Ever wanted to see an elephant up close and personal… but in the most ethical way possible? The Elephant Valley Thailand sanctuary in Chiang Rai helps you do just that! No riding, bathing, or excessive touching allowed — doesn’t get more ethical than that. Keep scrolling to read all about my experience with getting down and dirty with elephants in Chiang Rai… the ethical way!
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As she was splashing in the man-made pond, stirring up the mud and spraying the water all over her enormous body, my beaming smile refused to budge even an inch off my face.
Up until now, I’d never seen an elephant bath. Have you?
Because if you haven’t, lemme just tell you, holy moly is it the most adorable thing ever.
Imagine a big, beautiful gentle beast acting like a child, playfully slapping the water with her giant trunk and sloshing around without a care in the world.
Although, why would she have anything to worry about? Her old life of cruelty, harm, and torture was behind her. Here, at the Elephant Valley Thailand sanctuary, she’s safe.
And clearly very happy, as you could pretty much see the joyfulness radiating from her as she cooled down in the water!
But that wasn’t the only elephant highlight of our day…
It all started when we were picked up from our hostel in Chiang Rai, Thailand. As we waited outside for our pick-up, which was included in our half-day elephant tour, I had no idea what to expect.
While I’d read a few reviews and articles about the Elephant Valley Thailand that were all raving, I wasn’t really sure how ethical is was going to be… as many other so-called “sanctuaries” aren’t really ethical at all.
Little did I know this place would completely blow my expectations outta the water…
So, once Dan and I were safely tucked away in the back of a pick-up truck tuk-tuk with 8 others, we bumped and bounced our way towards the elephant sanctuary, which was located on the outskirts of Chiang Rai.
As we pulled up to Elephant Valley Thailand (EVT) for our elephant tour, I couldn’t help but notice how lush and green the surrounding jungle was. Even though we were only a few minutes from the bustling road and city of Chiang Rai, the quietness was almost overwhelming.
I immediately loved it.
Even better, right off the bat you could see how much area, space, and land the elephants had to roam free — which meant this place truly cared for the animals!
Without missing a beat, we munched on a delicious Thai meal minutes after arriving. Dan and I filled our bellies with sauteed veggies and tofu in soy sauce, bean pods in a mouthwatering garlic-y sauce, and boiled rice — all vegan of course!
Once all the sanctuary visitors had gotten their fill of food, it was time to get this party started! Our ethical elephant tour commenced.
Elephant Valley Thailand Half-Day Tour
Before we even stepped foot into the fenced-off elephant area, we were given a few golden rules to abide by, which I happily jotted down, as it solidified even further how ethical this place truly was.
Elephant Valley Thailand Tour Rules
- Each and every one of us were to always always always listen to our guide. If he or she told us to back up, we had to back up. If we were told to walk faster, we had to walk faster. No stopping for a “quick pic” or “selfie”. It was either listen to the guide or get the hell out.
- Absolutely no touching.
- We were to keep at least 100 meters between us and the elephant(s).
- No loud noises, such as yelling, which might startle the elephants.
- Have fun! But in a safe and secure way that would ensure an enjoyable experience for both the visitors and the elephants.
With those quick rules out of the way, we made our way through the elephant fence.
Even before we all entered the designated elephant area, one of the five rescued elephants trotted over for a drink of water, pushing us back across the fence into the people designated area.
Once she finished her refreshing drink and was a safe distance away, we all shuffled through the fence once more and made our way across Elephant Valley Thailand’s land to admire and view each of their elephants!
What Occurs on the Elephant Tour
While on the tour, we watched them:
- Graze the fields
- Splash in the pond
- Scratch their behinds on some trees (yes, they get itchy bums too!)
- Chase after the local pup (who’s fittingly named KFC cause he loves to eat chicken 😂)
- Get their daily bath (SO cute!)
- Feed them their daily snack (from a safe distance away)
- Get their one-hour of exercise with the mahouts (if staying overnight, which I highly recommend!)
Psst, interested to know what camera I used to take all these sweet pics? Hint: I used my fav Sony a5000 camera!
Feeding the Elephants
Our last part of the half-day elephant tour included feeding them their daily snack of palm leaves and banana tree!
