. an alternative is going to the true Thai elephant hospital in Chiang mai/Lampang TECC. Entree costs 200 baht for adults and 100 baht for children…..

    2. Hi SJ, Just to clarify, in the article it said: “You won’t find any elephant rides at Elephant Nature Park though. No circus tricks or elephant paintings either. This is because the elephants here have been rescued from such places.”

      So they’re used to humans constantly around them. And elephants do remember who treat them good or bad. With new caring people around them, they’re not hostile, but live in a worry- free zone so they automatically are happy to interact with those caring people.

    3. The ‘true’ sanctuary’s elephants have been rescued from abusive camps, circuses or illegal logging. The elephants have not been put through the ‘breaking the spirit’ torture at these sanctuary’s. These fortunate elephants are able to live out their lives free of abuse and are now able to develop relationships with other elephants if they choose, which is so special to just watch. There are some cases where the abuse has been so profound that the elephant has been mentally scarred and cannot overcome their past. At Elephant Nature Park these elephants are given respect and space to try to mend. The hope is that these elephants do find some solace by allowing other elephants to support them.

  29. How can you criticise elephant riding and defend cock fighting? Surely animal welfare is animal welfare, regardless of the size of the animal.

    1. For me it’s not so black & white. If I was the ultimate animal-rights warrior, I’d be vegan. I’m not.

      Please re-read that post. I’m not a champion for cockfighting. I’m indifferent to it. Roosters kill each other naturally. They’ve developed weapons for it. A bunch of poor farmers putting a ring around it to watch because they have nothing else to do is VERY different (for me) than the kidnap & torture of a highly intelligent & social elephant for profit. It’s not even the same ballpark. Just my opinion.

      I also kill mosquitos. And go fishing. I’m totally going to hell.

  30. Very nice post and great to hear about people actually taking care of their wildlife and helping to preserve it. I will probably travel to Thailand end of the year and will definitely drop by this place when heading up North – time to live up with the name of my travel blog :)

  31. Thank you for your article. We also visited the very same elephant sanctuary when we went to Thailand in 2013. Absolutely beautiful there! One thing we learned there that I didn’t notice you mention in your article though was that the elephants that you ride in Thailand provide the locals with money to feed and take care of them. If tourists would stop riding them, they wouldn’t have money to take care of them. They would then be abandoned, and because the elephants grew up in captivity, they don’t know how to live in the wild and would in most cases die. It’s a vicious cycle. So sad. It was good to hear both sides of the story when we visited the park. I would definitely recommend going there if anyone decides to visit Thailand!

  32. Finally, someone else who feels the same was as I do.

    I just went on a trip to Krabi, Thailand and was shocked and upset by the treatment of the Elephants used for animal Trekking. So much so, I wrote an article on my blog to make as many people aware of it as possible and to urge people to think twice about animal related tourism.

  33. @prasit putajak.
    Thank you for your story, its important to know the other side of the blade. I never been to thailand before. I’ve never known poverty, hunger, a lag of money or no roof above my head. So I never know how it must feel to do a job that seems wrong in western eyes and what many consider as animal abuse. Ofcourse i believe many people care about their elephants, and many people take good care for them. I dont believe the thai people who use the elepahnts are at fault. Many dont have money to go to school, to learn something else than their family business. Ofcourse not everyone but the ones that do,if they are learned by their fathers to hit and break an animal, how can they know better? The western tourists are at fault. They demand cheap rides, to be entertained. Its their job to spend money in the right area ( wildlife and animal friendly tours, elephant shelters). When that branch grows there will be more job opurtunaties in this field. This means food and a good life for the elephants and work for the locals. You can also help to make a difference, talk to people who dont treath their animal right. Learn them what is right and wrong. Make people aware of the problems. That is already a begin for a better future.

    I wish you the best of luck and i hope for a better future for the locals and the animals.

  34. Great article. It made me cry even if I didn’t considered to ride an elephant, but they do look very sad in captivity, didn’t knew about the crash.
    I misses the Sanctuary while in Asia, unfortunately

  35. Thank you for writing this article and spreading the word about why riding elephants in Thailand (and anywhere in the world) is a really, really bad idea. I saw so many of these places in Thailand last year and since the elephants appear to be well taken care of it can be easy to assume there is nothing wrong with riding them.
    I think we have a certain responsibility as travelers to educate ourselves and travel responsibly. These articles are really helpful to anyone who wants to be informed!

  36. This is a really interesting article.
    After a visit to Northern Thailand this year and booking a two day trekking activity in Chiang Mai, our group spent two days at an elephant camp run by a company called “Jumbo Trekking Tours”. It was horrific! The elephants were made to perform tricks and living in disgusting conditions and immediately I decided not to ride one when I arrived. The guides were drunk and high and were mistreating the elephants right under our noses and banned me from filming anything when I was arou d them or the elphants. I made contact with Lek about this place (which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere..but possible not far from her sanctuary) and I hope that she and her team will be able to track down these guys.
    If it is helpful for your article-topic or to inform people who may be planning to visit South East Asia to NOT ride elephants, then I have two or three videos via my Youtube Channel that I was able to take in the Elephant Camp. It just gives an insight into these kind of camps and the conditions for the elphants. So I hope they will encourage people to avoid such tours and raise more awareness of why not to ride elephants.
    (Youtube:The Hunter Traveller)

    *Visit Lek’s Elephant Sanctuary where elephants are encouraged to create herds, are treated responsibly, and able to live amongst natural surroundings* :)

  37. Great article for awareness! I’ve never heard of “The Crush”… this is really concerning. I plan on taking a trip to Thailand because it is the heart of where elephants live – I will now refuse to ride elephants. Thanks for the info!

  38. Thank you for the information. My friends and I planned to try Elephant Trekking in Koh Phangan this weekend and I’m thankful that I came across your article. This made me decide to just go for Elephant Nature Park and wash the Ele’s instead. Millions Thanks!

  39. My niece told us about a documentary she watched and was very anti elephant trekking but we all said no they are well cared for etc we then went to the kho lak elephant camp were they all had the picks in hand we told them we do not want them used so my niece hesitantly went on the ride I wish we hadn’t forced her now reading this, but would just like to say her guide had a bamboo stick and he continued to hit the elephant with it so in return my niece decided to wack him with her selfie stick! He was not amused. The worst experience for us was the Fantasea show that shocked us and we left there were load cannons going off on stage the use of the elephants in the show was awful I wish we had known beforehand

  40. I’m just looking at booking the four seasons tented camp in the golden triangle, Thailand which includes elephant experience – I do not want to ride elephants but do you know if its an ethical reserve?

    Any info please?

  41. I’m an elephant trainer instructor. I work with elephant more than 10 years in tourism field.

    I disagree with this opinion that againt elephant working.
    From statistic in 2009, Domesticated elephant have more than 2000 elephants in Thailand.
    And most of elephant work in tourism industry. The words you spread will save a few sanctuary that you supported but in another way that mean the rest of elephants will be poverty and more than 3000 people lose thier job.

    I’m not afraid if someday i lose my job, even i will missing many of elephants that i used to work with.
    For living, i think not too difficult to find a new job. But why don’t you think of other elephants that will be no job, no food and nobody take care of them.

    You don’t have to believe me, i’m nobody, but please think with your own common sense by the general facts that you might known and forget to think about.
    – Grown up asian elephants eat minimum 200 kg. of food per elephants per day or about 10% of thier weight.
    – Domesticate elephants in Thailand, in 2009 record by government is about 2000 elephants. and i think increasing slightly for recent years.
    – Recents sanctuary or called themself elephants sanctuary, that’s run by donation, for all over Thailand now maintain not more than 10% of elephants we have.
    – That’s mean the 1800 elephants now maintaining by others, my work, which let elephants work, which animal lovers called us evil.
    – By the 2009 record, wild elephant have about the same amount 2000 but slightly decreasing because of not enough foods in the national park.
    – By above facts, 1800 elephants have to work for thier own foods to survive and this becoming the world-wild drama. if you still not agree with me to let elephants work, what is your suggest solutions? where the foods of elephants come from? Do you really think just the donation money can maintain all 1800 elephants?
    – Why we don’t just let the domesticated elephants to be free in the wild? The first reason is a food. Recently, our national park nowaday is decreasing, when forest gone, the wildlife food gone as well. Do you still want them to be free and straving in the wild?

    Another reason is about the feeling of elephant owner, The elephants for them is a member of family. they grow up together. In the past, age of imperialism, the western came here and start trading teak wood. peoples here at that time use elephant to tranport the wood, they work together generation by generation untill now for more than 200 years. you might think the domesticated elephant now came from the wild, yes thier grand grand elephant parents came from the wild but not the recent domesticated elephant. Nowaday, after the idea of rehabited elephants to be free in the wild is dead-end, Working in Tourism Industry is the answer and the source of foods of all domesticated elephant. We work together again as in the past, they both work for living together. The money that they have got from work most paid to be elephant foods and have a few left for owner to survive. Some of elephants owner are rich, but most of them who is a Karen hilltribe are not. Even now the price of elephants is very high about 1-2 million baht but they not sell thier elephant and try to keeping elephant with thier family because the feeling that thier elephants is apart of their family. Ten years of my work, i saw a lot of elephant owners who is not rich at all, the things they did when they can’t maintain their elephant and thier own survive is to join the mass tourism elephant camp that run by the rich man, that they not really want, lower paid than standard, because the mass sell price is cheap, but they have to work for years to survive. they cannot run small business by thier own because thier are no money and lack of business skill, so they have to work year by year to keep thier elephants to thier family.And to sell thier elephant is always their last choice, even there are the easier way, to run out of the poverty.

