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 Cars 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 10 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel with crazy stories, photography, and money-saving travel tips.
Matthew Karsten
Join 20,000 others who receive exclusive email updates!

7 Reasons To Subscribe →
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I'm also a member of other affiliate programs. For more info please read my policy page.

Leave a Comment

Comments (416)

  1. “I try my best not to judge others because I’m actually aware that we all have different moral codes & standards.” What? These sort of people have no moral codes or any human standards whatsoever! If they are willingly engage in this form of animal cruelty then there’s no difference between them! They are just as guilty as the ones who’s running these tourist traps by exploiting animal wildlife for entertainment! It’s far from entertainment considering the atrocities behind the scenes! It should be banned! An elephant is a royal symbol in Thailand, yet they treat these animals in the most horrendous ways! Go figure!

  2. It really breaks my heart how they treat these elephants just to satisfy their vacations. Thank you so much for bringing awareness to this and hope everyone is aware of this!

  3. Hi,
    I would like to share another side story, it depends on where do you choose to ride the elephants. Most of the elephants in the sanctuaries or foundations like these are not wild elephants. They are, we call “house elephants” which people raise them from baby elephants, were born in city not in the forest, or are elephants that stay in their family from the former generation.
    Some people use them to earn money by forcing them to walk on the streets and sell fruit or vegetable to the people who want to feed them. But it is illegal in Thailand. Then these people have no money to buy food to feed them and they were malnourished. This is an abusive way to treat elephants by forcing them to walk on a very hot street. That why many Thai people protected them by buying them from these people and bring them to a natural environment. They can not be returned to the forest as you know it is impossible for some of them. However, to take care of elephants using a lot of money, I really mean a lot and yes the government has not had good solutions for these sanctuaries. The only way to help them (both sanctuaries and elephants) is money from tourists.
    I understand that this article intends to spread awareness and I do agree with many points, however for helping these elephants and also make people feel comfortable to ride them. You can check the sanctuaries’ background before making a decision. We need tourists like you.
    Thank you for reading.

  4. Visited Chaing Mai this past October. Thankfully, my granddaughter had did her homework regarding Elephants and the torture they are put through.
    We visited and spent the day with a nanny and her adopted calf AT a rescue site. Loved- loved it.
    Breaks my heart 💔 to know what these beautiful, intelligent babies have endured. TY for making this aware for ignorant people.

  5. Excellent article!! Thank you for spreading awareness about the mistreatment of elephants!!! It’s important info to share and educate people with! Excellent articles, and educational. Thank you

  6. I’m currently travelling in Asia and stumbled across a news article about the affects tourists are having on elephants in Asia. I’d maybe considered riding an elephant ten years ago as I would have been less in the know about the awful treatment of these animals.
    Anyway, We made a Conscious decision to avoid any elephant trips just to be on the safe side as you never know what has happened previously and what goes on when the tourists aren’t there…
    sadly, after reading people’s comments, it seems they still just won’t accept that it’s animal abuse no matter what (sanctuaries aside) :(
    Hopefully the laws change sooner rather than layer. Talking to a guide in Laos recently, less westerners are taking part in the tours involving animals but more and more Asians seem to be interested… People need to be educated and less ignorant.
    On a lighter note, I enjoyed reading your article! happy travels!

  7. Thank you so much for bringing awareness to this, I live in Phuket and this tragic practice of elephants for tourist attraction rides is still prevalent. I do not shy away from telling the people taking pictures with baby elephants tied to a pole that they should think how they would feel if there baby was tied to a pole on display for photos. Humanity puzzles me at times. But that said, if we all did what you did and bring awareness to it, it will slowly die off I hope.

    Bless you mate

  8. Will be traveling to Thailand this October, I was planning on riding and elephant , not anymore. Thank God I came across what the poor elephants had to go through for my own pleasure. Ignorance is a bliss.

  9. it happen not only in Thailand . India , Nepal or Sri Lanka is the same crap . I was with my wife less that 1 second to lost life at 4 am in the jungle near Sigiriya . Many people even are not able to imagine how dangerous is elephant .