No doubt, this was everyone’s favorite part, as you got to get pretty close to the elephants. Although, there was not one, but two fences between us and the elephants, which meant no fully touching the elephants.
Each visitor held out either a leaf or banana tree section for the elephants to grab and munch on. It was pretty awesome, as you get to look in their eyes and see just how happy they truly are!
Elephant Valley Thailand Transparency
Although it was absolutely blissful watching the elephants in their natural state and feeding them, one of my favorite parts of this elephant reserve in Thailand was their complete transparency and honesty about their treatment of the animals.
For example, EVT has 4 females and 1 male. While we were there, the male was chained up because for two months out of the year, he goes into heat. When in heat, he is ruthless in his attempt to mate with one the females and will hurt, trample, and kill anything and anyone that gets in his path.
Thus, for these two months of the year, they keep him chained up and fenced off from the rest of the elephants — which I found alarming at first but after we were told why he was chained, I completely understand. Who’d want to be trampled by an elephant, right?
Additionally, we learned that at night, each of the elephants are chained up. Similar to above, I was astonished that they chain them up at what’s supposed to be a sanctuary… but was even more surprised to hear why they do so.
When Jack, EVT’s manager, brought in the first few elephants, he found that since they’d been chained up their entire life, they refused to sleep at night due to being stressed out and anxious.
For three consecutive nights, the elephants stayed up, pacing around their pen. Which, if you didn’t know, is very dangerous for elephants, as without a nights sleep they have a much higher risk for a stroke! Scary, eh?
But even crazier, once the elephants had a chained slapped on, even if it was a long chain where they could still roam pretty freely, they slept like babies!
Just goes to show how much rehabilitation these elephants need before truly getting past their previous life struggles.
Facts About Elephant Valley Thailand in Chiang Rai
- The elephants have 40 acres of beautiful land to roam in, which gives each one of them enough space to wander. Although, Jack did tell us the elephant sanctuary is at max capacity, so they aren’t planning to take in anymore until they move a few to their new location.
- They currently have five amazing elephants: Mo Dee, Lou, Jay, Ka Moon, and Thong Inn (the one male).
- All proceeds go straight to providing the appropriate care and love for the elephants.
- It’s all about keeping the elephants happy; no getting up close and personal, which means no bathing, hugging, kissing, or patting the elephants! Truly ethical.
- The main goal of this sanctuary is to rehabilitate the elephants to be released into a bigger, more natural plot of land that EVT also owns. Jack and the staff are currently attempting to build a family of elephants they can release together on their 1,400 hector land.
Staying Overnight at Elephant Valley Thailand
One of the cooler parts of this Thailand elephant sanctuary is that you can stay overnight in one of their private rooms or dorm room!
Waking up with the sun, watching is rise over the lush green paddocks where the elephants graze, is something magical.
Interested in reading one of my unfortunate but hilarious stories? Check out this one on the time I got stuck in a bungalow on the island of Koh Chang in Thailand!
Plus, if you’re really feeling adventurous, you can go out in the morning to scout out elephant poo and pick it up! Dan did it and surprisingly had a great time. 😂
At Elephant Valley Thailand, there are a few tour options: half-day tour (either morning or afternoon), full-day tour, full-day volunteer tour, or tour + overnight stay.
Whichever you choose, you’ll receive:
- Transportation to and from Chiang Rai.
- Lunch and drinks (+ dinner and breakfast if staying overnight).
- A delicious Northern Thai style lunch, to which they can cater to multiple different eating preferences or allergies (vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, etc.).
- An in-depth learning experience about the elephants and they’re individual personalities (the teenager is absolutely hilarious! Never in my life would I have thought I’d say an elephant is funny… but here we are!).
Overall, staying overnight and experiencing a half-day elephant tour with Elephant Valley Thailand (aka Chiang Rai’s first ever elephant sanctuary!) was incredible and I’d happily do it all over again!
Have you ever visited an elephant sanctuary? Or would you consider visiting one? Tell me your thoughts in the comments!
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Disclaimer: I received a complementary overnight stay at Elephant Valley Thailand in exchange for this post. But, as always, all opinions are my own and I don’t promote at BS! This place is the real freakin’ deal.