    From all above, I’m not expect you to change your vision that saw us as a bad guy to be a good guy, all i need is, you read my words and re-think about it with no bias, not for us the human who used elephants, but for the rest of the working elephant.

    You will not believe me, because It’s againt all believe that you ever heard and thought, But let your common sense decide.
    How one people could such being an evil like that? and what is truely purpose to be evil?
    Do you really think we so greedy for money?

    I work with only ten years to let elephant working. But many of elephant trainers, the evil guys who let elephant work, they sacrified thier life to live with and take care of elephants, Yes, i’m also angry and sad as well, when the peoples judging us, especially a poor guy like them, as an evil. But what can we do? we just a small peoples who try to fight the poverty for both human and elephant in reallity.

    All i can do is to speak out here for the peoples you thought they are evil. even my English is not really well, and make you confused, please forgive me.but i have to do, because most of them cannot communicate English as i can, they are low educated and poor. So i think this all the things i could do for them.

    1. Thanks for the long and thoughtful comment Prasit, it’s nice to learn from the other perspective. However elephant sanctuaries like ENP seem to be doing pretty well, are staffed by locals, and still attract tourism. I believe it should be used as a model for others. If they are successful, why can’t elephant trekking companies change their business model and become sanctuaries instead?

      1. yes like tecc in chiang mai/lampang. the Thai Elephant Conservation Center. government controlled entree 200 baht and children 100 baht. The live inside the national Park.

    2. Prasit, thank you for sharing your inside perspective on this. I realize that as Westerners we may seem like we’re always judging others and telling others how to run things but one of the main points of the article was the training of the young elephants and how cruel it is. You didn’t really talk about this. However, your view of training and how/what happens would be very welcome and gives us another perspective. I’m glad you took the time to comment.

      1. As I’m sure Prasit is too modest to say, he and his colleagues are actually at the forefront of changing training techniques for all Thai elephants. By working with mahouts and traditional elephant owners (not blaming them), they have affected great change in not only training techniques, but mahout techniques, in elephant handling and elephant welfare. The training used is a hybrid of positive reinforcement techniques mixed with traditional beliefs. All cultural and spiritual aspects from traditional techniques are included, but the actual training technique is positive reinforcement.
        Think about it….
        It is easy to buy 40 elephants, change the mahout and tell them how to treat the elephant. You have helped 40 elephants have a better life. BUT, the far greater challenge and what Prasit and others have dedicated their lives too, is to change hundreds of years of mahout culture, to educate them, to show them better ways. Slowly over time, you can affect change for thousands of elephants in this manner.
        My hat off to you Prasit and all my other elephant colleagues on the ground in Thailand working everyday to affect REAL and sustainable change to Thai elephants.

    3. Dear Sir,
      What an appalling excuse for abuse towards gods beautiful devine beings.
      I won’t go on about what is like for you and your people as I have no idea what it is to live like you do.
      We all an innate self of what is right and what is wrong. To hurt someone or something is cruel in itself, whether you are educated or not.
      I am sorry there is NO EXCUSE for any abuse towards any animal. Not for greed, not for money, not for food.
      Just leave the elephants to live naturally in the wild.
      I could say so much here, but you’ve angered me with your pitiful words or reasons for doing what a lot of people do in your country and other countries..
      You are fighting poverty for yourself not for the elephants, if that is the case you would see the elephant as an ambassador and provide and show tourists how to treat elephants as they should be, with respect and honour to which you have none.
      When I go this year to Thailand I will speak out and if I see such abuse, I will not stand by and do nothing….
      If you can write on here you can read up about how wonderful your elephants are and how people all over the world love and respect elephants more than most thais do. You are so lucky and fortunate to have them in your country. You do not deserve them at all..
      Good luck with the pity form..

    4. That’s a great post. Elephants’ camps is a difficult problem. I think the only solution would be providing restrictions to the existing camps and imposing penalties for mistreating animals. The second thing would be letting the industry die out rather than killing it. Let the camps keep going as long as they treat the elephants well but don’t “crush” or breed new baby elephants and don’t train new mahouts. Nevertheless it is important to talk abut this to increase people’s awareness.

  42. Thanks so much for this post! I’m about to do a similar one myself. :) I just spent a week volunteering at ENP and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done!

    Before visiting, I had no idea how horrifically treated elephants were – I too used to want to ride them, but quickly quashed that idea a while ago when I learned how badly some of the camps treat them. However before my visit, I didn’t know about the training process and it’s heartbreaking to see such wonderful animals put through this. And tourists have no idea! I think it’s a hugely important message to spread. It’s the consumers who can stop this, sadly not the people running the treks etc.

    I’m glad to see so many comments of people wanting to visit this amazing place, so thank you for promoting it! And of course thank you to Lek for, on top of everything she does for the animals, allowing a new form of elephant tourism! :)

  43. Hi guys, I have arrived in Thailand for our honeymoon and it was our dream to ride one of these beautiful creatures. I must say we did go on an elephant trekking day and something didn’t feel right. So, I Google it Then I found this page. We feel so disgusting about funding this monstrositY. I hope we come back again and visit this sanctuary. Need to do some good to make up for the bad we did.

  44. I am in Thailand as I write this. My friend and I heard about the elephant trekking and decided to give it a try. We arrived to the site and saw the elephants being beats with the blunt side of an ice pick on their head. I immediately got off the elephant and wanted no part of the ride. It was utter animal cruelty and horrific to see. These are extremely smart and beautiful animals.They should NEVER be treated this way. I am disgusted with myself for being so naive. I hope this is another eye opener to anyone who decides to do this. If our tourist money doesn’t go towards this cruelty the demand for these rides will stop. It needs to end.

    1. I did the same thing Nick. I ended the ride, less than a quarter of a mile from the Elephant stable. I couldn’t bear to see this beautiful animal being treated so horribly, it made for a terrible mar on what was a great vacation.

      I only wish I had read this story PRIOR to leaving for Thailand. On my next trip, I’d love to ENP and spend a day giving these beautiful creatures the attention they truly deserve.

  45. I am confused. I just read an Instagram post where the person posted pictures at Elephant Nature Park in Chaing Mai. And they were riding the elephants. Of course defending it saying the elephants had been rescued and were “already trained” so it was ok to do this. Thats when i started looking it up and found this article. Im confused because, are there two elephant parks in Chaing Mai, Thailand called ENP? If not, this couple on IG, who are currently there, are riding elephants at this place in your article. Or so it seems. I am completely against this practice.

    1. Hi, must be a mistake – we were just in Thailand at ENP and they don’t allow riding on the elephants (absolutely none). Was a perfect natural experience with the elephants.

      Unfortunately, there are countless elephant trekking places in Thailand where riding is allowed (one very close to the ENP area) so I assume there is some mistake.

      All we can do is support those places who do the right thing. We spent 4 weeks in Thailand and the 1 day at ENP was the highlight. Absolutely magnificent.


      1. No they don’t allow riding on the elephants at Elephant Nature Park.

        Elephant Nature Park used to allow riding (on the neck) but moved away from that. In any case, it wouldn’t be practical these days with the number of visitors.

  46. Thank you for sharing this information, I have always wanted to swim and ride on a Elephants, but now I am disgraced that they would do that to Elephants.

  47. Thank you Matthew for awareness raising. My husband and I also visited ENP last week and now have an understanding of the violent and cruel process elephants go through to be broken for human use. So glad to know this. We are at Kantiang Bay on Koh Lanta now. There’s a young elephant chained here 24/7 to advertise elephant trekking. Lots of people stop to get their photo in front of it. When they know how it suffers we hope they will stop participating.

  48. I was planning on going to Chitwan (In Nepal) for some jungle safari atop elephant. Now, I don’t think so. Maybe I will take the jeep ride instead! By the way, come to Nepal. I can’t believe you haven’t come to Nepal and shared your experiences about being here! March is the tourist peak season and the best season for all touristic activities. I hope you will come here someday. I would love to meet you when you are here! Hehehe!

  49. Thank you for this post. I’ll probably be (rightly) strung up for this but I’ve ridden 3 elephants in the past two and a half years at what I believed to be ethical and nurturing places. I am currently in Phuket and had booked to ride my fourth for my birthday this weekend. I have now cancelled this trek and definitely intend to visit ENP when I head up North this summer.

    I think it’s very easy to read good reviews/turn a blind eye and convince yourself that the elephants are well treated in these places when the reality is often so different, as you’ve rightly pointed out. I’m just a little gutted it’s taken me this long to realise this and act upon it.

    If your elephant experience is about getting your next great profile pic, your stunning photos alone prove that riding an elephant isn’t necessary to get amazing photos and appreciate the beauty of these amazing creatures.

    Thanks once again for the impact this post has made.

  50. I was able to take a gap year in 2014 with a friend and we decided to go to an elephant santuary in Chaing Mai. At the time we knew little about how elephants were treated however, when visiting the santuary it was clear the elephants that we’re being rescued had something visibly wrong. I found getting to know the elephants and the sanctuary so enriching and just that day of feeding, riding and bathing the animals was the best day I had in Thailand. I see now maybe riding the elephants can be avoided the next time I go, but when I was riding them with my friend I felt so close to the elephant and it was an absolutely amazing trek that I don’t really regret. I hope to go and do ENP the work sounds amazing !

