Responsible Elephant Tourism

Creating Travel Karma!

“When I go to Thailand, I can’t wait to ride an Elephant!”

I remember having these thoughts myself and have heard them echoed by so many other people planning their vacations since. Of course! Why wouldn’t you want to sit atop such a majestic beast? It would be just like riding a horse – except bigger, and WAY cooler, right?

Elephants shackled and chained to be used for rides
“Elephants shackled and chained to be used for rides. Photo Credit: Jeremy Foster (”

The Reality

With so many amazing stories and photos that come back from friends and family, my own included, it’s very easy to only see the industry for face value. Something pretty special and very foreign to that of our own culture.

It wasn’t until moving to Thailand and spending a fair amount of time there that I actually started to learn more about the elephants and what they must endure to be ready for us to ride them, and essentially work for us. What I discovered was not the happy picture I had envisioned in my own mind, nor did it reflect all the fun photos and stories my friends and family had returned with.

Elephants chained for riding purposes.
“Elephants chained for riding purposes. Photo Credit: Jeremy Foster (”

I’d like you to take only 2 minutes of your day to watch a quick video which outlines, quite accurately, how elephants get to the point of being able to ride them, do hard labour (such as logging), and make paintings. This story is sadly more common than you might ever expect. This happens to elephants all over Asia, and in circuses around the world.

Sometimes ignorance is blissful, and it certainly was for me. What I’m offering you is ‘The Matrix‘ decision. For those that haven’t seen the movie, all this quote refers to is that once you know the truth, there’s no turning back. Watch the video if you’d like to know more about an industry which wears a heavy veil to shield its actions, in the name of ‘creating a perfect holiday’.

This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember, all I’m offering is the truth – nothing more. -Morpheus

A Few Possible Solutions

If you have made it this far, I apologize for the graphic nature of the video. It appears you were one of the growing numbers of people concerned with their actions while on vacation. If you couldn’t get through the video, I don’t blame you. Either way, the fact that you are still here, I thank you. I feel that sharing knowledge is already 50% of a solution, which is a pretty good start! The other half is then using your newly found information and acting on it.

A baby rescue elephant doing what kids do best… getting dirty!
“A baby rescue elephant doing what kids do best… getting dirty! Photo Credit: Diana E. (”

Many of us only act out on things which may be harmful to others, the environment, or any of its creatures simply because of a lack of education, or knowledge on a subject. I believe in people, and our desire to live in a better world – not only for ourselves, and our loved ones, but for everyone we share the world with. Had I known what I know now, of course, I would never have even considered riding an elephant when I first arrived in Thailand.

Elephant love in it’s purist form.
“Elephant love in it’s purist form. Photo Credit: Diana E. (”

A very easy (and free) solution to help, is to simply wipe any elephant rides from your future travel plans! Many companies will certainly promote themselves as non-abusive (though who would ever do the opposite?), however, it’s sadly almost impossible to be the case where mass tourism is involved.

Another solution is to try and see some wild elephants in one of the many national parks in which they still live! A favourite of mine is Khao Yai National Park, only a few hours north of Bangkok.

There are other ways to help too, if you want to really make a dent in this universe!

Share your newly found information with your friends and family… or anyone for that matter, if you hear of their plans on riding elephants abroad.

Lek, the ‘elephant whisperer’ with her tribe of elephants at the Save Elephant Foundation.
“Lek, the ‘elephant whisperer’ with her tribe of elephants at the Save Elephant Foundation. Photo Credit: Diana E. (”

In addition to sharing what we’ve learned, I wanted to share an opportunity for us to give something back to a cause that first helped open my own eyes to what has been happening with the Elephants in Thailand. Just outside the city of Chiang Mai, there’s a place where elephants can live out their final days free from any of the abuse they may have faced in their captive lives. This foundation is called the Save Elephant Foundation and rescues old, worn-out elephants who have lived a life of servitude. They are fed, washed, and able to wander free of leg-binding shackles amongst other rescued elephants in a massive outdoor environment. For many of them, you can witness a sort of elephant group therapy that arises as a newly rescued elephant is brought to be welcomed as part of their growing herd.

Guests are welcome to come to visit the park, with their donations and entry fees going entirely back into the foundation to help rescue more elephants and continue to expand their nature grounds.

Is it ethical to visit an elephant sanctuary?

In ethical elephant sanctuaries, elephants are empowered with the freedom to make choices, an opportunity that is absent in zoos, circuses, or public display facilities. They have the autonomy to decide whether to explore fields or forests, select their companions, and determine their level of engagement with humans.

JOIN US! WSE Travel Packages

This sounds like quite the adventure, right? We thought so too! Though we realize it can be pretty intimidating to get out there into the world on your own, especially when travelling to some of these off-the-beaten-path locations. We love it when our readers give it a shot and try it for themselves! In fact, please leave us feedback if you do!! If trying something ‘this’ adventurous on your own is just a bit outside of your comfort zone, WSE Travel is here to help!

Click on this link for our ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Tours – packages that are highly personalized and tailored at your request.

Learn more about traveling responsibly with my Responsible Travel Tips.

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A baby rescue elephant doing what kids do best… getting dirty!
Photo Credit: Diana E. (

5 Responses

  1. Sad to hear about the cruelty to these beats of the jungle, so that man can enjoy the ride! Training video is shocking. Glad that ‘Save Elephants Foundation’ works for worn out elephants. Thank you for writing such a detailed article.

  2. You may still ride on an elephant, however do it in rehabilitation centers where elephants are treated well and make sure to ride bareback !

    1. We value your opinion. I think if you try to ride a wild elephant, however, you probably won’t be too successful, and sadly the videos above are quite common for ‘breaking’ the animal to allow a ride, even bareback… they’re in “rehabilitation” for a reason after all 😉

      Everyone is of course entitle to make their own choice and decisions, of course. We merely want to educate on certain activities giving accurate depictions on what happens in the majority of an industry (there are always exceptions)

  3. Great article, thanks!

    I think if you care about anyone, then just simply don’t ride an animal. It’s just not necessary.
    I would love to splash around with an elephant sometime! I wish for this or next year.. 😀

    1. Hey Laura, thanks so much for checking it out! We completely agree… I think there must be a primitive spark in our brains to make us want to play “I’m the king of the castle” and try to climb on top of anything bigger than us! The best relations are always those where mutual respect is given of course… starting with us (give respect to get respect). I think the elephants would agree 🙂

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