  10. Hello, I have just read your article & feel sick because today we took our children to an elephant park in Khao Lak. As soon as we got there my husband & I had a bad feeling, the conditions they were kept in were awful. Also I saw the people using the awful hooks you have talked about. Is there anything we can do?? Can they be rescued from there?
    I was so happy to read that elephants are now being rescued & are living in a better safer environment.
    However it is very sad to hear how these poor beautiful creatures are being treated.

  11. Hello Matthew, It is a nice article on elephants. It is fair for them to be left alone as riding on them would beat the purpose earlier intended. Nice read.

  12. I feel guilty that I rode elephants before during my first few trips to Thailand. I don’t do it anymore after realizing what it does to the animal. They are gorgeous and beautiful. We should not endorse using them for a commercial purpose.

  13. If this is all bad, why cant you shut these places down? Im right now arrived to chai lai orchid outside the city of chiang mai and i didn’t realize booking that they ever were chained in any way. I dont plan on getting a tour. I came because i like the support and organization for helping the daughters rising organization. But wrong is wrong. What do i do…..

  14. We have been to Patara Elephant Farm in Amphoe Hang Dong, Chiangmai, Thailand. They claim to be a rescue place for elephants. They do allow tourists to ride their elephants, however you can not ride on their backs, you can only sit behind their ears, with your knees bent directly behind their ears, more on their neck. Only one person per elephant. We are scheduled to go again next week. Do you know, or have heard how they treat their elephants when no one is looking? They had several babies running loose and playing around their mothers. I’m hoping they are not secretively being mean to their elephants? Is there any way to find out?
    Thank you
    Bessie Bingman

    • Hi Bessie, As explained above weight on The neck or back of an elephant is not good for it’s healthy! They will have also been cruelly treated previously to even let this human interaction happen.
      Please don’t go here again! If you have to even ask the question, you know that something is wrong…

  15. This is a very important article for travelers to read before visiting Thailand. You’ve actually hit on a lot of the same things that I felt as well when I was there. Another great location that I found that also treated the elephants with love and kindness (and was a little more affordable) was Baan Chang.

  16. As you write, most people that ride on elephants, are totally unaware of what they are doing. Elephants are big and seem to able to carry all the weight imaginable.

    I visited Laos recently and only 1 shop offered responsible elephant encounters. All others offered elephant riding.

    More information will certainly help, both in the countries, that the travelers come from and locally. But something should also be done to stop elephant riding locally – but this should be done responsibly also taking care of the persons employed in elephant riding. They probably do not know, that the elephants are suffering.

  17. Elephants have a beautiful soul whether they are Asian or African ellies. The abuse of these wonderful animals need to STOP!
    The laws in these countries need to be changed to stop the abuse.

    How could anyone abuse an elephant? These people have black hearts. Baby ellies are so precious and to abuse them is against God’s law. We are to care for his creation not abuse and hurt them!

    How can someone across the world in the United States help to change this abuse of the Asian Ellie?

  18. This is horrible. I never knew this. They need to go to prison for their evil acts. I love elephants and I do not appreciate them being abused just so us humans can ride on them. I do not want to hurt them so I will not ride on one.

  19. Sir, Please understand this is a sincere question. I went to Patara Elephant Sanctuary about 5 years ago and yes there was Elephant riding and I might add it was physically miserable. Anyway, my experience at Patara was amazing. We are back in Asia and have been thinking of doing an elephant adventure again but I have learned that riding is now considered cruelty on the level of dogfighting. I am not talking about the big wood thing with multiple people just one person behind the head. Intuitively it just does not make sense that a 170-pound person riding an 8000-pound magnificent animal is damaging. I know this is simplistic but it is not uncommon to see the 170-pound person with a 30-pound child behind his/her head. I do realize it is shoulder’s v. neck but we are talking 2% of BW compared to 18%. I was just curious if you know of any “scientific” studies or professional journal articles that speak to the effect of Elephant riding. As you are aware the “sanctuaries” need money so yes there is an incentive to contend that the other “sanctuaries” are “not ethical we are”; not saying that is happening but it could be. Again, I hated the actual elephant riding part it was simply uncomfortable and in fact painful. I just would like to see actual empirical data or studies.