    1. I would like to turn what you wrote in your post into a question. Does your feeling so close to an elephant and experiencing an absolutely amazing trek justify or detract from anything that Matthew’s article just illustrated? Enough to ignore the possibility that you were bearing weight on a tired hungry animal who had his spirit crushed in order to be aptly trained in carrying you (which his body was not designed to do) across a distance? Granted that would be a worse case scenario, but I believe it to be true that this is also a sadly common one.

  51. Amazingly written Matthew. People need to know more about this.
    I taught English in Thailand for 6 months and my orientation group went to an elephant camp that was a terrible experience. I then decided to stay at ENP for a week in my last month in Thailand and it showed me how moving a humane elephant experience can be.
    It’s incredible what people will choose to ignore when it makes them uncomfortable (like hearing about the “breaking” process), ignorance truly is bliss.
    The change of this treatment of elephants starts with us since we are the tourists coming into these places and spending all our money on riding elephants and getting pictures with them. If we redirect that money we can start to change how elephant tourism works in these countries.
    Thank you for helping spreading the word, brother!

  52. Great post and very diplomatically put! Unfortunately I’m not so diplomatic when it comes to telling my friends off whenever they post a picture riding one on facebook. I seriously don’t care that it was the best experience of their life and they thought the elephants were ‘happy’. All of that came at the expense of that poor animal. And even if there were ‘humane places’ with free elephants you aren’t meant to ride them- they suffer for it, and any humane place comes at the expense and at making tourists think its ok to go to the other hugely inhumane places.

  53. please tell me what’s your view on the Thai elephant home in Chaing Mai, as I was thinking of seeing the elephants there. They are wonderful animals and I would hate to participate in anything that was cruel.

  54. Thank you so much for writing this informative, thought-provoking, and non-judgemental article, Matthew. I’ll be sharing it with my friends before we go to Thailand so they’ll understand why we will not be supporting this industry! (Unless we make it to the wonderful sanctuary :) )

      1. I believe your article should be reworded a bit. I have spent time at elephant sanctuaries who allow tourists to ride elephants bareback, as they are able to physically hold their weight. It is the weight of the metal seat that is painful due to the four points that dig into the skin, as well as the pain it causes on the elephants spine. Bareback riding, on the condition that the elephant is not beaten or confined, can be humane. Elephants who have been rescued from trekking companies can be trained using vocal cues, and from my experience enjoy the bonding.

        1. where was this place you went to ride bareback? im tryng to find the perfect place in Thailand to visit and spend time with the amazing animals that live there and I don’t want to end up going to a bad place where they are crewel to them.

  55. Hi Mathew, I was at the ENP and realy enjoyed it. Even wrote a blog about it and put a referral on my site. I LOVE elephants and you can’t find better places for them and better caretakers then Lek and her team. Fantstic that you are promoting them with this great article!

  56. I’m eleven years old. My family is traveling the world. We were just in Thailand. And before that we were in South Africa on a safari. We are in Cambodia and we are going to go to the Elephant Nature Park. It sounds really fun. It literally breaks my heart, how they tame elephants. They are my favorite animals. I think people need to raise awareness. Thanks for expressing that.

  57. I am looking for a true animal friendly location close to Bangkok (okay to drive for a few hours). Please provide your recommendations.

  58. Thank you Matthew for your bright insight to The Elephant Nature Park!
    I cant believe its exactly 6 months since I was there! I cant wait to go back and do it all again. It was a life changing experience to work and play with these majestic and gentle creatures and a true blessing to meeting my inspiration, Lek Chailert!

    I truly recommend this wonderful experience to any and every animal lover. And it is not expensive! All the money goes directly back to the park in supplying the elephants with the copious amounts of food they need and helping to rescue more elephants, and you get to have a life changing experience along the way, so its a ‘win win’ in every way! Thank you Lek and Darrick and I look forward to my next trip to see you all again!

  59. Thank you so much for posting this, Matt. I am taking my family to Thailand in February, and planned to take my kids on an elephant ride. This story broke my heart. I love animals, and would never support this abuse knowingly. Obviously, I will head for the sanctuary instead. Luckily I found your article in time. I will spread the story as much as possible.

    1. For my eighteenth birthday, I will be traveling to Phuket, Thailand. By educating myself on the harm done to these wise animals, I have absolutely no desire to ride one. I would absolutely LOVE to visit your sanctuary when I arrive next month. Thank you so much for informing me. It’s unfortunate that humans would abuse such a beautiful creature just because of their economic motive. I will definitely spread the word! Keep doing what you’re doing! See you in January!

  60. Hi Matthew!

    Thank you so much for this post. I am planning a trip to Thailand and its hard to find “true reviews” stating facts from veterinaries or animal experts. I have a 160lbs Great Dane at home and some humans think their kids can ride my dog as a horse I am always telling them NO. Would they love to have me on their back? I don’t think so…Anyways great review and will definitely put this on my bucket list :)

  61. .So if the Elephants camps are closed,what happens to the Elephants,when using Elephants in logging was banned it lead to a decline in the Elephant population.
    Thailand’s current population of domesticated elephants is about 2,700. After a precipitous decline from about 100,000 domesticated Elephants. Wild elephants in Thailand are very difficult to count given their dense, forested habitat, but most experts would agree there are between 2,000-3,000. In 1989 the Thai government banned all logging in protected areas, effectively closing all remaining natural forests. While undoubtedly a very wise choice, one unfortunate side effect was that it threw many logging elephants out of work. Luckily, that loss coincided with a rapid rise in tourism, which was able to employ many elephants. Today, probably more than half of Thai elephants work in tourism. Disturbingly, some overseas animal rights groups have argued that tourists should not visit elephant camps, claiming it promotes cruelty. In fact, most Thai elephants are very well cared for, partly because most Thai people are intrinsically kind and humane but also because elephants are simply too valuable to abuse. (A beautiful calf or a healthy, young breeding female is worth as much as 700,000 baht or US$22,000.) Although the camp to be visited should be carefully selected, the kindest thing that ethical, elephant-loving tourists can do is to visit a camp and enjoy elephants. Without work in tourism, elephant owners will have no means to care for their animals.

    1. Precisely because elephants are so valuable for tourism, babies are ripped from the wild, tortured, and smuggled in from Myanmar to meet the demand. It’s perfectly possible to enjoy elephants without riding them and watching them paint — at a sanctuary, not a trekking camp.

      1. thank you for the info, had no idea, it is an eye opener, iam german, living in florida and invited to go to Thailand with my best friend who was born and raised there. I love those creatures and just learn a value lesson.

    2. Sadly, I agree that elephants will only survive in Thailand if people can make money from them. And in essence, this means earning money from tourism. However, this does NOT mean that the elephant tourist industry, as it stands at the moment, is the best that we can hope for, and I’m not sure where you get the idea that most elephants are well-treated. They are usually fed and cleaned, but that is as far as it goes. Elephants are long-lived and have complex social systems, which has led them to develop some of the ‘highest’ cognitive skills known in non-human animals. Many of the camps keep elephants chained up which means that they are unable to socialize. Elephants are not able to play, nurture their children, comfort other elephants, or just hang out with their friends, and the psychological effect on them is just as devastating as it would be for humans.
      Matthew also mentioned the phajaan. Almost EVERY elephant you will see in Thailand has been put through this brutal training process. The threat of violence is always there even if a mahout does not often use the hook. Sadly, the use of the hook and other ways of inflicting pain – the nail hidden in the hand, the slingshot in the eye – are common and often not that noticeable, so tourists might not realise what is happening – or else they are told, as the blood trickles down the elephant’s forehead – that ‘elephants have such thick skin that it doesn’t really hurt them’.
      It is worth pointing out here that elephant workers are pretty much the lowest of the low in Thailand. Many of the workers are illegal burmese immigrants that can’t get any other work, and have no previous experience of working with elephants. Of course they are going to use hooks and nails to control the elephants, because they don’t know any other way to protect themselves or to get the 4 ton animal to do what they want.
      ALSO, the back issue, as Matthew mentioned. Elephants’ backs are not designed to carry weight in the middle, where the seats are placed. They cope much better with weight around the neck and shoulders, where mahouts traditionally sit.
      So, I agree that tourism is probably the future for elephants in Thailand. The challenge now is to make it as elephant-friendly as possible. The cool thing is that these elephant-friendly experiences tend to be more authentic and personal, and tourists actually prefer them to circus shows and treks. The ENP has been a pioneer for these types of experiences, but more and more parks are opening up that follow this kind of model. The ENP has also recently started a home-stay program in Surin (the home of elephant training in Thailand) so that Thai families can bring their elephants back from Bangkok, where they were begging to make money. So things are really starting to change, it was quite slow at first but it has really started to move quickly over the last few years.

    3. PeterB , wow that was some of the most asinine garbage I have ever read. You have to be either ignorant or just plain stupid to think that animals working in treks overseas would be treated with the utmost respect. They beat these animals within an inch of there lives to protect the paying customer. An animal is very replaceable, injuring tourists will ultimately leave the company out of business not the other way around. Maybe get informed or stop trolling you jackass.

  62. Hi Mat
    I have also experienced ENP and do you realise how much you are helping the elephant by the positive comments you have received here by informing with the bare facts? Awesome work and hopefully more people will read your blog and realise how brutal tourism is for the elephant the way most operators are running their business. A couple of businesses outside Chiang Mai have changed their way of thinking and are now looking after their gentle giants and no more riding.

