The domestic Thai elephant typically has 2 choices – carry tourists on its back, or pull logs out of the forest. As they age, both of these jobs become difficult and dangerous to their health. This is true of the Khao Sok elephant as well. For many guests, visiting a Khao Sok elephant sanctuary is of great interest. This area has many options for a Kao Sok elephant experience, but how do the elephants fare? Unfortunately, not all camps are equal. Thai elephant experts encourage camps that use only local Khao Sok elephants, experienced mahouts, and a low-intensity schedule for the animals. Our favorite camps are essentially elephant retirement sanctuaries, providing no-ride programs that are fun for both guests and elephants! Include a visit to one of them on your next Khao Sok tour.
What to look for in an ethical Khao Sok Elephant Sanctuary
In order to offer a better life for the pachyderms under their care, several elephant retirement parks have started in recent years. These can be visited by guests on a Khao Sok tour. Here humans provide a safe space for older Khao Sok elephants to enjoy life instead of working in exploitative situations. In addition to organic vegetables and fruit, these locations have the space needed to provide elephants a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
We recommend that the mindful traveler avoid camps that offer elephant riding when booking their Khao Sok tour. While carrying travelers on their back may seem easy, it is still hard work. Even though they are massive, and their strength seems endless, elephants need plenty of time to eat and rest. In fact, a wild Thai elephant spends about four hours a night sleeping, and the rest of their time eating! For this reason, it is important that Khao Sok elephants in the tourism industry are given plenty of time to rest, and plenty of opportunities to eat and drink.
Good to know: Riding an elephant without a seat is not considered harmful to the animal. The natural seat at the base of the skull is perfectly capable of supporting the weight of a full-grown man, and puts no pressure on the delicate backbone. If you have the chance to take a brief ride like this, you can enjoy it without guilt!
Our top picks for an amazing Kao Sok Elephant experience
The unique Kao Sok elephant experiences we offer are part of an ongoing community-based eco-tourism program. In addition to ethical animal treatment, collaboration with local partners is important for the movement towards ethical elephant activities. This is because it empowers locals, and allows the community to benefit directly from the philosophy. As a result of our focus on animal welfare and community-based initiatives, we are happy to recommend the following Khao Sok elephant sanctuary projects! This is a great way to enjoy your Khao Sok tour to the fullest, and learn about local lifestyles. You also provide really positive input into the lives and economies of local families!
1. Sonchana Farm and Khao Sok elephant sanctuary
This was one of the first Khao Sok elephant sanctuary projects in the area. It remains one of our favorite places to enjoy a Kao Sok elephant experience! This Khao Sok tour takes place at the family-owned Sonchana farm. It focuses on caring for retired, aging Khao Sok elephants, including the 50+ year-old Somboon. Guests learn all about Somboon’s diet and daily life, and learn how to make traditional elephant food. This involves a surprisingly fun time stirring a massive caldron of sticky rice, then adding all sorts of fresh fruit. Finally, the mixture is shaped into balls and coated with rice bran. Then it is time to feed the gentle giant, handing the prepared food, which he takes with his amazing trunk!
The activity ends with an elephant bath, either in the river or a hand-dug pool of fresh river water. This is a great way to learn about Thai elephants and interact with one in a very personal setting. Splashing around with a huge Khao Sok elephant is a favorite of kids, who love sitting high up on their back!
Distance from Khao Sok: 20 minutes
Highlights: Family hospitality and incredibly personal: a chance to build a one-on-one relationship with a Thai elephant that you’ll never forget!
2. Jem’s Elephant Sanctuary
Jem’s Khao Sok elephant sanctuary is located on an organic farm, and is a great place to play with pachyderms. Similar to other sanctuaries, the focus is on education about Thai elephants, and feeding and caring for them. Our favorite feature of this Kao Sok elephant experience is wandering around with the elephant through the organic farm. We also love that Jem’s sanctuary is owned and operated by a local farmer. As a result, the mindful traveler can rest easy, knowing that with this Khao Sok tour they are supporting groups that stand for a positive future for Thai elephants!
Distance from Khao Sok: 20 minutes
Highlight: Going on safari with the elephants to the river.
3. Hillside Elephant Retreat
This is the newest Khao Sok elephant sanctuary. Due to its stunning location and excellent treatment of elephants, it is quickly becoming a favorite among travelers! Hillside sanctuary offers an activity more commonly found in human spas: the mud bath. Much preferred to a freshwater bath by the Thai elephant, rubbing mud on their skin helps protect and moisturize. After getting muddy, you can rinse off.
Hillside is located in Rommani village, which has a long history of working with Thai elephants. Also, it is associated with the PhangNga Elephant Sanctuary. The activities offered at Hillside are in line with the ethical and responsible treatment of elephants that we recommend. They feature a program in which guests learn about the elephant (history, personal details, safety). Guests then prepare a fruit snack and feed it to the elephant. Finally, guests walk with the elephant to the stream, have a mud bath, and then take a freshwater bath with the elephant and give it a cleaning.
Distance from Khao Sok: 30 minutes
Highlights: Detailed information, personal connections and, of course, the mud bath.
How you can make a difference for the future of Khao Sok elephants
As Thailand’s logging industry fades, the use of elephants as living machines is fading with it. However, as Thai tourism grows, there will still be people willing to exploit Thai elephants for quick profits. There is hope, though, as profits depend on the willingness of foreign travelers to pay for exploitative activities. By choosing ethical, locally-founded Kao Sok elephant experiences, you are adding your voice to a growing call for the end of elephant mistreatment. For that, we thank you!