The Best ethical Elephant Sanctuary near Bangkok

A couple months before our Thailand trip Shane and I were sitting at our favorite bar talking about how excited we were to finally see elephants! I couldn’t believe I was going to see these beautiful 9 foot tall, 4-ton creatures up close and personal. Elephants have been among my favorite animals since I was little. I love the Ivory Ella shop and I have an elephant beanie baby sitting on the dash of my Nissan Rogue!

But after finishing our first drink the conversation turned. I couldn’t believe what had come out of Shane’s mouth! He said that he was excited to RIDE the elephants! I thought, OH NO YOU DIDN’T! You don’t ride elephants, that’s super cruel to them and the places that let you ride them don’t treat them well. Shane then pulled out his phone to show me Instagram photographs from Elephant Safari Park in Bali of beautiful models sprawled across the elephants backs, and the elephant’s looking very happy and well taken care of. But behind the scenes this is not the case.


So many people are uneducated of what actually goes on at these types of elephant parks. That is why it is important to do your research when choosing a reputable elephant sanctuary in Thailand. 


Elephant Sanctuary near Bangkok

Why You Shouldn’t Ride Elephants

Sadly, the elephant trekking industry thrives on foreign tourists riding elephants, or wanting to watch them do tricks. The taming process for teaching these gentle giants these unnatural talents is horrific and sad, and done when the elephants are very young.

This process is called the “phajaan,” where a baby elephant’s spirit is completely broken. The baby is torn away from its mother and placed in a space similar to a closet where they are unable to move. After this, they are beaten with bull hooks and clubs, while being starved and deprived of sleep. Sadly, many elephant camps in Thailand still mistreat the animals with bull hooks. My coworker visited Thailand a couple years ago and they had decided to ride an elephant without knowing what goes on behind the scenes. She said that while they were riding the elephant it was being beaten with the bull hook to make it walk faster. She had no idea and felt so sad for riding the poor elephant and wished that she hadn’t.


The Best ethical Elephant Sanctuary near Bangkok: Wildlife Friends Foundation

Elephant Sanctuary near Bangkok

Fast forward to the end of our trip and we were so happy that we chose to go to Wildlife Friends Foundation in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. We had heard that the best elephant sanctuary in Thailand is in Chiang Mai, called Elephant Nature Park, however we were not exploring north Thailand on this trip. If you’re wondering where to see elephants in Bangkok, the closest reputable sanctuary is in Kanchanaburi. YOU WILL LOVE IT!

WFFT responds to reports by the public and government officials of wildlife in need of care. Many of these rescued wild animals are kept as pets illegally, or are found injured. WFFT was ideal for us because it offered transfer to and from Bangkok. We simply paid for the transportation via paypal ahead of time and a driver came and picked us right up from Le Meridien hotel at 7:45 AM. It was a two-hour journey that flew by with the full day tour starting at 10 AM. Pricing was 1600 Baht per person, and 2200 baht per car for a one way from Bangkok.

Elephant Sanctuary near Bangkok
Warthog at Wildlife Friends Foundation
Elephant Sanctuary near Bangkok
Rescued crocodile at Wildlife Friends Foundation

The day started with our tour guide giving us an informed guided tour all around the Wildlife Rescue Center. This recue center has more than just elephants! We learned all about gibbons, saw Malayan sun bears, a crocodile (or alligator not sure), orangutans, ostriches, slow lorises, macaques, and of course lots of rescued puppies! I loved learning about the gibbons and hearing their extremely loud calls! Here is an adorable picture of two baby gibbons rescued after a poacher left them behind in a hotel room.

Elephant Sanctuary near Bangkok
Rescued baby gibbons at Wildlife Friends Foundation

Walk With Our Elephants

After our tour we were provided a delicious lunch, and there was even a place to buy ice cream and smoothies (I can’t get enough mango in Thailand!). Then it was off to meet our elephants! We got to walk with an elephant, feed her, and give her a shower afterwards! Our group was lucky enough to walk with 2 elephants because these two elephants love each other so much that they are never separated. Watching these two elephants interact with each other was a magical experience.

We then met and greeted more elephants from the elephant sanctuary and learned about their individual stories on how they were rescued and their temperaments. One of the things I learned was the pink skin on an elephants hide is actually sunburn from being in the sun too much and not being able to cover themselves with mud to protect their hides. So many of these elephants were blind, or injured in other ways from their elephant trekking pasts.

Elephant Sanctuary near Bangkok
Elephant eating and getting her daily bath

Elephant Sanctuary near Bangkok

The tour ended with us checking out the animal hospital, and riding around to phase 3 of the Wildlife Rescue Center, where they are building new gibbon islands! Then it was time to say goodbye to the friends we met that day and our guide. We wished we had decided to stay the night (you can stay in these eco lodges .) If you book an eco lodge you are provided with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and you get to sleep with elephants right at your front door!

Elephant Sanctuary near Bangkok
Eco lodge
Elephant Sanctuary near Bangkok
Eco lodge with a view of the elephants

Spread The Word

We need to spread the word about elephant trekking. It is us tourists who long to see the elephants and ride them for that perfect Instagram photo. I am sure so many of these tourists would not partake if they knew the truth about elephant trekking in Southeast Asia, and would choose a reputable elephant sanctuary instead.