        1. Hello Sarah, I was volunteer at ENP and can help you. You have to buy a flight ticket from your home to Chiang Mai Thailand. The week begins every monday to sunday afternoon and your accodomation for a week is around 300 euros (please convert) . You can stay several weeks more, if you want… you can contact me on fb english french group “Elephants de Thailand et d’ailleurs” or on website “Elephant Nature Park” http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/

  63. Hi Matthew,
    I am so grateful to you for posting this. We are going to Thailand next month and I had no prior knowledge of this treatment! I found this post upon looking for a place to ride an elephant, also a dream of mine (as of others that commented above)….but no longer! Thank you for the info and God Bless both you and Lek!!!!

  64. Fantastic post Matthew. I’ve also just written a similar post about our experience at ENP. Like you I never realised the suffering elephants have to go through so us humans can ride them and it horrified me to learn the truth. The thing is spending time at ENP and interacting with these majestic beings in a way that doesn’t exploit them made the experience far more meaningful than any elephant ride ever could.

  65. Hello

    Thank you for writing this article, as many dreamers wanting to ride an elephant clueless how they get tamed, I will just enjoy watching and touching them how the Universe created these wonderful giants!


  66. Thank you for the article.Riding an Elephant was on my Bucketlist,but now after reading your article I would never do that.Thank you once again.

  67. Thank you for the article. I absolutely had no idea about what people did to the elephants in order to ride them until I read this. I don’t know about Thailand or other elephants parks that offer elephant riding but I was raised in a place where people used to travel around by elephants and I’m pretty sure that they didn’t torture the elephants or did anything brutal to them but I definitely agree with what you wrote and hope that more and more people know about this.

  68. I’m with ya brother. They have over 40 elephants behind my house at FantaSea that perform in the show. Interesting, they’re all female. That doesn’t bother me.

    I hate to see the elephants walking beside the busy highway carrying people, that gets me.

    Don’t go for elephant rides when you come to Phuket…Please.

  69. I had no idea.

    Thanks for writing Matt. I’ve raised and trained horses and dogs my whole life and just figured elephants were trained the same. I’ve never seen an elephant in the wild or known a trainer. It never occurred to me they were abused. People talk about “breaking” horses, they’re fools; all you have after you break a horse is a broken horse. What you’ve described is unconscionable.

  70. Good article Matt. We were there a few years ago and was a learning experience for us as well. Feeding and washing the elephants was fun, but the craziest thing was watching them all playing in the pond – I wondered if humans were ever put in danger? Because these elephants, especially the young ones, were running around the same way dogs chase each other…and I could just see one of these things accidentally running over a few tourists. Its the only time we got nervous. Other than that was a great time.
    Frank (bbqboy)

  71. Thanks so much for this post Matt. I’m currently in Thailand and am getting sick of hearing people telling me how much fun they have had on elephant treks. And then there is the people that are so proud of their photographs with tigers.

    I think some of it nativity but I think some people are happy to put aside any animal welfare concerns to get a photo of themselves to put on Facebook.

    We are planning on visiting ENP when we are in Chaing Mai next month and this post has made me even more excited.

  72. Hi ive been in hatyai where my kids n I went for elephant riding. Yes they hit the baby elephant on the head so hard when the elephant trying to drink at a small pond. It was an awful experience for us especially my kids to watch the poor elephant treated that way. But at the same time im afraid of my family’s safety too.

    1. Nana, Im sorry but what does being afraid of your familys safety got to do with not riding elephants anymore. To stop the abuse of these beautiful elephants? Im confused what your family has to do with it.

  73. 1. I do not agree of using tools, sharp metal, to hot elephants on their heads
    If they con not control elephants, let them go to sanctuary.
    2. Elephants need to eat food, farmers whose crops were eaten by elephants
    can go to Elephants Association, where I and many people have donated money, to redeem their loss.
    3. Elephants have good memory, better than human beings.Regarding the complaint that elephants hurt people, they shouls stay away from them, keep a distance. People have hurt elephants first and they do not forget. Will you get near lions and tigers when you see them?

  74. Excellently written article Matt, I’ve read many similar articles, and wrote one on my own blog, despite their popularity the tourists masses just don’t seem to be getting it.
    A disturbing thought is, what happens when they do get it, what is to become of the institutions that offer elephant tourism when the tourists turn their back on them ?. What are the cash strapped owners going to do, what will become of the elephants.

    Introducing them back to the wild is not an option, Thailand’s wild herds now rely on the introduction of domestic blood because they are inbreeding. Man made barriers such as roads railways and urbanization prevent elephants from intermingling, hence the herds can’t refresh their bloodlines.

    I think it would also be nice to see a new angle added to the articles, a behind the scenes look at what goes in these establishments. Maybe the fact that there is no such information re-enforces the current overview of cruel treatment, but it might also be unfair to tar all elephant tourism establishments with the same brush.

    I think the Thailand tourist industry, the elephant tourism establishments and maybe even the government need to discuss options which will be favorable to everyone, even if it takes some amount of subsidizing.

  75. Man I am really bummed is there anywhere you can ride elephants that haven’t been tortured or hurt its spine, like i really really wanna be able to ride an elephant but can’t go through with it after reading this?

    1. Zac,
      I understand that you really, really want to ride an elephant (actually, I don’t understand, but never mind), but what you think is better: riding the elephant or giving an elephant a bath? Adding that, bathing is ethical, and riding is not, the choice for me is obvious. And for you? Regards.

    2. If you still really, really want to ride an elephant, find a place that will let you sit on the shoulders, just behind the ears, and not on a platform seat.

  76. I just saw H&R Block Australia’s latest advertising campaign featuring a live “trained” elephant. PeTA Asia-Pacific has started a petition to tell the company that this cruel exploitation of innocent elephants in Thailand is unacceptable. Please take a moment to sign and share the petition, you can see more details here: http://ow.ly/B1cPi.

  77. hi, i would like to help the elephants and take care of them, when i am in thailand next year. unfortunately i only find programs which cost like $700 for volunteers..how come i have to pay so much for volunteering? are there any other possibilities to help?

    1. Hi Ariel, the reality is labor is cheap in Thailand. If it was just about work, it would be cheaper for them to hire local people than house & feed a bunch of western volunteers.

      They don’t really need your hands, rather they need monetary contributions to pay for expensive food & medical care for the elephants. As a volunteer you are donating both time & money.

    2. I feel exactly the same. I would love to show, teach my son that these animals deserve a better life, and enjoying these animals can be done in different ways. Sadly enough, the prices are just TOO much, especialy for the average Thai. It seems those organizations are catering to a Western audience only, while I believe it would be so important to teach us (Thai) locals this cruel practice can’t continue in a modern society. Sometimes I feel it’s just a business like any other… agree, they’re doing something good along the way, but are we really changing something if the average Thai can’t see the difference? So where do we go? To the local Elephant attractions and sadly enough see baby elephants do circus trics.

      1. When I was there a few years ago Thai people could visit for free. I’m not sure if this is still the case as perhaps it is more well-known in Thailand now.

        1. My visit on November 2014 was free (i’m Thai) but I was suggested to make donation by purchasing suvenior at the shop and I would recomend all Thai visitors to do so : )

    3. The Elephant Nature Park charges only $77 for a single day visit and only $370 for a week-long stay. This includes meals and accommodations.

  78. Thanks so much for this info i just went to a animal rehabilitation sanctuary in Kerala,India. I saw they had the hooks and sticks but i didn’t see them using them. I don’t know if they went through the training process but they where let loose in a confined jungle and didn’t hurt us. It looked like they where treated well but i didn’t exactly know because most of them didn’t speak English. Again thank you for the info

      1. Hi im traveling to Thailand near the end of this month.
        i was wondering if you have any advice to share with me on mostly everything?
        I know this is a long list so be brief and maybe point me in the right direction.
        also when you say that the Elephants get domesticated and it is usually a brutal process, what other way is there? just curious.

        Thank you

  79. Very good article. I am starting to put together my vacation to Thailand, it will be my first time in Asia – and I couldn’t be more exited. I learned something knew today, reading this page, thank you again for sharing your experience with us. I already made notes, and I will go visit this place. I love traveling, and photography….and I sure I will have an amazing time in Thailand. I am trying to put my whole vacation together by myself, since I don’t like to buy packages when I travel. I am studying and trying to learn as much as I can. Again, thank you for sharing your experience here, very valuable information for the people that are travelers and not tourists :-)

  80. I just started doing my research on Thailand for a trip next year with my brothers. I was looking into riding elephants and when I googled it, your site was the top link – and I’m so glad it was! I am completely content with just being able to touch one or observe them up close (which I’ve never done). Now I’ve begun to read through more of your site and it’s greatly informed my trip! I just want to say thank you because I had no idea where to start! I just know I’ve always wanted to go to Thailand and experience the culture more than the tourism. Your site has made that a much more secure and easy process for me! GREATLY appreciate it! :)

    If it’s alright, I’d like to add a link to your site to my travel blog (more of a scrapbook). I’d love to share it with my family and friends that read it.

  81. I have always dreamed of riding/swimming with elephants in Thailand; however, now that I have read this article, I will NOT add to the mistreatment of those precious animals. Instead, I plan to visit ENP for a week. :) thank you so much for posting this article; not just for people like me, but for the elephants too!

  82. Very good story. People won’t be disappointed by a trip to Elephant Nature Park where you can interact with elephants in a compassionate way. And Lek is somebody really special. I saw dogs all start howling/barking when she arrived one day. She is a real St. Francis sort of person.

