There are so many reasons why we chose to visit Thailand this year. Besides the fact that Thailand has been one of the top places in our list to visit, one of the main reasons was the recent airfare price drop in flights to Bangkok, and the other, like I mentioned in our previous post, was the convenience of having easy access to delicious vegan food (a huge plus for any vegan traveler). However, both of these reasons almost pale in comparison to another, more unique, experience that is inherently, authentically Thai.
Visiting an elephant sanctuary while in Thailand is something that we both highly recommend doing. It is an experience unlike any other. Learning about each individual elephant’s names and hearing about the stories leading up to their rescues, as well as how elephants are used and treated in today’s entertainment/tourism and logging industries, is something that any tourist visiting Thailand needs to hear.
The sanctuary that we visited, Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, is one of the first elephant sanctuaries in the island of Phuket, and the first to truly champion ethical tourism. With the support of Lek Chailert, founder of Save Elephant Foundation and the highly successful Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Phuket Elephant Sanctuary (or PES) broke ground in May 2016 and opened later that same year in November. We could not have been happier that this pioneering elephant sanctuary opened in Phuket, especially since the island is one of the most visited places in Asia by tourists.
When we were first doing our research on which elephant sanctuary to visit, we came across several elephant sanctuaries online. It didn’t take us long, however, to realize that many of these so-called sanctuaries are nothing but another place where elephants are treated and seen as commodities, masquerading as ethical sanctuaries. We’ve read stories of these places where the elephants were actually chained and kept in cages with little to no food, some swaying back and forth (a clear sign of psychosis due to being kept in confined spaces), and even a place where the mahout (an elephant’s keeper) actually yells commands to the elephant to perform circus-like tricks for the visitors (i.e. kissing a visitor on the cheek on command).
Fortunately for us, our experience was nothing like this.
Since the sanctuary is located quite literally in the jungle, we had to meet a separate driver who took us from the meeting point to the sanctuary, about 10 minutes away. The drive to the sanctuary was nothing short of amazing. Seemingly endless rows of lush trees straddled our truck on either side, providing shade and made for a very scenic ride.
Once the driver pulled into a clearing, we got off the car and made our way to the sanctuary’s reception/observation deck, which overlooked much of the sanctuary grounds. While the sanctuary is still fairly new, it definitely fit in with the natural environment with minimal disruption to the surrounding jungle. We absolutely loved that the people in charge of this project made a clear and genuine effort to place these rescued elephants, who spent most of their lives tirelessly working for humans, in an area that closely resembles their natural habitats and that allowed them to roam and do what elephants do in peace.