BEES… Where elephants that used to work for humans now have humans work for them!
Are you a responsible traveller looking for a way to encounter elephants in the most ethical way possible?
About BEES Elephant Sanctuary
Welcome to BEES! At this family-run elephant sanctuary in the North of Thailand your conscience can take a rest, knowing that the elephants you see are behaving in exactly the way they choose! You will spend time with these amazing creatures in their natural habitat, safe in the knowledge that nothing that they do is done for your entertainment. This is a place where elephants can finally be free from years of exploitation and abuse and can forage, bathe, roam, explore and socialise with fellow ele’s as they would do in the wild.
Located in a beautiful area of rural Thailand, in the province of Mae Cham, South West of Chiang Mai, BEES is a retirement home for elephants, originally founded by Australian-Thai couple, Emily and her husband Burm, who was born locally. With a big passion for pachyderms, the couple set up BEES in 2010 and have since been at the forefront of elephant welfare and conservation in a constantly evolving world! Emily was a key voice in our article about Ethical Elephant Sanctuaries in Thailand and her views are respected across the elephant conservation community.
South East Asia Backpacker is proud to support BEES Ethical Elephant Sanctuary on our website.
Hands Off Policy – Please Support BEES & Ethical Animal Welfare!
BEES Elephant Sanctuary is one of a few sanctuaries in Thailand that promotes a ‘hands-off’ policy which is as much about the safety of the visitor (and the caretakers, or mahouts) as it is about the welfare of the elephants. While sanctuaries across the country continue to get more bookings as they allow visitors to touch, bathe and even ride the elephants, BEES decided that it was not in the best interest of the elephant to, despite the fact that they lost a huge amount of bookings when they made the move in 2018.
What will you do at BEES?
- Observe the elephants in the forest, behaving just as they wish!
- Prepare food for the elephants and learn how to care for them.
- Help clear out the elephant areas.
- Lend a hand with the care of the other animals that are rescued at BEES.
Other activities you might take part in (for longer visits)
- Environmental conservation activities such as planting trees (only during rainy season).
- Planting grass for the elephants.
- Cutting grass or other foods ready for the elephants.
- Support a group of local elderly ladies at the weaving club.
- Learn to cook some delicious Thai deserts! (Please specify in the additional information box when placing your order if you would like to do this)
- Take part in local community projects, eg, building, clean-ups etc.
- Temple visits.
- River tubing.
Accommodation & Facilities
There are seven traditional Thai huts on-site (built by hand by Burm himself, with the help of other family and community members). Each one consists offers a mattress, bedding, mosquito nets and a fan. Bathrooms are located in a separate block with western toilets and showers with standard shower heads. There are two sinks with mirrors in the same block.
There is a common area, known lovingly as the “cat cafe”. This is where breakfast is served and offers a spacious balcony area. There is also a small gift shop attached, where it is possible to purchase snacks and beverages, as well as T-shirts sporting the BEES logo! A washing machine is available for use, you can buy washing powder at the gift shop.
Food & Drink at BEES
For the overnight packages at BEES, three meals a day are offered.
- Breakfast is western. Guests are invited to prepare their own toast or cereal, teas and coffee. Staff are on-hand to prepare egg (boiled, scrambled, fried or omelette). Delicious seasonal fruit is always available.
- Lunch and dinner are Thai. Expect noodles or rice with plenty of vegetables.
We cater to vegetarians – Meat meals are served, but BEES will very happily cater to vegetarians and vegans. If you have special dietary needs, please specify in the additional information box when placing your order. The sanctuary is in a very remote area and it is not easy to get hold of specialist ingredients at short notice, so be sure to let us know with plenty of time!
Snacks are available at the gift shop. You will also have the chance to pick some up on your way to the centre and on sightseeing days (often Thursday). Beers can be purchased in the local town, though it is requested that you limit yourself to one or two cans, you drink them in the cat cafe or at your hut after you have finished that day’s activities. BEES request that you do not bring stronger alcohol (spirits) onto the site and would like to state that drunken behaviour will not be accepted.
Why book through South East Asia Backpacker?
When it comes to elephant sanctuaries, there is a belief that it is better to book direct through the sanctuary. By bypassing this website and searching “BEES” in Google, the sanctuary will be better off as it gets 100% of your money – right? However, before you do that – please know the following:
- South East Asia Backpacker takes only 10% commission on all elephant sanctuary bookings made through our website.