  83. Hi Matt! I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciated this article. A few years ago I spent 2 months travelling through Thailand and never went on an elephant ride as it just seemed dodgy to me. Now I’m planning my second trip and wondered if I had missed out after seeing advertisements of “ethical elephant rides”. Your article made me feel content about boycotting such rides and now I’m in love with the idea of visiting ENP and washing the elephants which seems like a much greater experience. Thank you! :)

  84. Thanks for the Information! I was planning on going to ride an elephant, but now I will do a week of volunteering at the ENP instead :-)

    1. Good for you Yulie… I’ve volunteered to work at ENP in October… I’ve visited Thailand a few times as I have family living there… I initially got excited about seeing an elephant “up close and personal” in the town my family live, but something about the sadness in their eyes I saw, made me read up about the “tourist elephant”. To say I was ashamed I’d played into the tourist trap of keeping this poor helpless animal, yes helpless forget it’s size, it’s helpless – it’s a do or die situation… in its “job” of living this way prompted me to seek out Lek, her rescue sanctuary and her wonderful work… I’m 55 this year and feel like it’s the most positive thing I’ve ever committed to. I hope you enjoy your time at ENP, let us know how you get on… :)

  85. Thanks for writing this article; you’ve raised more awareness of this important issue. I’m especially glad you mentioned Lek here and the great work being done at Save the Elephant Foundation. I know of too many people who have travelled to Asia and participated in elephants rides and posed with tigers in “sanctuaries”; they are often completely misled and don’t realise they are contributing to inhumane practices and a cruel industry.

    The last thing a genuine sanctuary would do is let you ride the elephants as they know it would just increase demand for more unethical operations and traumatise the animals they have rescued even further. Incredibly sad that tourists pay to go to centres that have supposedly “rescued” elephants from the logging industry and then put them to work carrying tourists around. Some organisations actually say they let you ride the elephants so they can “earn their keep”!

    Save the Elephant Foundation gives tourists the opportunity to interact with elephants in a natural way and shows visitors that it is much more enjoyable to feed and interact with these animals on their terms in an (almost) natural environment. It is not fair to make an elephant, rescued or otherwise, carry you in a heavy Howdah around a forest so you can have a photo opportunity.

  86. Hi Matthew, I stumbled upon this post while actually doing research for a blog post of my own about this very issue! As a long-time visitor to Thailand I have gone on many elephant rides and I only recently found out the truth about the industry, so I’m having a huge fess up to my readers and begging them not to be caught up in it like I unwittingly was. Thanks for sharing that photo of the phajaan, horrible as it was, and thanks for helping to get the word out there.

  87. Another awesome post that should make travelers think twice before pretty much everything they do while traveling. The negative comments seem to come from people who can’t grasp that you’re actually trying to do something good. Rock on Matt.

  88. A few years ago I was sent to Chiang Mai to write a travel story on luxury hotel stays, but I was grouped together with a bunch of travel agents to see all the tourist sites of the small town. We were put on a five-day whirlwind tour that included a visit to a very popular ‘elephant sanctuary’.
    I felt terrible clambering onto the back of the elephant for a ride through the surrounding jungle. And I felt even worse watching the young elephants doing tricks like playing football and painting in the ‘talent show’ portion of the afternoon. Never again.

  89. Thank you for the informative article! As a preparation to my Chiang Mai trip, i have started to looking into some trekking tours there but soon began wondering how those elephants were treated there. I am glad i was able to read and educate myself before going to Thailand. Also, as a Japanese-English bilingual, I would be happy to translate and share the information with my friends. Hopefully my friends share with their friends! There are so many Japanese tourists there but clearly they don’t know how cruel this is.

  90. Great to see more people promoting the message that not only is the riding and mistreatment of elephants wrong, but the treatment of animals everywhere for financial gain via irresponsible tourism has got to stop.

    Thank you for sharing the great message, and even better pictures :)

  91. Great read Mathew! It’s important to inform people about the Asian Elephants and responsible tourism in Thailand. We spent a month at ENP and loved it, I hope more and more people understand the importance of not using these amazing creatures as tourism attractions.

  92. Thank you for opening my eyes, I’ve never ridden an elephant, but I have sent clients to places like Bali and they have ridden them, now I will share this article with clients before they book anything.

  93. Don’t know about riding them, but I would love to go scuba diving with them ! I think it’s less harmful for animals, and more fun for humans…

  94. Thanks for that great article. I ride an elephant in Chiang Mai and was extremely chocked by the way they were treated them (slapping their head with a big hook it’s awfull to see). Since, I’m completely against anything who turns an elephant in a tourist attraction (to be honest I just havn’t think about it before). I didn’t know how they were treated before that’s why I really “liked to dislike” reading your article . If I had to go back in south east asia I would definitely go volunteering with elephants or others endangeered spices.
    Cheers and well done on your blog!

  95. Well well well, it makes me so sad, i was talking just about this the other day and i had heard a lot of the torture and maltreatment of elephants in Thailand. Well done to Lek for devoting the last 20 years to try and build up relations again and provide a good, as natural as could be for the one’s she cares for. It does not make for god reading and the supposedly Buddhist culture of kindness and compassion. I think where there’s an easy ‘buck’ or ‘baht’ to be made it seems like our sanity goes out of the window. So so saddening. And nice response to Krungtep look – Matthew.

  96. Great article. When we were in Chiang Mai a couple years back I had wanted to go to an elephant sanctuary, but due to lack of planning, once I got there I couldn’t remember which place offered a non-circus type experience. I went and talked with the people at ENP but after being scammed in Bangkok the week before I was so very skeptical about what people were telling me that I decided to not see an elephant at all :-(

  97. I recently saw pictures of some friends of mine riding elephants in Thailand. It looks pretty amazing but at the back of my mind I thought “Are they really that friendly to allow people to ride them?” Then today a friend of mine posted a video of an elephant named Sudan painting a “self-portrait” and signing its name on it afterwards. I watched the entire video in awe but also thought to myself “This does not seem natural… Yes they have very good memories but then how could they precisely paint this way using human tools?” I then googled “elephants in thailand” and your blog came up. This is definitely an eye-opener and for sure I would never ride elephants even if the opportunity is offered to me. Sure, I’m still intrigued by how that would feel like but then I think one less person participating in this activity could lead to more people refraining from participating as well. I will definitely share your blog and the video on here. Thank you and have safe travels! :)

  98. I LOVE THIS ARTICLE. We have been planning our trip to Thailand for several months and ENP is the main reason we’re going.
    Someone we know went a few years back and raved about riding elephants; all I felt was sadness. I swore to go and and never partake. I cannot wait to visit ENP, I’m so excited!

  99. I was hoping to take my toddler to meet an elephant In June- he loves them and is obsessed with all animals – I won’t be going to Chang mai though, could anyone tell me any other places that are rescue sancturies for animals including elephants that truly look after the animals.

  100. Is this the case in Nepal as well? Are there any recommended places like ENP there, where we can get close to them without contributing to abuse?

  101. Living in Thailand I have been to several sanctuaries for elephants, all claiming to rescue and rehabilitate street elephants. I don’t doubt Lek’s intentions but if she has rescued 200 elephants, why does she only have 36 now? Has she sold them on or did they all die? How did she afford the acres of land and elephants in the first place? She has to be using tourists to finance the place. I haven’t been to her place but I have been to at least two equally good sanctuaries where you can feed and bath the elephants, far more pleasurable than riding anyway. These gentle creatures evoke our passion and praise is deserved for all the places in Thailand where they try to make the lives of elephants better.

    1. Could you let me know the names of the two sanctuaries where you feed and bathe them? I’m interested in looking into/visiting them.

  102. No wild animal should be ‘broken in’ for human use. It’s disgusting that humans think they have a right to rule animals lives.

    1. does this apply to any and all animals that have originally come from the wild even if they have been domesticated for 4 to 5 thousand years?

  103. Thanks for shaing! Elephants are my absolute favorite animal, I refused to ride an elephant at the circus because I wanted to ride them in their natural habitat one day… now my new aspiration is just to go to that place you recommended in Thailand and just interact with them! Thanks so much for writing that! Opened up my eyes!!

  104. I went to India in 1989 and even if I was not aware of all things I know today, I have a great intuition and I refused to ride an elephant in Jaipur which would have made my life easy in 48 degrees.

  105. I’m in Thailand just now and have been having a major ethical dilemma about going on any sort of tour with elephants involved. I would have loved to have ridden one but understand that if an elephant is tame enough for you to ride on it means it has been broken! Whether they arent mistreated now still means that they should be in a park somewhere not ridden by tourists OR mahouts. That would really be saving them! I think I will visit the elephant park and see for myself how much good work is going into the sanctuary

  106. My family and I are leaving for Thailand in ten days and one of the things I wanted to do was ride an elephant. After reading this article, I’ve completely changed my mind. I won’t add to the abusive treatment of an elephant by riding it. Thanks for the information.

  107. I did so much research about this before going to the place I rode elephants in Thailand. The family who owned the farm were passionate about elephants. They also adopted mistreated elephants from circus’ and from the streets. The elephants they have lived in the forest. The land they had in Chiang Mai was huuuuuge. They spoke with us about riding elephants and how a lot of ways to ride them (e.g. putting those seats on top of the elephant and having up to two people sit in them) is really harmful to the elephants. If you look at my Thailand pics, We sat just behind their heads – which is the most strongest part. Riding them any further back hurts them. I was really skeptical about riding elephants in Thailand but this placePatara Elephant Farm were amazing and so in love with their elephants. I would never have ridden them if I thought it was just a tourist money making scheme. The elephants were so happy and playful the entire day we spent with them. Also, I saw in that article they spoke about separating the babies from the mother’s to ‘tame’ them. We had three baby elephants toddling alongside us and their mother’s the entire day. They definitely don’t separate them. Anyway, I would totally feel confident in recommending this specific place in Chiang Mai after the research I did and the overall experience.

