Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism

The number one thing to see in Southeast Asia was the elephants. They are such beautiful creatures and I have longed to see them up close and personal for as long as I can remember. I knew that a lot of places offer tours but they aren’t always good places and they treat the animals cruelly, so I was determined to see elephants responsibly.

See Elephants responsibly in Thailand

As cool as riding them would be, I don’t like how they are treated in the places that offer rides. Unfortunately, while in Bangkok seeing the floating markets, unbeknownst to us beforehand, they took my mom and me to one where the animals were forced to wear costumes, give rides, and pose for pictures. You could see in their eyes how sad they were. I left in tears after 5 minutes.

Where to See Elephants Responsibly in Chiang Mai, Thailand

After that, I wanted to make sure wherever I would be visiting elephants was ethical and not abusive. So when we traveled up to Chiang Mai, the opportunity came up to go to an elephant sanctuary and refuge. And boy, what a difference in the two places… You can see how happy I (and the elephants) am in all these photos, my smile is as wide as can be!

elephant sanctuary in thailand

Ran-Tong: Save & Rescue Elephant Center

G Adventures recommended Ran-Tong: Save & Rescue Elephant Center as an activity while in Chiang Mai, assuring that the elephants were treated well (and they were not wrong!). We drove about an hour out to the park from Chaing Mai. Upon arrival, we were given superrrrr hot uniforms to wear 😉

what to wear to elephant sanctuary

Feeding baby elephants

After brief instruction, we were led out to the field where the elephants basically roam free. The first elephant we came up to was a “little” guy, just nearly a year old but still weighing over 1000 pounds.

See Elephants Responsibly - baby elephant at Ran-Tong sanctuary

A couple of people have asked why he has a rope around his neck. It’s basically like a leash we use for dogs. Many of the young elephants don’t realize their strength, and when they get excited, they can accidentally knock down visitors! It is just for precaution and guidance. 

baby elephant hug

These cute babies are so lively and playful! This one kept trying to steal my water bottle from me!

elephant stealing water bottle

Preparing "Dessert" for Elephants

After playing with the babies, the handler took us over to cut up sugar cane: an elephant’s favorite dessert! It’s no easy task cutting the sugar cane up with a machete, but it was worth it to see the elephants go crazy for it. And no, it’s not lost on me that we were paying to basically do the trainers chores haha! 😉

cutting up sugar cane for elephants in sanctuary

Feeding Elephants

Armed with our baskets full of “dessert,” we headed back to the open field where the elephants seemed to have multiplied! There were so many of them, all eager to get a trunkful of the goodies in our baskets.

feeding elephants in thailand
seeing elephants up close in thailand
feeding elephants in a sanctuary

It’s hard to put into words what it’s like being so up close to these gentle giants. Some people were a little timid approaching them (and rightfully so, they can weigh up to 5 tons!), but I couldn’t help but be next to them. Even the ones with giant tusks, I just walked right and gave them a nice pat.

where to See Elephants Responsibly in thailand
chiang mai elephant sanctuary

I know it sounds crazy, but you really could see in their eyes how happy and well taken care of these elephants were. It is an experience I will never forget. They are such beautiful creatures! 

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND
See Elephants Responsibly - up close and personal

See Elephants Responsibly: Giving Elephants a Mud Bath

Since elephants can’t sweat like us to keep cool, they prefer a mud bath to protect from the sun (like the one above rolling around in the dirt). And that’s exactly what we helped them do next! We literally got knee deep in a mud pit with the elephants and rubbed it all over them.

mud bath with elephants

The elephants were completely relaxed and just rolled over in the mud letting us rub them down. They were in elephant heaven… and so was I 😉

taking care of elephants at sanctuary
Giving elephants a mud bath - See Elephants Responsibly

The handlers had a secret word that they’d say to get the elephants to spray mud all over you!

See Elephants Responsibly - elephant spraying mud at sanctuary

Bathing Elephants in Thailand

After the mud spa, we walked them over to be bathed off in the river. These elephants are so pampered!

walking with elephants in thailand

This sweet little elephant hugged me the entire way to the river. How precious is he!? I was seriously on cloud 9. 

leading baby elephant at Ran-Tong
see Elephants Responsibly at Ran-Tong Rescue Elephant Center

See Elephants Responsibly: Swimming with Elephants instead of riding!!

Once in the river, the elephants just started leisurely laying around, swimming in the water with us!

bathing elephants in thailand
swimming with elephants
getting to swim with elephants

I had to take a moment to let it sink all in: I was swimming with elephants in a river in the middle of Thailand. SWIMMING WITH ELEPHANTS!! It’s something I will never forget.

Swimming with elephants at Ran-Tong: Save & Rescue Elephant Center

Why You Shouldn't Ride Elephants in Thailand

Riding an elephant seems like it would be really fun and cool, but you have to remember the majority of those kinds of places don’t treat the animals well. 

Getting the experience taking care of these gentle giants was far more rewarding and fun than riding around on top of them for a couple minutes. I urge you to do the same when visiting Thailand: do your research and find an ethically responsible place!

See Elephants Responsibly at Ran-Tong: Save & Rescue Elephant Center

I hope you enjoyed this post on how to see elephants responsibly in Thailand — and all the cute photos! Have you ever  had an experience with elephants? I’d love to see your pics as well 🙂 Leave a comment or send me a DM on Instagram

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xx Chels

4 thoughts on “Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism

  1. This is amazing!! I want to spend a couple weeks at a place like this one day. I’m so glad you went the responsible tourism route

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