Last April I went to Thailand to work as a volunteer at The Surin Project, an ethical elephant tourism project. It proved to be a very rewarding experience. Ever since, several of my friends consider making a similar trip theirselves. I always encourage people to go for it! Voluntourism is a showcase example of sustainable tourism as it benefits the lives of the animals, contributes to livelihoods of local communities and it pushes supply and demand for ethical tourism. In this blog, a list of ethical elephant projects and sanctuaries in Thailand to choose from. As all programmes offer a one week stay, it can easily be combined with other travel destinations during a holiday.
Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai
ENP is Thailand’s most famous elephant sanctuary, mainly due to its establisher and owner Lek Chailert: a female conservationist who is also known as “the elephant whisperer“. Located about 60 kms from Chiang Mai, The Elephant Nature Park is home to a herd of over 70 elephants. The park succeeded in rescuing dozens of distressed elephants from all over Thailand. Besides, ENP actively contributes to several other projects in rainforest restoration, community engagement and education. Two different week programmes are available: Journey to Freedom and A stay at the Elephant Nature Park, so you can choose which programme appeals to you most.
Prices start at 15.000 Thai Baht/€395 for one week.
Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary, Chiang Mai
Located at a 2,5 hour drive of Chiang Mai city, BEES is a home for old, injured and retired elephants that are longing for rest and/or need permanent care. As the BEES centre is based in a valley in Maechaem it has the bonus of breath taking views of Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand. While most sanctuaries own the elephants that live in the sanctuary, BEES rents some elephants of their owners. This is due to the fact that if a big amount of funds is paid for one elephant, some owners will take advantage of the money to buy two more baby elephants and explore them in the unethical tourism industry. Nevertheless did BEES succeed in buying some elephants after careful negotiation, providing a permanent home for the elephants who need it the most.
Get in touch with BEES to find out more about their prices.
The Surin Project, Surin provence
A destination that holds a special place in my heart. The Surin province is home to about 300 elephants, once used for logging to provide an income for complete families. However, Thailand’s 1989 ban on logging resulted in less work opportunities. The Surin Project was launched to financially support mahouts and their elephants. In return the mahouts agree on leaving their bull hooks at home, unchain their elephant for at least three hours per day and refrain from participating in animal entertainment. Read my extensive blog about elephant volunteering at the Surin Project to find out more about the project.
The price of a week at the Surin Project is 13.000 Thai Baht/€342.
The Elephant Refuge and Education Centre, southwest of Thailand
The Elephant Refuge and Education Centre is part of the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand. The center is located 160 kilometres southwest of Bangkok and is home to a herd of about 20 elephants, all coming from an abusive past. What makes this project unique is the fact that no elephant is chained up, neither during the day or at night. As the WFFT runs the Wildlife Rescue Centre you can also choose to work as a volunteer at both projects, offering you the opportunity to work with a variety of other Thai domestic species like long-tail macaques, gibbons, sun bears and parrots.
Prices at the Elephant Refuge and Education Center start at €375,- for a week, offering a discount for every extra week.
Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, Southern Thailand
As the Phuket Island attract millions of tourist annually, many unethical elephant attractions are located in the area. Cofounded by Lek Chailert of Elephant Nature Park, the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary is a pioneer in ethical elephant tourism in this region. It is a retirement home for sick, injured, and old elephants who have worked an exhausting life in the logging and tourism industries. As the Elephant Sanctuary Phuket is quite a young centre, the project is evolving and therefore tasks will vary per day. So a week at this sanctuary promises to be an exciting experience.
A week at the Elephant Sanctuary Phuket is 16.000 Thai Baht/€412.
Read my previous blogs to learn more about what to expect when working as a volunteer at an animal project in Asia or to find ethical day-trips to elephant projects in Thailand.