  20. Mistreatment and abuse of animals is one of the main things that makes me skeptical of humanity. I don’t understand it and it hurts me when I see it. I’ve seen horrifying videos of the way baby lambs are treated before being sent to slaughter and abuse of dogs in other countries. Cages in habitats that are to small and animals are literally pacing and are broken. And this just adds to it. For the ulmighty buck? I just don’t get it and it hurts.

  21. Thanks for this eye-opening article. It’s sad to see elephants had to undergo such a miserable torture routine to make sure that it allows carrying humans on their top. Those who love elephants should stay away from it.

    • I cannot believe what they do to baby elephants! Taken away from their mother out in a little hole so they cannot move! This is make them submissive. So when they get older they still allow people to ride them! They hit them with hooks etc! I am very upset about this!
      Aren,t you?? I love elephants! Especially the babies!

  22. Well, I knew elephants must undergo some training before being involved in tourists’ entertainment. Moreover, I guess it refers to all the animals used in the industry. However, I’m disappointed at the cruel methods applied to this. After reading, I don’t feel like I need to ride an elephant any more. There seem to be plenty of amusing alternatives to enjoy socializing with those giants.

  23. Thank you. My family is going in a week and I was doing my research on elephant sanctuaries and have not found any as informative and convincing. Now I can make an informed decision not to go to the ones that offer riding and ‘theatre’.

  24. the likelihood that I would ever ride an elephant is slim to none but I haven’t simple question I understand that the tactics and methods used for riding elephants in the Asian countries is horrible and abusive. My question is can elephants new riden humanely? Is riding elephants under any condition considered animal cruelty?

    • Their anatomy makes it incredibly painful for an elephant to carry the weight of a human, let alone the enormous heavy “chairs” that are used in India (temple and parade elephants are a whole other matter — do not attend a temple festival in Kerala, Ground Zero of elephant abuse). If you look at a picture of an elephant, notice its narrow raised spinal column. That’s what you’re sitting on. And the neck? Equally painful. It seems counterintuitive, given their size, but there you are.

  25. Thanks for sharing! Elephants are my absolute favorite animal and your blog talking about Elephant in Thailand its Sound nice

  26. Thank you so much for this insightful information on why elephants should not be ridden
    We are visiting Thailand and this was on our list of things to do but after reading this article we shall no longer be participating and will spread the word amongst my fellow holiday makers to raise awareness and allow them as we have done to make their own choices
    We will however visit the sanctuary to support the cause

  27. Hey man, good read. I did a similar piece on elephant-riding and visiting elephant sanctuaries (I just returned from Thailand 2 weeks ago) on my website, but also question whether common practices like swimming and walking with elephants as they do in most elephants sanctuaries is actually ethical and sustainable in the long run. There are a few sanctuaries out there that focus exclusively on rehabilitating elephants into the most natural habitat possible, but at the same time are actively raising awareness by still allowing people to observe the animals. I think that is actually the best way to go at it:)

    • You say “There are a few sanctuaries out there that focus exclusively on rehabilitating…” – where are those sanctuaries???


        Please check it out. I have never been there but it is a dream for me. I have watched numerous videos on YouTube and the woman who runs this park is deeply loved by the Ellies. She has rescued these ellies from abusive owners.

  28. You article was good and opened my eyes to some things I was unaware of. I would like to share this information on my facebook page. I live in Northern Thailand. We have a homestay buisness. I WILL DO MY PART TO DISCOURAGE TOURIST INTEREST IN RIDING ELEPHANT .

  29. I’ve just come back from a morning bathing elephants in khao sok.

    We were careful to make sure the tour we booked wouldn’t involve trekking, which we thought was the cruel element of elephant camps, and although our trip only involved feeding and bathing elephants I still felt pretty uncomfortable with the whole situation.