    1. Well the elephant happiness you see, doesnt mean they are trully happy…. The thing is, from the moment you educate an elephant to be ride by an human, or to play with humans, you have to beat him. A wild elephant will never allow you to ride in his back. You should be sceptikal by all this places because there are a lot of things you dont see.

      1. Many of Thailand’s elephants were born in captivity. They didn’t need to be beaten to be taught to be ridden.

        Obviously as a tourist you’re not going to be able to check each one’s id papers to see if born in captivity or captured from the wild. But you can’t do anything about the past.

        To be ridden now, it doesn’t need any more beating than an elephant that is walked along side of. Even Elephant Nature Park used to do neck riding. They have moved to a different model which is less work for their elephants, and more people can come through the park doors every day to enjoy their elephants. A bathe an elephant or be a mahout experience will be 1-2 people to 1 elephant, whilst Elephant Nature Park can take 150 people.

        The elephants which get the least care are ones in very touristy areas. You can avoid them. Or perhaps you can give an elephant a break. Pay them more than the cost of a ride (or even the sort of money you’d pay at a sanctuary), ask for the howdah to be taken off and give the elephant a break.

        1. Even if they are born in captivity you still have to train them. Do you really tink they carry people with just kisses and watermelons? The truth behind is not that happy. They do train every elephant. Come on, is a beast of hundreds of kilos, do you really think they will leave the door open to a rebel one?
          The best thing you can do is to avoid all activities related with elephants unless they are in a real sanctuary.

  108. This article is so slanted. I know what you’re showing is true for some, but not for all. Just because an elephant let’s a person ride on its back DOES NOT mean that it has been tortured. Moreover, bull hooks are fine…it’s when they’ve been sharpened or altered to a point that they are harmful/unethical. A mahout uses a dull, curved bull hook to lead the bull ( female elephant, used here to regard all elephants) by its trunk. DO YOUR RESEARCH FULLY! A video and some comments with no support is just a bad.

    1. I suggest we wield a stick with hook on the end in your face every few moments and see if you flinch or feel threatened… of course these elephants have been tortured to be submissive as they are.. not unlike tigers being drugged so people can lay next to them and have photographs taken… you seriously feel wild animals emphasis on “wild” would let all this happen if they hadn’t been tortured into doing so… Elephants “feel emotion” full stop…

    2. A Bull Hook was used on the one I rode many years ago & the shudder (wen hit) went through the elephant & me too.. This makes me so mad, people don’t want to think they are contributing to the pain & suffering, but most of the time, they sadly are.. If in doubt, don’t do it.

  109. Riding elephant’s isn’t bad, it is the shady places people like you go too that treat the animals badly that is wrong. Say what you want but it is obvious from your perspective that you are only a tourist, who did piss poor research about where he wanted to go in the first place. I’ve lived in Thailand a long time and I know that there are many places here that truly want to help the elephants. They are wild animals with no real place left to go, the sanctuaries at least offer them protection, food, and life. If you have better suggestions then say them but remember it’s not like Africa where there are large game reserves set aside to help the animals, there isn’t much land left in Thailand for elephants just to roam.

    1. The game reserves in Africa didn’t just start themselves Tex. Government and private businesses created them. I’m sure Lek would be happy to take the Thai government’s money to buy more land and make her reserve larger.

      We all know that won’t happen though.

      Many of the elephants you see in Thailand these days are captured and smuggled illegally into the country from Myanmar. And yes, riding elephants is bad, because it means they were tortured with the Phajaan. If you pay to ride elephants, people will continue to capture, torture, and sell elephants to the camps for riding. Simple supply & demand economics.

      The solution? Ban elephant riding and turn the trekking camps into private or public reserves like Elephant Nature Park. People will pay to hang out with elephants without all the circus tricks and riding.

  110. Excellent, thank you. Taking my daughter to Thailand, so we’ll forgo a ride, and contribute to their health and happiness instead.

  111. I went to the Baan Chang Elephant Park with my daughter a couple of weeks ago after being told that it was an ethical one. I had a bad feeling about riding an elephant even before going there and that was without even knowing about the training process. When we arrived there the 8 elephants that were there for our visit were all chained up which upset me immediately, and the chains were pretty short. I asked why they were chained and was told that it was because they might wander in the jungle and could damage trees and the surroundings, or enter village areas and may be a danger to villagers or damage properties etc, so it was for the protection of the elephants as well as people etc. Even though this is understandable it still didn’t sit right with me to see them chained up.
    There was a baby elephant there of about 2 years old who we fed LOTS of bananas to. The mother was also there and was with the baby while we were there except when she was being ‘used’ by ‘us tourists’ (said with a heavy heart).
    My daughter did the initial training on how to get on the elephant and learning commands and did a short 5 minute practice on one of the elephants in preparation for a 40minute trek. She decided not to do the trek after this though even thought she did enjoy the experience of being on the elephant. I decided to just feed and be next to the elephants rather than get on one.
    It also upset me to see that the trainers had those stick hooks even though I didn’t see them being used. I asked about these and was told that it was for the protection of ‘the tourists’. Us! :'( I didn’t think the elephants here looked or seemed unhappy but I did see that one of the elephants had marks on its forehead which looked like wounds and I did wonder whether it had been mistreated with said hooks. Would this be the reason for the wounds? We also took the elephants down to the river to wash them and the trainers made them get on their knees which made the elephants look very uncomfortable. I asked if this hurt their legs and they did say that it is an uncomfortable position for the elephants so they only get them to do it for 5 minutes. I do wonder why they bother getting them to do it if is not comfortable for them, I felt there was no need.
    I asked more questions and was told that the elephants here “only work for 4 hours a day” after which they left to just hang out (in their chains).
    All in all, I had mixed feelings about this place. They were fed alot while we were there and were kept in an area close to the shallow river so had access to water at all times. They didn;t perform tricks etc and only had a seat if someone really requested it. I did however feel heavy hearted by the time we left though for all the reasons I have stated above, and since being there I have done more research and am disgusted to find out the process involved with their training for tourists to be able to ride them and unfortunately the elephants here have obviously been though that treatment and abuse because they were very ‘obedient’ which seemed very unnatural for such an animal.
    I wish we had gone to the Elephant Nature Park instead. My 9 year old daughter also felt it too.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with us! Elephants are very intelligent, so just having the hook around is usually enough to keep them in line. They remember the brutal training. Like the saying goes, elephants never forget!

    2. Thank you VERY much for this posting. It’s been VERY helpful. I will NOT go to the Baanchang Elephant Park but WILL make reservations for the ENP!

  112. Have you heard about movies being made in Thailand re: elephants yet they’re asking for donations or investments that only helps to fund the film’s production or offices…?

  113. The trouble with ‘vagabond travelers’ is that they and you are not really vagabonds at all but middle class westerners who bringing their value system to another culture impose judgment on all and sundry in the most general and irresponsible way. All elephants are not treated badly when being trained anymore than all horses are treated badly when they are broken in but a degree of workmanlike firmness is needed in both instances. I think the Elephant sanctuary is a great little business started by the Thai women and her farang husband. Wow, if all gullible westerners paid $78.00 at elephant riding venues I bet the elephants in the places reported as being poorly treated would have a much better life too. So next time you visit an elephant park . . . pay $78 as well! Vagabond traveler indeed!

    1. Are you saying that I could hang out with some elephants in Thailand for cheaper then $78? If so, would you provide the details? I’m traveling to Thailand summer 2014.

      1. Come here and find out for yourself Trevor . . .$78 is a LOT of money here in Thailand. The minimum wage is just a little more than one TENTH of that figure per day. Perhaps that shows you what a lucrative business this is? Good luck to them for coming up with the idea. I just get a bit tired of the smug, gap year psueds writing about Thailand. Go on a trip to Isaan, the north east of Thailand where you will see lots of elephants in the streets of some cities and towns as well as on the country roads and forests. Offer a Thai person some money and anything is possible. I guess i am saying ‘do it for real’, make your own adventure don’t rely on a company of any kind aimed at foreigners who don’t know any different. Don’t have a big plan just come here and see what happens, you will be amazed.

        1. How can you support beggar elephants?? If you support that, you dont respect animal rights at all. All you say is stupid sorry, starting from when you say that other places are cheaper and “f all gullible westerners paid $78.00 at elephant riding venues I bet the elephants in the places reported as being poorly treated would have a much better life too.” If you give that money to all trekking or elephants shows, they will keeping torturing elephants for educate them. It is not about having a bigger cage or get more food. The point is NO ELEPHANT should be jailed and domesticate, they should be free in the jungle. And the only reason why the elephant nature park is doing that is for rescuing already tortured animals from shows and treaking. If elephant were free and safe in the wild, they wont be neccesary.

    2. Horses aren’t beaten with metal hooks and starved.

      I’d absolutely love if all the trekking companies became sanctuaries and charged what was needed to keep the animals healthy and happy. Of course that won’t happen, because those companies don’t care about the elephants, only profit.

      Thailand seems to be been doing a WONDERFUL job with their elephants. That’s why they’re almost gone. Maybe it’s time to take a hint from parts of Africa (where elephant populations are now thriving).