I hope you learned from what I have shared after my own elephant experience in Thailand and this information will help you make an informed decision when you decide to visit with these gentle giants yourself! If you would like to volunteer with elephants, there are wildlife volunteer projects located in SE Asia, Thailand, and Laos. Click here to make a difference!

How does this information make you feel? Did you learn something new about elephant trekking in Southeast Asia? Please drop a message in the comments below!


⇢ Related: 2 week Thailand Itinerary

⇢ Related: Thailand Packing and Outfit guide

⇢ Related: 11 Insanely Fun Things to do in Koh Tao


Thailand Essentials

These are the top 5 items I would make sure you bring to Thailand. For a more comprehensive list, check out my Thailand Packing Guide.

Reef Safe Sunscreen 

You may have heard that the stunning beach of Maya Bay has been closed off and on this year to let the ecosystem bounce back. Part of the reason why the coral has been dying is because sunscreen can in fact bleach and kill the coral. Be responsible and keep our oceans safe!

Travel Adapter

This is obvious – but I definitely forgot my adapter when I went to Spain and had to borrow Shane’s the whole time. DON’T FORGET YOURS!

Deet Free Bug Spray

I absolutely love this sunscreen because it doesn’t smell bad and was super effective.

Life Straw Water Bottle

I couldn’t believe how much trash there was in Phi Phi. It was so heartbreaking. By using your own water bottle you aren’t contributing to the never ending waste piling up on Thailand’s beaches.

Travel Insurance

Annoying, but necessary. I was screwed when I visited Bali because I didn’t purchase travel insurance and you never know if an emergency is going to happen, or if you miss a flight or get your laptop stolen. Better safe than sorry! I use and recommend World Nomads 



Elephant sanctuaries in Thailand
Do your research before visiting an elephant sanctuary


  • Dave

    Lots of important information here but i don’t really see the difference between elephants, horses,donkeys, carabao, reindeer and other animals that are used for riding or pullin trailers around. How can people complain about one and not the other.

    • elliecat21

      unlike horses the backs of elephants are not the right shape for carrying weight upon them, and are damaged by the heavy riding platforms and passengers they carry. Also, even if you are told that the weight of one or two adults on the elephant’s back is not a problem, an elephant’s spirit still needs to be broken completely for it to accept this and it is completely heartbreaking.

  • Adrienne

    Great post, hope lots of people read this! We’re going to Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai in a couple weeks and I’m so excited to experience the elephants in a happy place for them 🙂

  • Sur

    I love your post! So much informative information exposing the hiden truth about riding elephants is ugly and cruel, not beautiful or majestic. Hopefully this hiden truth will continue to be spread. Who doesn’t love elephants❤️

  • Sue

    Thank you for all this great information! Your story is so informative exposing the hidden truth: riding elephants is ugly & cruel, Not glamorous or majestic. Hopefully this knowledge will keep spreading to help with a movement needed to help fund the sanctuaries who are trying to save elephants and other animals❤️

  • Lance

    This is such an important topic. Our children love learning about animals and visiting with them, but we have had to be very aware of the best, kindest places for those animals. We have found a number of rescue centers that care for the animals properly. That being said, we would love to visit an ethical elephant sanctuary one day to see these amazing mammals.

  • Catherine

    I love animal sanctuaries that focus on rescue rather than breeding. We just visited a similar marine facility. This is definitely something I’d like to do when we finally make it to Thailand!

    • elliecat21

      Yes definitely check this place out or the place in Chiang Mai. I have never been to a marine facility that would be amazing which one did you go to?

  • lara Dunning

    I agree, we need to talk more about elephtant trekking and being a responsilbe traveler. So thanks for this post! While I’m not keen on zoo type environments, I do think that animal sanctuaries provide a great space to talk about animals and provide them with a safe place. I’d opt to sleep at the eco resort so I could watch the elephants from the porch!

    • elliecat21

      Yes! They do try and release some of the animals into the wild there like the gibbons but a lot of the elephants are blind or deaf or sick 🙁 I think people are becoming more aware of the elephant trekking industry but we definitely need to spread the word more.

  • Anja

    I watched a documentary once, about an elephant sanctuary that was taking care of the baby elephants that had lost their mothers due to poaching. It was really heartbreaking. Beautiful that you went to the rescue center instead on riding the elephants. And that view from the ecolodges is surreal!

    • elliecat21

      Yes it is so sad 🙁 The ecolodges looked awesome and weren’t too expensive we definitely should have looked into them. I hope you get to go to a sanctuary some day!

  • Brianna

    Glad you did the right thing! I was uneducated when I went, and sadly made the mistake of riding them. Since then, I’ve become an advocate for educating the public on the truths of elephant tourism. Thanks for being an advocate too 🙂

  • Kavita Favelle

    Thanks for letting me know about your post, I love that we both posted about this topic this month! I hope between us and the many others who understand why riding elephants or watching them perform, dance, do tricks is wrong, we can help to get the message out there.

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