I hesitate to admit this to you, but our first trip to Thailand included a trip to an elephant park. Back then we were brand new to the world of travel and understood very little about the way the big, wide world works. We booked a tour and joined dozens of other tourists taking turns riding elephants who got little to no rest in between riders. While this may sound innocent enough, we found out later how horrifically many elephants in parks such as these are treated. I was mortified that we had helped support such a practice. Fast forward two and a half years and many trips later. We have now learned so much more about the world and have learned the importance of doing our research before planning any animal encounter. Six of us recently went on a trip to Koh Lanta, Thailand. Although, as I mentioned before, most of us had been to Thailand before, this trip was special. Our daughter and her husband were joining us this time and it was their first time seeing the country. The one thing she wanted to do most was visit elephants. I mean, that’s kind-of everyone’s dream when they visit Thailand, right? Yes, having an encounter with an elephant in Thailand is at the top of people’s bucket lists, just like seeing Pandas in China (read about how we hugged pandas here), or holding a koala in Australia. But being the older, wiser travelers we have become, this time we planned on finding a place we knew treated their elephants humanely.
One challenge we faced was that we were staying on the remote island of Koh Lanta, which was a far distance from any ethical elephant park. Still, not knowing if any of us would ever get back to Thailand, we decided it needed to happen. Enter Phang Nga Elephant Park.
This is the description of the Park found on the home page of their website:
Phang Nga Elephant Park is a small family-run Park. Our family has cared for elephants for over 150 years, with each generation learning something new about the Asian elephant and their welfare. The Park is like a typical small, rural Thai village, where thirty people live and work together with their elephants and families.
Animal welfare is paramount at Phang Nga Elephant Park. We consider that responsible and ethical elephant tourism will help to save the Asian elephant, but requires the highest level of care and husbandry. We are AGAINST unnatural and abusive practices and strive constantly to improve animal welfare and to promote education.
We are determined to provide our elephants with the highest quality of life possible and our strong belief in human-elephant interaction is what makes Phang Nga Elephant Park so special. Our visitors are able to have a life-enhancing experience with these magnificent animals and learn about them in a natural and relaxed environment.
Score! This was exactly what we were looking for. So I began communicating with the wonderful people at Phang Nga. Typically they provide transportation to and from Krabi Town. However, it would have taken us two hours to get from Koh Lanta to Krabi via the hotel transportation, then another two hours to reach the elephant park, so I asked Phang Nga if there were any other options for getting us there. For a small fee (less than $20 per person), they offered a door-to-door shuttle service which was no small feat considering we were four hours away. In fact, since we had to leave so early in the morning, our driver arrived the night before and slept on the beach so he would be close for his early morning wake-up call. Now that’s service!
Once we arrived at Phang Nga, we knew we had picked the right place. All the elephants just looked happy. They had space to roam and plenty of food to eat.
After a brief introduction to the park, we were offered a delicious Thai lunch.
Once we were full, we met some of the elephants, rode them on a short trek, and fed them pineapples and bananas for a yummy treat.
Our final task was the best one of all. Bathing our elephants. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, we entered the water with our elephants and had a great time splashing around while scrubbing them clean.
It was incredible…until my elephant pooped in the water. GROSS, but hey, what do you expect when hanging out with a wild animal, right? Needless to say, I got out of the water pretty quickly once that happened. But still, it was an incredible experience.
It was obvious at Phang Nga the high level of care and respect provided to the elephants and their caretakers, or mahouts. Did you know one mahout is assigned an elephant and takes care of that elephant its entire life? They become each other’s family.
It was impressive to see the way the park provides for this pair. They build a hut for each mahout right next to his elephant so he can be near always.
Most elephant parks house their mahouts off the property but Phang Nga cares so much about their elephants, they go above and beyond to ensure their healthy welfare and happiness.
Although it was a long day and quite a journey, all six of us were thrilled to have made the trip. It was one we will never forget. Phang Nga is an outstanding elephant park. They provide a positive and caring experience for their guests while treating their elephants humanely. We were happy to support the park and I highly recommend putting it on the top of your list of things to do in Thailand.
If you are planning a trip to Koh Lanta, Thailand, here are a few posts to help create the perfect trip. Have fun, and let me know how it goes!: