Updated March 18th, 2018.
Encounter an Elephant in South East Asia
Elephants are highly sociable, and wonderfully intelligent animals, able to communicate with other elephants across huge distances and show emotions similar to human beings. Unfortunately however, human beings cannot speak ‘elephant’ (and vice-versa), leaving an elephant’s happiness, feelings and well being very much open to our own interpretation.
Despite a continued demand for the circus-like shows throughout Thailand, in recent years a more responsible tourist choice is to visit the eco-tourism orientated elephant parks, where longer term strategies, care and conservation help to ensure a happier and more sustainable future for captive elephants. Without doubt one of the most amazing ways to spend a day in South East Asia is to spend it learning how to care for an elephant that has been abused, whilst safe in the knowledge that your well-spent money is going to a happy home.
Where are the best places to encounter elephants in South East Asia?
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Asian elephants have been domesticated for thousands of years and worshipped for centuries. In Thailand, elephants have long been associated with royalty, mounted by Kings to defend Thailand against Burmese invaders on many an occasion. The sacred ‘white elephant’ even appears on the flag of the Royal Thai Navy, a testament to the strongest and most revered beast of burden. Just a budget airfare away from Bangkok, Chiang Mai is one of the most popular places for elephant trekking.
Elephant Sanctuaries in Chiang Mai: In the northern province of Chiang Mai, there are a handful of well-recognised and highly reputed establishments leading in this type of tourism. Situated on a quiet hillside, in Maetaman village, along the Maetang River not far from Chiang Mai, Thai Elephant Home is one such sanctuary. They work hard to protect the local environment, buying and restoring areas of jungle in their area.
Other elephant sanctuaries include:
An Idea of Prices: A day with the elephants will cost 4500 Baht. But as with most backpacker adventures, if you take along some friends you can all save a whopping 700 Baht on that price! For those of us who are tight for time, an hour can be snapped up for just 1000 Baht.
Luang Prabang, Laos
In Laos, elephants were used to transport the royal family in ancient times and of huge importance in battle. Laos was historically known as Lan Xang, ‘The Land of a Million Elephants,’ due to the great numbers of wild elephant herds that grazed around the old capital of the kingdom, Luang Prabang. Yet, nowadays it is predicted that there are only 700 elephants left in the wild in Laos.
Elephant Sanctuaries in Luang Prabang: Combine elephant trekking with a city tour, or perhaps some bamboo rafting by visiting All Laos Travel Service’s Elephant camp in Northern Laos. Train to become a Mahout and learn the language of the Elephants. Or travel just 15km to the banks of the Nam Khan River, to the Elephant Village. Here you can end the perfect day by taking the elephant’s down to the river for a bathe.