      1. Right on. Thank you for being a voice of reason amongst the heartless trolls and animal abusers of the world wide web.

  114. When I first visited Thailand we went to elephant hills in Surathami, we had believed we had researched this camp and the treatment of the elephants appeared very good. The saddle platforms were very well padded, by policy the mahoots didn’t use the bull hooks and during treks the elephants were completely free to forage without being dragged. There were young elephants there with their mothers. On a later trip we did another ride as part of a package and the experience was very different. The elephants looked extremely unhappy, their camps were dry and dusty and they were constrained. A very different experience. After seeing the two experiences, I’m really surprised to hear both camps were so unethical, in that the young would have had to endure the ‘crush’ and both put the same pressure on their spines. We truly had thought we had researched the first camp, so would say be weary, as some camps aren’t obvious perpetrators.

  115. I was just wondering how you contacted this woman/organization to schedule this trip? I’ve always wanted to do something like this but do not know the correct ways of going about it.

    I enjoyed reading this article and up until it, i actually had the life goal of riding an elephant. I would love to do something aside that, something that would really make a difference. I have visited the website, but do not know the appropriate way to go about scheduling a trip there.

    Thank you

  116. Hi

    Thank you for your page. If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t have known that riding elephants was cruel. I love them and would hate to think I played a part in their misery. I have a question.
    I’ve been looking into responsible elephant conservation projects in Chang Mai. I found the ENP and am planning to visit. I came across a park call Baan Chang Elephant Park. They look like a fairly well organised company. The animals looked well treated. However I was put off by the numerous pictures of people sitting on the elephant’s backs. It made me think they maybe they are not responsible as they encourage this wrong practice. Some of my friends want to visit this park. I would like to advise them not to, if this place isn’t putting the needs of the animals first. Can you shed some light on this park and it’s practices? Thank you

  117. I wish I read this earlier
    We went elephant trekking today in Thailand with my family we had an absolutely lovely time and our children eyes were filled with amazement at being so close
    But in returning to my motel I too wondered about their well being
    It saddens me greatly and wish I had of taken the time to be more informed

  118. Matthew, great post and I’m so glad it’s sparked such an immense discussion in the comments! Fantastic work!

    I also had the pleasure of experiencing a day at Elephant Nature Park, although I did have the pleasure of seeing elephants many times in my home country of South Africa. The situation there is very different to Thailand, which is why I hold ENP in such high esteem compared to many tourist Elephant Hells!

    You can see my post about ENP and the elephants here: http://marketofeden.blogspot.com/2013/11/experiencing-elephant-nature-park.html

  119. I have just returned from Thailand and now ashamed to say we went on an elephant trek. The people seemed really nice and seemed to worship the elephants although I did complain at the end when they showed us where they sleep, nowhere near big enough for such big animals! I guess I thought if you can ride horses, elephants would be fine as they are even bigger. I wish now I had done some research and found this place instead :-(

  120. I’ve been at ENP as well, volunteering at the dog shelter for a month and learnt a lot about elephants and the atrocities they have to go through to become tourist machines and entertainers. Thanks for posting this, we need to spread the word and tell everybody why is completely unnecessary to ride those amazing creatures and make them doing anything completely unnatural for them.

  121. We, too, met Lek and all of her 4 legged friends a few summers ago at the ENP. I am confident that our up close and personal experience with the elephants and their mahouts was exponentially better than riding atop of one. I love this article and the discussion it opened up!

  122. I wish I had read this sooner. I just came from a elephant trekking tour and left with a heavy heart. I chose it because I love elephants and read that the ones at this place were very well taken care of. In hindsight I admit I should’ve done more research.

    My heart quickly sank when I saw one get hit with the bull-hook. He got hit again in the trunk and it left a puncture. All I could feel was guilty for putting this poor guy through this.

    I had much more fun feeding them bananas and interacting with them face to face instead of riding them anyways. I hope to one day visit a sanctuary and hopefully redeem myself to the elephants.

  123. I am going to Thailand in April and I was just researching about that idea of riding an elephant. It was nice to get aware of all those information you have shared. Although I really appreciate the idea of not riding but taking care of an elephant by playing with it and feeding it, I won’t have time to go to Chiang Mai. I found this Ayutthaya Elephant Camp & Elephantstay (www.elephantstay.com) but they have only experiences with a minimum of 3 days. Is it trusted to be a nice project? Does anyone know where I could have an experience of just one day being respectful to the animals?

  124. I’m so glad I read this. I’m going to the Patara elephant camp next month and my friends were certain it was the “humane camp.” I don’t think I’ll be able to convince anyone not to go, but I certainly can skip riding these poor creatures. Curious your thoughts on maybe climbing on for a quick photo op :-)

  125. I’m making my way up to Chiang Mai now to volunteer for a week at the park.

    I realised the elephants you see in the cities in Thailand were mistreated and think it’s terrible but, like you, I was unaware that they shouldn’t be ridden.

    Anyway, I’m really looking forward to next week but I’m dreading watching the video.

    Thanks for the great article.

  126. Thailand is my favorite country, I love its fabulous varied cuisine and its tropical islands. Elephant riding is an air of romance but like this way its very ridiculous and inhumanity, I never know about this.

    thanks for sharing this informative post.

  127. yeah i have always wanted to ride a elephant but not anymore but i will have to visit this place next time i go to thailand!!

  128. Thanks for shedding some light on this issue. It seem to be a big problem. It’s a shame that most tourists are unaware of the mistreatment of the elephants.

  129. Initially I was gung-ho on riding an elephant while in Thailand….that was until I read about their cruel treatment (and my mother said, “That’s just ugly to ride an elephant!”) This “crushing” period breaks my heart. Glad to hear you enjoyed your experience at ENP. Did you have to reserve a spot in advance? Easy to get to? I’d love to do that!

  130. I have never sat on an elephant and after reading this I will have to think whether I should be doing so. Thanks for bringing out the ignored truth about elephants.

  131. Like you say Matthew, it’s truly heart-breaking when you see the elephant-ride business in countries like Thailand, Cambodia and even Laos.

    It always amazes me that the mainly Buddhist owners of these wonderful beasts, who are supposed to respect nature and practice human-kindness, act in such a barbaric way with their animals.

    I expect Myanmar is next…

  132. Hey Matt, Where was this article 2 years ago! (or even 1 year ago!)
    We went to a Elephant “reserve” in Phuket and were a little shocked at how the elephants were treated, they are chained to concrete and only taken out now and then, the look in their eyes has such sadness.
    I guess deep down you know its not right but we were told that they were better off in one of these camps otherwise they are hunted in the wild – very sad if true.

    If only Animals and humans could co-exist rather than using them as a way to trap tourists.

    I read in a local Thai newspapers while we were there that an elephant camp had been raided as they had too many elephants and didnt have licenses for some, it said that the police/animal welfare had found several freshly dead elephants corpses around the camp. Its sickening!

    The Thai government really should put their foot down and step in but i guess that could be said about most of the things that go on in the world where the government or others turn a blind eye to.

    Thanks so much for sharing this.

  133. Thank you for this! I think if we took the time to think about how an elephant got to be comfortable with humans on its back, surely we would realize it might involve breaking its natural behavior, but most people aren’t questioning what they’re being told at these sorts of places. Thanks also for introducing me to Elephant Nature Park – we’re planning a trip to Thailand this year and will add this kind of natural interaction with elephants to the plan instead of riding them!

  134. Good post. Elephant camps are an extremely touchy subject here in Thailand. I’ll admit that I have been on an elephant trek before, but never again. Despite the bad treatment and such, the ride is extremely uncomfortable. I don’t know how anyone can find the experience enjoyable.

  135. Couldn’t agree with you more. We saw this in Chiang Mai and Ko Lanta and even though it was recommended by our hostel, we ignored it. Seeing them chained up was so sad :(

  136. Good information and some even better comments. Like anything in life you need to access whatever you want to do regarding it’s impact on the world, from buying sneakers to riding elephants. When I was younger I was guilty of going to Thailand and riding an elephant and regret that I didn’t look into it properly.

    These days I’m much more aware and will research all animal related activities before doing them.

  137. Great article! I would like to echo what others have mentioned before. Research comes into play very much so in situations like this. When I visited Thailand there were two things I thought I would absolutely do. 1) Go to tiger temple 2) Ride elephants. After extensive research I decided against going to Tiger Temple. Too much evidence of drugging the tigers and it really jsn’t isn’t a great environment for them to basically be bothered all day by people. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of being able to get close to such creatures, but in the end it just wasn’t for me. I did, however, find a place that I felt comfortable with the treatment of elephants so I went on an elephant ride at Thai Elephant Home. The experience consisted of riding on the elephant for a bit, stopping for lunch where the elephants were free to wander, a trip down to this black mud that the elephants loved to roll around in and a bath in the river. The elephants really enjoyed themselves, as did I. Thai Elephant Home is also devoted to reforestation in the Chiang Mai area as well as educating the children in the community the importance of reforestation. So it really is a matter of doing research and finding places that are transparent in their activities and operations.

  138. Thanks for spreading the words, Matthew! It is really about time for us, tourists/travelers alike, to explore the world more responsibly and in a more sustainable way. That would help others to be aware of their footprint as well.

  139. Hey Matthew! Thanks for this amazing post. For me, this was an unknown situation until now. Probably if I’ve been gone to Thailand before reading this post I’d have ridden an elephant… That’s so sad. These incredible animals don’t deserve this. Glad to know that people like you explore deeper and show the truth and the other side about histories like this. I just loved your blog, the pictures and your history! Everything is so much inspiring! Keep doing this and I hope meet u in the road someday :)

    1. Thanks Monique, glad you’re enjoying the site. If I was almost ready to ride an elephant before I learned this, I knew there would be plenty of other people out there who might make the same mistake.