    Bull hooks were being used to control the animals (mostly tapping rather than prodding) and instead of them being allowed to act naturally, the elephants were constantly encouraged to sit a certain way in the water, spray water at us or raise their trunks in the air… All for ‘our’ entertainment. Seeing some of the elephants splashing around in their natural environment while away from the staff was the best part of the morning for me and I don’t understand why the staff feel the need to make the elephants ‘perform’; it was uncomfortable to watch, especially as it was for our benefit (as tourists)

    I wanted to write on here to say even if you think you’re just booking bathing… It may may not be what you think. I was shocked ( and a bit embarrassed I hadn’t realised what was really involved) and although I loved interacting with the elephant and giving him care and attention in the water and feeding him, it was all tainted by the thought of what they go through for that experience. Having said that, a family bathing an elephant at the same time as us were happy to sit on the elephant for photos and seemed to love the tricks, so while I wouldn’t recommend the experience… Clearly it suits some people x

  30. For some reason, among all my travels, most often I remember and watch my photos from a trip to Asia, it was Chiang Mai that became the place where I want to be again and again. I agree elephants, like any other animals, aren’t toys for tourists. To complain, that some unscrupulous people turned elephants into a fun feature. This isn’t permissible sure, but some people are just trying to make a living, and are good to elephants, caring for them. So this is a rather controversial issue, if there was a possibility of other earnings, it seems to me that the elephants would be left alone. I wouldn’t ride an elephant because it’s much more convenient on a Cat Motors scooter) Therefore, only photos and admiration for these beautiful majestic creatures.

  31. I am from Sri Lanka ant we have an enormous lot of them thanks to the wilderness and strict conservation laws..but elephant riding has become an age old practice for coutrys 3000 y old written history .they were used in battles..they were used to carry casket in grand processions..each and every budhist temple has a tamed elephant ..yet I have never heard elephant s got their spinal chord broken while carrying men:-) don’t forget that they were used to carry heavy logs in yesteryear when cranes were not available .yet they never heard of havind spinal problem s..so your that part of argument is baseless
    We have another aspect of this elephant resource..due to the structure conservation law as elephant population is increasing in our island causing ahuman elephant conflict..they eat only vegetation..so most of the forests and cultivation is being destroyed..I think to make an ecological balance we need to capture some and tame them to get our tour ist industry run in addition to export them to zoos..

    • Well, many of the elephants at ENP have been rescued from logging operations, with severe wounds, messed up spines, and overall neglect & torturous treatment. So now you HAVE heard of what happens at these places.

      Just because you’ve never heard of it before, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Which was the whole point of writing this article. A bit of education.

      Human slavery was a traditional practice hundreds of years ago too, that doesn’t mean we should continue it.

    • The elephants didn’t carry the logs, they pulled them which uses a much different set of muscles and does not impact the spine. Your argument is baseless because riding and pulling are NOT the same.

      • Whilst I agree with checking out the elephant park and doing your research before visiting to ensure the welfare of the elephants are the priority, there is no scientific evidence that riding an elephant damages their spine. During mating elephants have to endure the extreme weight of the bull mounting the elephant. The spine is not damaged under this weight. It’s surprising to think that one person sitting atop an elephant spine is going to cause any damage, and plus theres just no evidence to support it.

        • Bravo for being bold enough to make the statement that there is no scientific evidence to support the claim of spinal damage by elephant riding. Let’s stick to the facts as we currently know them. I’m a mammalogist and, while I’m not an expert on elephant anatomy, I find the claims of spinal damage difficult to believe. Some animal lovers seem to lose all sense of reason and logic in defense of their passion.

        • If you think that an animal wants to carry you and other people around all day, everyday then you’re completely wrong. I honestly cannot believe how selfish people like you are. You cannot just calculate the % of weight of an average human to an average elephant and say ‘Oh elephants are big, they can handle me’. It’s a compounding, and exponential damage to the animal. Have some compassion for other living creatures and adopt some morales you savage.

  32. I wasn’t sure if riding bareback was unethical or not. I was just research it prior to booking anywhere & thanks to your very informative post I will be avoiding places that offer this service. Thank you!

  33. Hello.
    I am an animal conservationist, focusing on non human primates. I will be traveling to Thailand in March, and was just wondering…
    As a conservationist, when it comes to fellow tourists riding elephants, and getting too close to monkeys etc., how do you best go about being in that situation? I have a BA in Anthropology, so I know not to judge cultures I know nothing about. Elephant tourism brings money and money is needed to survive. I understand that…I just don’t know how to react to seeing this when I’m there…

  34. Thank you very much for this useful insight, we are planning a trip to Thailand and will now be very careful choosing a park to visit-and certainly won’t be riding them.