- This 10% goes towards helping to promote BEES across our website and social media.
- Our decision to reveal the name of the sanctuary is not one which many online travel agencies take (as they know that people bypass them). However, we wanted to be transparent and give BEES as much promotion as possible, knowing that we will lose bookings.
- We have an excellent relationship with Emily, the founder of BEES, who fully supports what we are doing and hopes that she gets more bookings through South East Asia Backpacker so that we can focus more efforts on getting the word out of the sanctuary.
- Our desire to continue to guide travellers in the right direction when it comes to ethical travel decisions can only be done with your support!
Is pick-up/drop-off included?
For the 2-day to 1-week packages, pick up and drop off in Chiang Mai is included. Please provide the name of your guesthouse or hostel when booking, or you can email us later if you do not have anywhere booked yet.
For 1-day visits, you will need to make your way to the sanctuary by yourself. Please see the tab on ‘getting there’ for information about how to get to BEES.
Do I need to be fit to visit BEES?
In order to fully take part in the activities at BEES, a certain level of fitness is recommended. The fact that the elephants here are free to roam as and where they wish means that you may have to hike a considerable distance before finding them! The climate of the area is hot and humid, rain is common and the surfaces you will walk on are uneven. Some of the construction projects and food collection can also be physically demanding. Cutting down crops, shovelling and carrying materials are all common activities on the site. Aside from these physical requirements, visitors should also know that they’ll be expected to work in teams and follow the protocol and procedure as described to them by BEES team-leaders.
Is there WIFI at BEES?
There is no wifi on-site at the moment. To ensure you can connect to the internet, it is recommended that you purchase a SIM card from either TrueMOVE or AIS12CALL.
What should I bring to BEES?
- Lightweight clothes
- Warm jumper/jacket (depending on the season)
- Rain jacket (depending on the season)
- Sturdy trainers/boots or walking shoes for walking in the forest with the elephants
- Mosquito repellant
- Sun screen
Please note: Some travellers may not be used to the sound of nature that you will experience staying this far into nature. It can be considerably louder than you expect! Light sleepers may benefit from bringing earplugs or headphones to use at night.
Do I need travel insurance to visit BEES?
Travel medical insurance is compulsory for a visit to BEES and you must show proof upon entrance.
Are children allowed at BEES?
The program is not suitable for children under 10 years old. Children ages 10-18 must be accompanied by an adult.
BEES Elephant Sanctuary
The South East Asia Backpacker Community have tried and tested adventures across the region and handpicked a selection of only the BEST companies to work with.
Why we chose BEES?
- In 2018, founders of BEES, Emily and Burm made the bold move to make their elephant sanctuary ‘hands off’.
- They made this decision with the safety and wellbeing of their elephants and their mahouts in mind.
- Since 2018, they have lost a lot of bookings and are struggling to support their elephants, with travellers choosing to visit places where they can still ride and bathe with elephants.
- By visiting BEES you are directly supporting ethical elephant tourism in Thailand and helping to show other sanctuaries that the ‘hands off’ policy can work!
Founder of BEES, Emily McWilliam, got in touch with us to provide valuable insights to our article: How to choose an elephant sanctuary in Thailand. Emily educated us on some of the complicated topics of animal welfare; such as riding, bathing, chains and bull hooks and how travellers can help to steer elephant tourism in the right direction going forward.
BEES Elephant Sanctuary provides something that many travellers to Thailand have been looking for… An environment where they are able to observe elephants being elephants, safe in the knowledge that they are not being forced to entertain tourists in any way! This sanctuary has a strict no riding, no bathing and no touching policy to ensure the safety of their elephants, the mahouts and visitors.
Founded by Burm and Emily, a Thai/Australian couple, in 2010, BEES has been a community project since its conception. The accommodation on site was built by hand by Burm, his family and other members of the village. Since 2012 they have planted approximately 10,000 trees and they grow as much of their own food as possible. A visit to BEES is a true insight into a grass-roots, family-run elephant sanctuary. If you’re looking for a no-frills ethical experience – this is the real deal.
BEES is located in the Mae Chaem District, to the west of Doi Inthanon National Park. For visitors planning to take the one-day option at BEES, it is highly recommended that they spend both the night before AND the night of the activity in the Mae Chaem Town itself due to limited public transport options.