  140. Hi, I did not realize the sad truth on how the elephants where tamed. My daughter Emily gave my wife a gift of a donation to the Wildlife fund. It was to adopt an elephant. This was quite fitting due to my wife’s early onset of Alzheimer. I would encourage others to donate to the Wildlife fund and help these remarkable creatures.

  141. Thanks for the recommendation, this is on the top of my list of things to do when I arrive in Thailand in Oct (Railey and deep water soling is up there too.)

    Glad to here that other travellers are actually using reusable bottles and filtering there water as well. I ended up getting a camel back all clear water filter. I have used similar systems for hiking and found them handy and effective in spite of the some what delicate feeling UV light wand. This bottle incorporates it into the lid so it feels a bit more sturdy. We will see how it holds up after a few month use.

  142. Before I went to Thailand one thing I knew I wanted to do was ride an elephant. Then when I started doing research on where I could do this I came across the Elephant Nature Park. I learned so much just from their website and was so excited to visit their amazing park. It was such a great experience playing, feeding, bathing, and just loving all those beautiful elephants. My visit there definitely taught me a lot about elephants and Thailand. And I must say it was one of the best experiences of my life. I hope I get to go back some day.

  143. I’m going to Thailand in November to the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp to participate in an elephant researcher program. They have rescued elephants that were mistreated, and they do have riding. I’m so torn. Like Erick suggests, I’ve read that there is a correct way to ride an elephant. But I’ve also heard about the abuse. I suppose I will know in my gut what I think is right once I get there…

    1. It’s really difficult to ensure you’re doing the right thing. Trying to research absolutely everything you do just isn’t pragmatic. I rode an ostrich once, later learning that I was too heavy to be riding it.

  144. Thanks for posting such a valuable piece of information. I never know about this. To be honest, I feel sad about those mistreated elephants. I mean they are a living creature, and to be abusive to them is really bad.

  145. Although I understand where you were going, I must disagree with some of your points my friend. The claim that all elephant training is brutal and uses bull hooks isn’t true (don’t believe that was your intention). Particularly in regards to elephants. I know this because I’ve worked with orphaned elephants, some of which went on to work in tourist entertainment. YES it is a fact that many places employ terrible practices. But it’s equally true that some don’t. Like any industry regarding animals, from food to tourism, there are atrocities. These I do not support. Nor should anyone. But it’s dangerous and misleading to assume that all do. I grew up learning from Jack Hannah in Ohio. One of the leading conservationist in the world and would caution any finite judgment on the subject until you check out some organizations that ARE doing the right thing with elephants. You and some others have made VERY valid points but overall denouncement is a bit far I think. Those that have witnessed abuse CALL IT OUT. Right then and there. Report it.

    Elephants should be ridden on the neck. NOT the back for the exact spinal reason you stated. Many places leave the baskets on all day not to mention overburdening them.

    I support animal conservation and responsible tourism and believe people should have the opportunity to visit and ride these amazing creatures IF it’s done ethically.

    Baan Chang Elephant Park is an excellent example of doing it right. No circus tricks, no gouging, no scamming. Quality elephant care and tourism. And those that commented on how they treat the babies, Baan Chang refuses to separate the young from the mother.

    1. Thanks so much Erick for sharing your experience! I’m happy to know some people are doing it right. I just read about a new technique called Protected Contact that some modern zoos are using.

      I’d just like to suggest that anyone visiting elephants in Thailand do their homework, because many of the operations are not run ethically. Even on the Baan Chang website there’s a warning of scam operators copying their business name.

      Elephant abuse is a big problem in Thailand and other countries. It’s not always easy to make an informed decision in places with loose, un-enforced, or non-existent regulations.

      1. It really is a matter of research. The same goes for restaurants. I watched a piece by Gordon Ramsey on Shark Fin soup. I had no idea because I honestly didn’t care until it was in my face. It’s in our human nature to look the other way because the alternative is hard. Both emotionally and socially. Just think of the way some animals are treated when harvested for food. It’s not only an elephant problem. It’s a human awareness problem.

  146. I have been guilty of riding an elephant in Northern Cambodia. When I saw the mahout consistently hitting the elephant (who clearly was more interested in eating than transporting tourists through the jungle) I got really upset though. He didn’t use a metal hook like they do in Thailand, but it had wooden spikes, which is probably equally painful. I decided to walk the rest of the trip and did some more research into elephant trekking afterwards. I was so shocked to find out how the babies are tortured. I am currently part of a travel blogging project (Travel blog calendar) and we are going to raise money for the Safe Elephant Foundation. We are currently preparing everything, but it is all going to kick off early next year. Hopefully this will raise awareness of how elephants are treated even more.

  147. True that. I am happy the $50k, the bllogging community helped get from Adecco went to these guys. It is a hard concept to tell people about elephants. I recently told this couple in Pai Thailand when they asked if I wished to join them on an elephant ride. I told them the deal and they still said “yeah, that is bad. Well we dont support that. But I think we will ride anyway”.

    Great pics Matt.

  148. Are you sure you have thought this through enough? I don’t argue with you that there is abuse going on, but simply not riding elephants is not going to do much good for Thailand’s elephants. Elephants are expensive animals to maintain, and there aren’t enough protected wild life reserves for all the elephants of Thailand to roam. Yes, I love elephants, and I’m willing to donate money for the cause (I’m actually supporting Lek’s work financially with regular donations). However, we live in the real world, and her approach is not scalable – there aren’t enough donations to take care of all the elephants the way Lek does it. So while the elephant riding camps are not a perfect solution, they are nonetheless more a solution than a problem (and arguably even despite the “training” they undergo these elephants have a better life than those living in a zoo).
    If you want to do good for the elephants of Thailand, by all means support Lek’s work. Despite of the fact that her work is famous throughout Thailand and she’s even gotten quiet a lot of international attention, and is receiving institutional support, she’s still needing more money to help more elephants.
    But boycotting elephant riding? I hope someone is going to point out a mistake in my thinking and show that there’s a better alternative that works in the real world, but out of all the people I’ve talked to about this, nobody has been able to come up with a better way.

    1. You bring up a great point Ben. But if tourists stop riding, the camps would do well to follow Lek’s example and turn themselves into sustainable elephant tourism parks. No riding. No circuses. Elephant Nature Park employs many local Mahouts (elephant handlers). I think it’s possible for Thais and elephants to thrive in a way that doesn’t involve abusing the animals. Some African countries do very well with safari tourism, I believe Thailand should take a hint and follow in that direction. Many of these elephants are force-bred in captivity, others are smuggled over from Burma. It’s not like Thailand has more elephants than it knows what to do with. Elephant populations in Africa are actually thriving so much that game reserves (private & public) have to employ birth control techniques so that they don’t get out of hand. There is no reason Thailand can’t do the same.

      1. So I have a bit of a dilemma with this as well. I absolutely love elephants and I hate to hear that they are being abused, however, if these trekking business do not get money from tourists these elephants do not get food or the medical care that they need. So unfortunately this is a viscious cycle. Although, I hate to promote the abuse, I can definitely not promote a starving elephant that may even lead to death. A single Elephant eats about 200-600 pounds of food, 50 gallons of water and a lot of people in Thailand can barely feed themselves yet a couple of elephants. Second, many of these trekking business save them from being hunted down for their tusks or their babies. Third, there is not much land for these beautiful creatures to roam in Thailand anymore. So how do we stop the cycle?

  149. Sigh. This is how I feel about the tiger temples in Thailand as well. Of course I want the picture, but…sigh. I hope more awareness prompts more “real” sanctuaries.

    1. One of the reasons I never visited a tiger temple either. Although I’d also love to hug a tiger. It’s hard to say no when you see everyone else having a blast doing it. Except of course when there is news of a horrible mauling. :)

  150. I think it’s great that you’re spreading the word. If fewer tourists do this, then fewer elephants get mistreated. Safe havens are more important, I think.

  151. Thanks for sharing, we were thinking of visiting Asia for the first time by the end of this year and though I knew something was wrong with attractions like elephant rides I would probably have been a believer and could have booked a tour with a ‘good’ company. Guess I’ll skip this ride!

  152. I rode one in Luang Prabang, Laos first, and they touted treating them humanely. Everything I saw at the camp indicated this was the case.

    Then I went to Chiang Mai and an elephant ride is included as part of the hill tribe trek I did. I saw how they were treated and my gut said it wasn’t right.

    I remember seeing a baby elephant being whacked away from his mom across the river, and having to sit through an obscene display of carnival tricks and painting that embarrassed me, if not everyone else who had to sit through it.

    1. It’s how they got there that’s often the murky part. Something had to be done to the elephant to convince it to let humans ride on it’s back (which is not healthy for them anyway). But you have no way of knowing, and when large amounts of money are involved (some of these places make millions), it gets complicated. Especially in countries with poor regulations for this sort of thing.

  153. Thanks for shedding light on this. I had no idea that elephants had to be tortured in this way to allow humans to ride them. How awful! I’m so glad to have read this before visiting Thailand and making the mistake of riding an elephant there.

  154. Thanks for posting this. I ran into many tourists in SE Asia who wanted to do the elephant treks and I always implored them against it, but it’s hard when they’re told the elephants are well taken care of, and just want to believe it.

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