  35. So glad I read your comments about NOT riding the elephants. Some friends are going to Thailand in January, and I was going to give them a gift of riding an elephant. I think they would much rather feed and bathe them and spend time with these magnificent animals. Thank you!!!

  36. Thanks for the info. I am going to thailand in march and was planning on riding elephants and have decided to visit the nature park instead.

  37. Hello – Thank you for the article, I am glad to have read this before going to Thailand. Riding elephants was on my list to do, but thanks to you I can remove that now. I will try to check out the Elephant Nature Park. Thanks again!

  38. Great article! I’m partly Thai and have been there a few times. Same as you i have been close riding them. But after reading this I will never do it. It’s sad that animal get mistreated like that for tourism.
    Hopefully it changes and that animals in Thailand get rescued… Especially elephants and tigers!
    Now you made me wanna help them. Thanks!

  39. Hi – Great review and good advice for first time visiters to Thailand and our passion for seeing Elephants being looked after following us hearing some terrible stories in the past. Are you aware of such ethical sanctuaries in the south of Thailand as we are travelling to Phuket and Krabi? Thanks Andy

  40. Thanks so much for this blog post!
    I was thinking elephant ride would be awesome, but interacting with them in other ways sounds so much better. I’ll go horseback riding instead, if I can find a place.

  41. Thanks for the article! I learned about after Thailand. I was riding on one of them and felt really bad after doing some research.
    It’s also great that you included beautiful and happy pictures, but described the content in an honest way.

  42. Thank you for this in-depth insight into the abuse and torture of elephants. It inspired me to write about it on my blog. I’m also going to Thailand in about a month and ENP is definitely on my list of places to visit!

  43. Thanks a lot for standing against elephant abuse. Not only elephant riding, making elephants to paint also they involve in torturing them.

  44. Thanks so much for the insight, ENP is on our list of places to visit on our trip. We are wildlife crazy, can you recommend more places to visit in a Thailand please?

  45. Hi I too agree NO RIDING ELEPHANTS I worked at ERP in Chiang Mai and it was a good exp. Are there any similar places in KRABI? thanks!

  46. Thank you for your insightful information about riding elephants. I was tempted but will definitely pass! I will be visiting the Thailand Elephant Nature Park today (!!) but am a bit concerned about contracting a disease if I get into the river with them. I have not had any shots before arriving from the US. Any thoughts on whether bathing the elephants would be risky? Thank you!

  47. Currently on vacation in phuket now and as I was researching elephant treks I came across this link. I was hestitant to open it but I’m so glad I did.
    I was planning on doing this tour tomorrow with my 1 year old son. I guess we will go find something else to do :)

  48. I like elephants but I think I will skip the elephant trekking. This elephant sanctuary is a place I would visit if I ever go to Thailand. There are reports of elephant abuse at the Surin Elephant Roundup. I wouldn’t go there either. Its not like watching the Lipizzaner horses at the Vienna Riding School. Elephants are not horses. I’ve worked with horses and they can be dangerous too but I have a lot of trouble considering elephants as fully domesticated animals even if some elephants are friendly and used to people. Training elephants doesn’t sound like training horses. Both horses and elephants live in hierarchal herds and you do need to be the boss and be very firm with large animals. I have used training aids with horses when necessary and release pressure when the horse does what I want him to do. However there are people who are excessive with training aids or discipline. It is unfortunate that for elephant training that is the rule rather than the exception.I would think elephants are smart enough to know the difference between correction and abuse. I wish good luck to Lek and other Thais like her. All countries have good and bad. I know poverty exists in Thailand and people need work but I hope Thais find work in more ethical venues in the tourist industry. It is also up to tourists to choose destinations wisely.

    Would anybody recommend horse trekking as an alternative to elephant trekking? As long as the stables takes care of the horses, of course.

    A somewhat related ethical issue: Is there an ethical way to learn about the cultures of the hill tribes in Thailand?

