Laos Elephant Village

Elephant Tours Done Right

Elephants have become too popular for their own good. Throughout Asia, riding an elephant, bathing one, and taking a selfie atop one is a big draw for tourists. And where there’s demand, there is a market. With tours to Thailand doubling between 2010 and 2016, it’s no surprise that a World Animal Protection (WAP) study found a 30% increase in the number of elephants in captivity for tourist activities in that country alone.

Despite the fact that offering elephant tours, rides, and other activities bring great profits, the animals are frequently fed poorly and given little veterinary care. Often, too, they are typically held in their places (often on a concrete floor in a noisy environment) by a 10-foot chain. Another dark side of the story is that the elephants are often captured as babies and trained inhumanely.

The hope is that tourists who love animals will become educated about inhumane conditions and prefer to see elephants in genuine rescue sanctuaries.

Where to See Ethical Care for Elephants

Sanctuaries and camps that support ethical care of elephants are operating in several Asian countries. Here are a few places Myths and Mountains recommends visiting for elephant tours if you travel to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, or Nepal.

  1. Cambodia Elephant CampThe Elephant Conservation Center in Luang Prabang, Laos not only provides veterinary care for rescued elephants and provides a large, natural environment where they can roam, it also trains mahouts, elephant keepers, in the humane care of the animals. At this center, you can stay overnight to observe the animals in a safe environment or volunteer for a week and become more involved in their day-to-day care.
  2. The Mondulkiri Elephant & Wildlife Sanctuary in Sen Monorom, Cambodia is a rescue and conservation center that allows observation and feeding, grooming, and bathing the elephants in a large, natural environment, including a rainforest pool. The sanctuary offers day tours and welcomes volunteers for longer stays.
  3. The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand has been involved in many elephant rescues and now has a thriving herd living in its park, that is part of the Rain Forest Restoration project. Visitors can feed and bath the elephants and walk with them. (No elephant riding is permitted). The park staff also works with other elephant centers to educate them on ethical treatment of the animals. One day visits are permitted and volunteers for a week are welcome in this ethical elephant sanctuary in Thailand. Nearby hotels are suggested for those who need an overnight stay. (The Park is 37 miles outside Chiang Mai.)
  4. At Tiger Tops Elephant Camp in Nepal’s Terai belt along the southern part of the country, guests are literally surrounded by chain-free elephants where they can observe them all day, watching them eat, play, and even sleep. In the morning, visitors can walk with the elephants to the river where they graze. In the afternoon, you can watch the mahouts bath and care for them.  Guests may stay at one of two lodges: Karnali Lodge near Bardia National Park and Tharu Lodge near Chitwan National Park. In addition to elephant-watching, Tiger Tops offers jungle experiences such as river rafting, trekking, and fishing.

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