If you are visiting Thailand and looking for a reputable elephant experience, I can whole-heartedly recommend the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary just outside Pattaya (or any of their three other locations for that matter!) I promise you it will be something that will stay with you forever.
Just before Christmas last year, I had the good fortune to visit an old friend in Thailand for the first time. One of the items on my ‘Must Do‘ list was to spend time with some elephants, as I’ve loved them since I was a kid – I mean, who doesn’t love elephants? A quick online search showed there were three choices in the Pattaya area, but which were ethical and not just tourist traps that exploited the creatures? It didn’t take long to discover the only one that didn’t mistreat the elephants was the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. The other two sites chained their elephants, let people ride them – which is a totally no-no as it’s not good for them – and their were even reports of the elephants at other sites being beaten in view of the visitors!!!
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary – My Experience in Words and Pictures
A picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll try and balance the two, and hopefully not bore you with either too many words or too many pictures, but I wish to capture my wonderful experience as best I can, not only for your benefit, but also in the hope that it will shed more light and support on this wonderful organisation and their great work
The sanctuary offers a number of experiences dependent upon the amount of time you have and your budget, from a quick visit to see and pet them all the way up to a whole day trekking with them. I opted for something in the middle, which could either be a morning or afternoon experience. The price for this was 2500 Thai Baht, which worked out to be about sixty quid. Now, before you go screaming to the hills about the price, first remember the Baht is at an all-time high, but hear what you get for your money. This price included return transportation from my hotel (which would have cost at least 1000 Baht!) and a superb meal (which would have cost upwards of 500 Baht!) And that’s before I’ve told you what you get for the rest of your money (1000 Baht) which if you don’t think is terrific value for money, you probably can’t afford to travel to Thailand anyway, and should really think about buying a good book and a stay-cation instead!
What You Get For 1000 Baht
I opted for the afternoon experience which began with the taxi picking me up from my hotel at 12.30. We stopped twice along the way to pick up two other elephant-lovers, and half an hour later we were out of the noisy city and in the countryside, bouncing up a dirt road towards the sanctuary. There was already a group of other eager elephant-lovers milling around the facility and interacting with the animals, and the guides told us to get to know the elephants while we waited for one more small group to arrive.
The Pattaya location had managed to rescue six elephants (other locations have more, especially the oldest site in Chang Mai to the north of Thailand) which ranged from the youngest, who was only three years old, all the way up to the Grandpa, who was over sixty! No matter what age, elephants are just so amazingly cute. Apart from on telly and in London zoo, I’ve never seen an elephant in the flesh, so to be in such close vicinity to these peaceful, majestic ‘land whales’ is almost beyond words to describe, but I’ll try.
The most obvious thing about elephants are their size, but they are anything but scary, as they move very slowly and cautiously – apart from their trunks when there’s food around! They have a very calm, almost meditative aura about them, and my first reaction was to just go up to this ‘mummy-to-be’ elephant and give her a big hug and kiss on the nose. As you would expect, their skin is very thick and tough, and stroking them is like getting an exfoliation! By the time the last group arrived by taxi, I’d said hello to all six elephants, and had learnt a lot from the many guides and handlers that were on site.
Our group was approximately 40 in total, and came from all corners of the world. After a brief introduction given in very good English by one of the guides, outlining the action plan for the afternoon, safety protocol, and the ‘do’s and don’ts’ around elephants, it was time for the first activity: feeding the elephants! There were many, many baskets of food (bananas, cucumbers, and other vegetation) which we could feed the elephants either by holding it out and letting them grab it with their trunks, or – if we were feeling brave – say the word, “Bonn” and they would open their mouths, stick out their tongues, and we could feed them directly!
Naturally, I chose to feed them directly, and was amazed how easy it was (and how enormous their tongues are!) There was so much food, it was probably about half an hour before all the food had gone, and the whole time was filled will laughter, amazement, and pure child-like bliss for all participants (and even a few strange shrieks from some of the more timid participants who got ‘goosed’ by the odd trunk or two!) As we were feeding the elephants, the wonderful aroma of Thai cooking wafted through the air, as the cooks prepared our meal.
The Elephant Mud Spa!
Having been instructed to change into our swimming gear, next on the agenda was to grab more bananas and lead the elephant troop alone a dusty pathway to their muddy watering hole for a well-earned mud spa! Guess who lead the way…?
Oh, I forgot to mention, as I add all these wonderful photographs to this post, additionally in the price, there was a photographer on hand snapping merrily away, so you didn’t have to worry about missing anything, and could just focus on fully enjoying the experience! That probably would have cost another 1000 Baht to arrange!
Time to strip off and get muddy! Since I was there during the dry season, their mud hole was particularly dry, but the staff had prepared for that and there were plenty of buckets and wheel barrows full of lovely, sloppy mud for us to play with. Being almost 50, this experience simply knocked the years off me, as I became a big kid again! Looking around at the others, I could tell I wasn’t alone in this experience, especially as the guides actively encouraged us to get muddy ourselves!
Rinse and Scrub Time!
Like any good spa treatment, at some point you have to get clean again, and this is where the REAL fun began…
Armed with water bowls and scrubbing brushes, we and the elephants plodded to the other side of the path where their ‘swimming pool’ was, and actively began tossing water over the elephants and ourselves, scrubbing them clean. We were all upstaged by baby elephant to immediately lay on his side, completely submerged, with only the end of his trunk sticking out of the water like a snorkel, and began to thrash his legs about with glee!
Playtime over, it was time to lead the elephants back to camp, and have a proper shower and clean-up before dinner time. All of the facilities were clean, in great working order, and more than you would have expected for such a remote and basic location – trust me, I witnessed far worse facilities in some of the bars and restaurants in Pattaya!
Our Thai buffet was ready and waiting for us with food aplenty! They had even catered for all participants dietary requirements with vegetarian and vegan options, and fruit to finish off with. Between bites of food, the conversation was filled with expressions of how amazing the experience had been and, “Way more than I had expected…” and, “This is such great value for money…!”
And as if that wasn’t enough, they had even more surprises: each of us got a reusable, sustainable shopping bag as a keepsake and reminder of our experience, and there was one final activity before our taxi rides home, but I’ll let you search their website to find out what this one is! The only clue I’ll give you is that it sure surprised me…!
Find Out More About Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
Thank you for reading all the way to the end. I hope I’ve whet your appetite and you’re keen to know more, or have the experience yourself. If that’s the case, or you simply want to help spread the word about their great work, please share this post, use the links below to follow them on Facebook and Twitter, and generally spread the word!
Anthony Donnelly is a British author, actor, and life coach, more recently known for his charity, children’s book series, “Charlie, the Migrating Snail”, which is available to buy on Amazon by clicking the book cover to the right.