  49. Hmm! I really did want to ride one but now I think I will pass! I hate animal abuse on all levels! Maybe I’ll go to the sanctuary instead! Thanks for your insight into this! I won’t take my kids to a circus for that reason so I think it would be dumb of me to succumb to my desire!!

  50. I adore these animals and recently took a trip to srilanka I wouldn’t visit the orphanage as after reading up on it decided I wouldn’t buy into the cruelty
    So visited yala national park saw 2 beautiful elephants was disappointed really was expecting herds
    Was wanted to see elephants next in tailand but after reading your information I hesitate in case I unknowingly buy into ant form of cruelty

  51. I too condem the abuse of elephants but some years ago when I arrived in Thailand I was told that a lot of elephants were being given a “reprieve” from angry farmers for them damaging crops and property. This was by way of using them in the tourist trade. I imagine that would have spurred a demand in elephants then. I am glad something is being done to stop the brutality but now that all these elephants have been given freedom or are being made redundant…what has become of them? Are they all being returned to the jungles? I don’t imagine the sanctuaries could hold them all.

    • Mike, that’s the point. Those freed elephants in the wild are being killed by hunters who look for their skins (check WWF) and sanctuaries need money to keep going (as well as cannot hold everyone).
      The only way an animal, plant or human can go on is to be economicaly important for some one, so I support elephant treking.
      Nice world solutions doesn’t work in Real Life. Have you seen how good are for Rhinos conservation to sell Rhinos Hunting permissions?

      • Hi David,
        No, that’s not true – a lot of money can be made from the elephant reserves whereby elephants are left to roam in the wild and bathing activities can be held.

        Riding an elephant is NOT necessary. Additionally, removing the elephant from the wild is NOT necessary. Look at Kenya – how much money is made from safari’s and nature parks? Tourists will happily pay for this (much more wonderful) experience.

        The Thai government charges tourists typically 200baht each to enter into a National park regulated by the government. Additionally, I have paid happily 8000baht for a 2-day elephant experience in a sanctuary such as Elephant Nature Park whereby they are living a “wild life” and there is no riding involved. Its possible to make money responsibly, it just depends if tourists can be aware of the options available and aware of the facts.

  52. I am so thankful I read your story. I am in the initial process of planning a trip to Thailand in the next few years and volunteering at an elephant sanctuary is my #1 requirment for the trip. I am glad to have read this and will not be visiting one that allows riding.

  53. SMH. I feel awful as I read this AFTER I had just participated in such a tour. As I was going through the motions of the elephant trek and watched the show, I felt somewhat uneasy, which started right after the guy who was the “elephant guide” stopped at the edge of a ravine and pulled out a box of necklaces to sell for “the welfare of the elephants”.
    In other words, I did everything wrong and when I just chanced on this article, it just confirmed it.
    I am seriously going to make it a point to go to Chiang Mai on my next trip to Thailand and visit the Elephant Sanctuary and make a donation.
    Plus, I am going to share this article as much as possible.
    People need to know.

  54. When I traveled to Thailand 3 years ago our tour company took us to an elephant park guaranteed to provide humane treatment to elephants. I cringed with regret and horror when my
    Mahout clubbed the elephant I was riding with a bull hook. The elephant squealed with pain. I felt so guilty riding this elephant. Then after the ride they showed us elephants painting still lives and landscapes. It’s phony theatricality was disgusting–and to think of the subjugation of these animals. There was nothing humane about the elephant park.

    • When I was a baby, we had elephants in India. My aunt is Parvati Barua, the Elephant Princess. Her father, Lalji is who one of our elephants was named for. He was a bull elephant, very kind. However, when our mahout asked someone to watch him for a moment. they too hot him with the bullhook. Two years later Lalji the Elephant saw the man in a crowd and chased him down, picked him up with his trunk and slammed him into his tusks. The man was impaled and died. They never forget cruelty. To train them with these antiquated punitive methods is asking for tragedy. Lalji died of old age many years later. We had 10 thousand acres then…he could have left, but he didn’t. There is no reason to use force or fear, ever.

  55. Excellent article about elephant rides. Thanks so much for writing this and for caring. Hope people will think twice now before they take a ride.