Why You Shouldn’t Ride Elephants In Thailand

Saving 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 people dream about when planning to travel Southeast Asia on budget backpacking trip.

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 aren’t aware of…

Elephant Family in Thailand
Elephants taking a Dirt Shower

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.

Saving Asian Elephants
Asian Elephants are Endangered
Elephant Nature Park in Thailand
Elephant Nature Park’s Owner, Lek

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 giants interact with each other is an inspirational travel 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.

Elephant Eating Watermelon
Time for Lunch!
Elephants taking a bath
Swimming in the River

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 those 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 chasing bananas
I’d Follow a Basket of Bananas Too
Elephants being washed by tourists
Wash Elephants, Don’t Ride Them!

Baby Elephant Torture

Wild elephants generally 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, while 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
Baby Elephant Swimming

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 as they did during the training, it’s that deep learned fear of being stabbed that’s used to motivate them to work.

Always remember, elephants never forget.

If an elephant camp in Southeast Asia is claiming to be “responsible” with its animals, you should still be skeptical.

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 what’s going on when tourists go home.

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
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 allowing tourists to interact with and learn about elephants responsibly.

As a registered Thai nonprofit 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 the Sunset
Elephants Enjoy Sunsets Too!

The 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 lead 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 an elephant myself.

I simply 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

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for new Adventure Travel Videos!

(Click to watch Elephant Whisperer on YouTube)

Travel Planning Resources For Thailand
Company: Elephant Nature Park

Packing Guide

Check out my travel gear guide to help you start packing for your trip. Pick up a travel backpack, camera gear, and other useful travel accessories.

Book Your Flight

Book cheap flights on Skyscanner, my favorite airline search engine to find deals. Also read my tips for how I find the cheapest flights.

Rent A Car

Discover Car Hire is a great site for comparing car prices to find the best deal. They search both local & international rental companies.

Book Accommodation

Booking.com is my favorite hotel search engine. Or rent local apartments on Airbnb ($35 discount!). Read my post for tips on booking cheap hotels.

Protect Your Trip

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance.

Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Thailand
Suggested Reading: When Elephants Weep

Enjoy This Post? Pin It!

Why you shouldn't ride elephants. More at ExpertVagabond.com


Thank you for reading my article on why you shouldn’t ride elephants. Here are some wanderlust-inducing articles about Thailand that I recommend you read next:

Do you still want to ride an elephant? How does this information make you feel? Drop me a message in the comments below!


Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 9 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel more with crazy stories, photography, and money-saving travel tips.
Matthew Karsten
Join 20,000 others who receive exclusive email updates!

7 Reasons To Subscribe →
This post may contain affiliate links. For more info please read my policy page.

Leave a Comment

Comments (406)

  1. 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.

    • 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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.

  4. Hi, thanks for sharing your lovely photos. Your post was a bit of an eye opener and I’m glad I read it before my trip to Thailand later this year.

  5. 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?

    • 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.

    • 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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?

    • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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 : )

    • 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.

  8. 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

    • If they were using hooks, it’s because they’ve been trained with them. Elephants are not domestic animals, they get domesticated, and it’s usually a brutal process.

      • 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

  9. 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 :-)

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

  13. 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! :)

  14. 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 :-)

    • 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… :)

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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 :)

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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…

  24. 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!

  25. 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.

  26. 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 :-(

  27. 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! :)

  28. 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!

  29. Excellent and informative post. There’s a lot of bloggers doing a fantasic job on shedding light on elephant cruelty, thank goodness.

  30. 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.

  31. 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?

  32. 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.

    • 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.

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

    • 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?

  34. 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!!

  35. 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.

  36. 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

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

    • 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.

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

  42. 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.

    • 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!

    • 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!

  43. 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…?

  44. 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!

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • Ah yes. The begging street elephants who don’t get fed by their owners unless tourists pay up. Another excellent example of Thai elephant tourism gone wrong.

        • 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.

    • 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).

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

  45. 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.

    • Elephants are wild animals that need to be broken in. But it takes a lot more to break an elephant than it does a horse.

  46. 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

  47. 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

  48. 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

  49. 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

  50. 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 :-(

  51. 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.

  52. 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!

  53. 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.

  54. 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?

  55. 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 :-)

  56. 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.

  57. 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.

  58. 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.

  59. 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!

    • They have an office in Chiang Mai, and will drive you out to the park after you sign up beforehand. I believe it’s like 45 minutes North.

  60. 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.

  61. 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…

  62. 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.

  63. 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!

  64. 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.

  65. 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 :(

  66. 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.

  67. 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.

  68. 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.

  69. 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 :)

    • 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.

  70. I went for an elephant trek in Phuket early last year and had assumed it was also a sanctuary. Very mixed feelings. Wouldn’t recommend it :(

  71. I’ve never ridden an elephant and, after reading this, I never will. Taming them sounds like such a horrific process. Good on you for spreading the word.

  72. 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.

  73. 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.

  74. 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.

    • Thanks for sharing you experience Casi! It’s impressive to see up close how intelligent and gentle they are for such big goofy creatures.

  75. 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…

    • 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.

  76. 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.

  77. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

  78. 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.

  79. 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.

    • I was so happy to hear you were able to help them out Turner. I know they are trying to buy more land at the moment to expand the operation so they can rescue more elephants.

  80. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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?

  81. 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.

    • 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. :)

  82. 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.

    • That’s the biggest problem. Misinformation about how these trekking companies work. We only see the great photos of our friends having a blast riding elephants.

  83. 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!

    • You can still enjoy time with asian elephants Lindy! They are amazing creatures, and you’ll get a great photo souvenir too. But it will be a photo of you washing them, not riding them. :D

  84. 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.

    • 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.

  85. 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.

  86. 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.

    • Elephant tourism is big business, and companies are willing to do anything to keep the money rolling in. Lying to tourists is no big deal.