Elephants are a big part of tourism in Thailand, with thousands of tourists paying to take part in elephant trekking which involves riding on their backs through the Thai countryside. Trekking is painful and exhausting for the elephants, and they often work extremely long days with very little rest. Elephants working in this industry are also subjected to emotional and physical torture from birth, and are kept in small enclosures with chains around their legs so they can barely move. The elephants are generally traumatised from years of abuse.
On our recent trip to Thailand, we wanted to meet some elephants but we wanted to make sure that we weren't supporting the torture of these lovely animals. We discovered that there are 'Elephant Sanctuaries' or 'Elephant Retirement Parks', where you can spend a day taking care of elephants that have been rescued from trekking centres.
We booked a day at the Green Elephant Sanctuary Park, which is owned and run by a Swiss couple. We paid around 5,000 THB (Around £115) for the experience, which included pickup from our hotel and a buffet lunch.
We arrived at the Park around lunchtime, after an hour drive from our hotel on Karon Beach. We were seated in a sheltered area and offered cold drinks while we waited for the other guests to arrive. It was a large group of around 30 - 40 people.
Feeding The Elephants
We were soon introduced to 4 adult elephants, who were calm and relaxed around this large group of strangers. We were given huge buckets of banana and pineapple to feed to the elephants, which was an amazing experience. The elephants happily take the fruit from your hand with their trunks and place the food in their mouths.
Scrubbing and Mud Bath
After feeding, the elephants are led over to a muddy area to be scrubbed with mud. The guests all pick up clumps of mud and rub into the elephants skin, a bit like a massage! After a while of scrubbing the elephants are taken into a large muddy pool, where they can be rinsed of the mud and can also play around in the water. It's amazing to see them having fun and splashing about, in a place where they don't have to work hard or carry around people on their backs.
Now that the elephants have been scrubbed and rinsed, it's time to get them into the shower. There is a large area with sprinklers over head, which the elephants stand in for a wash. Guests are given brushes to clean the animals thoroughly, and this is also a great opportunity for photo opps with the elephants.
The Living Areas
After washing, the elephants are taken off to relax and graze. The guests are taken to see their living area and told more about the sanctuary and how it started. The elephants sleep in large open areas, with overhead shelter but they are kept in separate rooms to stop them fighting with each other.
If you are travelling to Thailand we fully recommend visiting an Elephant Sanctuary, to get up close and personal with these beautiful creatures in an ethical way. Elephants are not meant to be ridden and tortured so avoid elephant trekking centres at all costs!