Elephants are omnipresent in Thailand – you will find them on temples, garments, food supplies and souvenirs. Throughout history, the elephant has always been a major part of Thai culture and it is Thailand’s national animal.
Unfortunately, at the same time, there have been many cases of elephants being treated badly – from their use in logging, to entertain tourists (for example with rides), to being chained. The Green Elephant Sanctuary Park in Phuket rescues elephants and takes care of them in their facilities which are open to visitors. In this article, I would like to share my experience from our morning tour and discuss if the sanctuary is worth visiting. (Spoiler: I think it definitely is.)
My Reservations Before the Visits
At first, I was a bit sceptical about visiting the sanctuary. Over the years, I have encountered many places across the world whose definition of “sanctuary” differed a lot from mine. It was more than once that I walked out during tours because the organisations were clearly not sanctuaries but yet another tourist attraction where animals were treated badly and used as “photo props” for selfies. However, friends recommended the place and after doing more research, I was happy to give it a try.
How to Get to Green Elephant Sanctuary Park
The Green Elephant Sanctuary Park is located towards the centre of the island, off Surin Beach and Bang Tao Beach. Tickets are THB 2,500 per person (about EUR 68, USD 70), THB 1,900 (about EUR 52, USD 53) for children aged four to ten. Children under four can enter for free. The sanctuary can be visited with a morning or afternoon tour which includes transport to and from the sanctuary, soft drinks and a lunch. Of course, you can arrange for your own transport as well.
What Happens During the Tour
Already upon arrival, the overall atmosphere was very positive and we could tell from the staff that they are 100% committed to the cause. All morning visitors were divided into two groups and we started with feeding the elephants. It was not the elephants’ “breakfast” but rather snacks. Our guide told us that the sugar cane and bananas are treats like chocolate for humans.
Before we started with the feeding, we were introduced to all the elephants with their names, their stories and character traits. One elephant we could only watch from a distance, as she is scared of humans. (Unfortunately, this poor elephant has made some very bad experiences with humans.) There was also a mother with her 8-month-old baby. The two have been rescued recently and we could watch them during feeding and bathing. Naturally, as the mother would protect her baby, we were not allowed to touch him.
After we were instructed on how to feed the elephants, we could move around and pictures were taken too. There are almost none of me, because I did not like to pose while spending time with the elephants. I was there for the experience not for the picture. (Personally, I do not think that an elephant sanctuary is a place for posing; but judging from the pictures afterwards, a few people came for exactly that reason…) The pictures can be downloaded online a few days after the visit.
After the feeding, we got a tour of the “sleeping quarters” – huge paddocks which have to come up to very high safety standards. Elephants need space and every elephant has their own sleeping area. Green Elephant Sanctuary Park is one of the few places were elephants are not chained. During the day, the elephants can roam around in the park, at night they stay in their separate sleeping areas.
When rescuing elephants, the sanctuary buys them from the “mahouts”, the elephant keepers. As their “owners”, they live together with the elephants and the mission of Green Elephant Sanctuary Park is to educate them about how the elephants should be treated and that they should not engage in tourist attractions. In order to bring the elephants to the sanctuary, they have to be bought for USD 60,000 and the mahouts and their families come to the sanctuary and also live there. The sanctuary is financed by the ticket sales for the tour.
We then moved on to the “mud bath”. The elephants get a “mud scrub” which helps their skin and then they move to the next pond to be washed. According to our guide, this is also done because it is enjoyable for the elephants. The visitors are encouraged to go into the pond with them. (You do not have to if you are uncomfortable with the idea.) After that, there is a giant shower area for the elephants were we scrubbed them with brooms.
The tour ends with a lunch and visitors can shower before they are taken back to their hotels with the shuttle services provided by the sanctuary.
Is Green Elephant Sanctuary Park Worth Visiting?
My short answer: definitely, yes! Overall, it was an incredible experience. You can see that the elephants are treated with respect and that they are given a place they deserve. I could do without the selfies and posingm but this is a minor point of criticism. I assume that the sanctuary sees it to raise awareness for their cause and if people post pictures online, it is marketing for the sanctuary. Furthermore, I did not see anyone abusing the animals for a picture and, judging from observing the satff, I think they would not let any visitor misbehave.
Being able to interact with the elephants and learn about them was truly amazing. It definitely broadened my understanding and I think the organisation and their mission is worth supporting.
What to Wear and What to Pack
During the tour, you will get dirty, especially muddy, because you will get into the water with the elephants. I recommend to come in something comfortable like gym clothes and wear bathing clothes underneath. Bring a second set of clothes with you for afterwards. Furthermore, I recommend to wear waterproof sandals or flip flops. I wore them most of the time, except when we went into the water. The sanctuary has showers and all the facilities were very clean and soap and shampoo were provided. You have to bring your own towels. In addition, bring mosquito repellent (you are in the jungle and around stagnant water) and sunscreen.
Sources: Official Website Green Elephant Sanctuary Park Phuket and information provided during the tour.
All information as of the date of publishing/updating and based on the information on the website (listed above) and the information provided at the location. We cannot accept responsibility for the correctness or completeness of the data, or for ensuring that it is up to date. All recommendations are based on the personal experience of Elisabeth Steiger, no fees were received by the recommended places above.