More and more frequently, issues surrounding the exploitation of animals are being brought to public eye. Massive organizations like Sea World and TripAdvisor have recently made major changes as a result of outspoken animal activism.
This critical lens has extended to travelers, who face many ethical choices when they travel abroad. Riding Elephants in Thailand is no longer considered responsible travel behavior, nor is walking with Lions in Africa.
From the shutdown of Thailand’s infamous Tiger Temple to Ringling Brothers going out of business after over a century, there’s more awareness of animal abuse than ever before. And that awareness is important for those seeking exotic animal encounters. It enables them to carefully consider their options, and the impact of their actions.
Elephants in Thailand
Elephant tourism takes place all over the world, from Kenya and South Africa to India and Cambodia. But in Southeast Asia, it’s Chiang Mai, Thailand that dominates the market.
The region’s mountains are packed with camps offering tourists Elephant rides, Elephant painting shows, or opportunities to “play soccer with elephants.” But these experiences come at a steep cost to the endangered Elephants, and have been widely renounced.
For several years, Discover Corps has offered an opportunity for travelers to volunteer at a renowned Elephant sanctuary near Chiang Mai— a life-changing experience they’ll never forget. Now we’re elevating the experience even further by offering an additional experience in Thailand’s southern islands. In 2017, an ethical and sustainable opportunity to work hands-on with elephants is coming to Phuket with the Elephants & Islands Expedition!
Elephants in Phuket
Located in southern Thailand, Phuket is a rainforested, mountainous island in the Andaman Sea. It features some of Thailand’s most stunning beaches, most of which are situated along the clear waters of the western shore. Home to many high-end resorts, spas. and restaurants, Phuket’s unique culture, natural beauty, and friendly locals draw visitors from all over the world.
Unfortunately, this increase in tourists has led to the establishment of multiple Elephant tourism experiences in the region. Elephants are not native to the Phuket region. They prefer the cooler, mountainous north. But they’ve been brought south en masse to appease the affluent tourists who come to vacation there.
These Elephants are mistreated and abused, particularly once they’re no longer of use to high-volume, low-ethics camps that cater to tourists. This is why Discover Corps has partnered with the first Elephant sanctuary in Phuket– to provide travelers with an opportunity to learn about issues affecting Elephants in Thailand in a hands-on, ethical way.
What You’ll Do in Phuket
Your first days on this family-friendly trip will be spent exploring the cultural melting pot of Phuket and the islands sprinkled in the bay just offshore. Then you’ll travel to an Elephant sanctuary on the edge of a national park, where mahouts (Elephant trainers) dedicate their lives to raising Elephants and conserving their natural habitat.
You’ll volunteer alongside the mahouts and sanctuary staff to learn exactly what it takes to care for an Elephant. From morning walks through the jungle to gathering food and feeding the animals, you’ll directly contribute to the well-being of these amazing creatures. It’s an experience unlike anything else you’ll find in southern Thailand.
You’ll also learn about the issues facing these gentle giants, from a treetop canopy overlooking the park. Each day you’ll take some time to go on walks and observe Elephants bathing, socializing, foraging, and roaming free in their natural surroundings. Talk about eye candy!
What You’ll See
Not only is Phuket a cultural melting pot, but it’s also the perfect jumping off point to explore some of Thailand’s most treasured sites.
You’ll spend an afternoon in the bustling markets and shimmering temples of Phuket Town. You’ll take a boat out into the clear waters of Phang Nga Bay to an island where traditional village life still thrives. You’ll meet local fisherman, savor fresh coconut juice, try batik painting, and have lunch with a family in the village.
You’ll also venture out to the majestic Phi Phi Islands for two days of relaxation amongst the swaying palms and white sand beaches. There is no better way to end a trip to Thailand than taking in ocean breezes from a beachfront resort. This isn’t possible in the north, which makes your experience working with Elephants in Thailand all the more rewarding.
Dates and Details
Want to get in on this one-of-a-kind experience? You’re not alone—this trip is expected to sell out! Here are some details to help in your planning.
Note: FF designates Family Friendly sessions
Trip Length: 10 days/9 nights
Cost: U.S. $2,399 (based on double occupancy)
February 12-21, 2017
March 19-28, 2017 (FF)
June 11-20, 2017 (FF)
July 2-11, 2017 (FF)
July 30-August 8, 2017 (FF)
August 27-September 5, 2017 (FF)
October 15-24, 2017
November 19-28, 2017 (FF)
December 17-26, 2017 – $2795 (FF)
- All meals: 9 breakfasts, 8 lunches, 8 dinners
- 3 nights lodging at boutique hotel in Karon Beach
- 4 nights lodging at bungalows adjacent to elephant sanctuary
- 2 nights lodging at 4.5 star Koh Phi Phi Island resort
- Expert local guides that are there to support, inform and guide you throughout the trip
- Reliable in-country transportation with experienced drivers
- Admissions and entrance fees to national parks, historic sites and other scheduled events throughout the trip
- An active daily itinerary including lectures, day trips and volunteer assignments alongside the local community
- All gratuities for hotels, meals, baggage & transportation
- $50,000 emergency medical evacuation insurance
- Trip Literature & turnkey customer support from preparing for your trip to arrival back home
Sounds amazing, right? It will be. You can secure your spot online, or give us a call at +1-619-758-3030 if you have any questions or would like to learn more about the difference between our two Elephant-related trips in Thailand. -Sara McDaniel
BIO: Sara McDaniel is a San Diego-based educator who uses her summers to explore the world, often alongside her students! In addition to writing for The Volunteer Traveler, she has directed international programming for various travel organizations. When she’s not writing or researching, she can often be found swimming in the ocean, eating all of the delicious foods she can find, and teaching in San Diego State University’s College of Education.