Elephant tourism in Thailand is hugely popular with thousands of people travelling to South East Asia each year wanting to spend time with these loveable animals. However, not all attractions are equal.
Some still allow elephant riding, others make these beautiful creatures perform to the gawping tourists in the hope that a few baht will be passed their way, and then there are other organisations who are working hard to change the way these stunning mammals are treated.
Elephant Hills, based in Khao Sok National Park is one such company.
Why Staying at Elephant Hills is a Must
Elephant Hills is a unique glamping retreat that allows you access to not only to the National Park of Khao Sok but you gain the ultimate experience of spending time with Elephants in a natural setting.
Now, I know you will be questioning the natural setting comment. But let’s face it, there are 100’s of companies out there willing to let you ride one of these splendid creatures for your own pleasure and enjoyment. Trust us; there is nothing pleasurable about it for the elephant.
Elephant Hills, however, is a company that does not exploit elephants for human gain. It is a camp for rescued elephants. Many of the fun-loving animals here have spent their early life chained up, treated cruelly and used for the logging industry. It was only after 1989 when this activity was banned that many of them were traded and forced into the tourism industry.
Elephants tours in Thailand have become increasingly popular with everyone that travels to the country but not all of them have elephant conservation and fair treatment in mind – rather many are thinking more about their bank balances and the fact that an elephant on average munches its way through more than 200kg of food each day. Clearly, they are not cheap animals to keep penned in, hence the numerous questionable elephant experiences across the country being promoted.
Of course, there are also several elephant sanctuaries across Thailand that do offer elephant experiences where you can interact with these lovely animals without causing them harm – it is just a matter of flushing out the reputable and trustworthy ones.
Elephant Hills is one such place and with so many people opting to head to Chiang Mai and the now very well established Elephant Nature Park, we decided we wanted a slightly different experience.
The Elephant Experience
Acting out of concern for the welfare of elephants, Elephant Hills created a unique experience that does not involve crippling the poor animals with human piggyback rides but instead helps you to learn more about these intelligent creatures.
Over the course of the afternoon, not only did we get to watch them enjoy the wide-open space, playing in mud pools and relaxing with the freedom to roam, we also learnt about the nutritional aspects of the elephant’s daily diet requirements and helped to prepare their food.
Getting up close and personal with these wonderful mammals, giving them a wash down using coconut fibres to scrub their rough, leathery skin clean after their time playfully rolling around in the mud was, however, the highlight of our trip.
What impressed us most about this particular elephant sanctuary in Thailand is the fact that should an elephant not wish to partake in any of these activities they have the freedom to walk away, albeit always with their mahout in tow.
It may seem strange that in this environment each elephant still has his own personal mahout or trainer, but we need to remember that these elephants were at one time completely dependent on them in order to not only work but also survive. To take them away now would potentially be more harmful.
Bua, our guide, informed us that one of the female elephants was now 72 years old, I couldn’t therefore ever imagine her wanting to have the one constant in her life taken away from her, regardless of the freedoms and quality of life she now has.
Elephant Hills: Luxury Elephant Camp
Apart from the elephants, which of course was the main reason for visiting Elephant Hills we also wanted to experience more of Khao Sok National Park itself, which is exactly what you can do if you opt to spend the evening relaxing at their luxury camp.
This is a place that really does take camping to the next level.
Each individually enclosed, khaki-coloured safari tent is surrounded by tropical gardens home to all manner of little creatures and critters and before I go any further I really feel that people need to understand what they are purchasing. Yes, this is a luxury resort but ultimately this is a tented camp in the jungle and therefore if you are an individual that is afraid of an occasional bug then this is probably not the place for you.
Whilst we were there, we bumped into not one but two couples who clearly hadn’t thought a night in the jungle through fully and spent the entire evening complaining about mosquitoes flying around, spiders hanging in the trees and the occasional ant running around on the floor outside.
Seriously people, when did we all become so sheltered in our daily lives that a night with a few bugs becomes too much to handle?
The tents themselves are well positioned around the resort so that each one has a level of privacy enclosed in its own space surrounded by greenery and beautifully coloured bright flowers. Should you be happy to chance a mozzie bite or two, there is even an outdoor area where you can sit and relax whilst listening to nothing more than the wildlife moving about around you.
Inside this is not your bog-standard tent. Not only will you find a king-sized bed complete with one of the most comfortable mattresses we have ever slept on, but there is also a fully functional bathroom – a shower and toilet – complete with luxury shower gel, shampoo, and conditioner – yes that’s right – hair conditioner, a luxury that many 5-star hotels don’t seem to feel the need to provide their guests with. Plus all the other comforts you would expect to find in a hotel – a hairdryer, bottled water, and the cutest little wooden-carved elephant candles left as welcome gifts for each guest.
It is possibly one of the most luxurious glamping sites you will find anywhere in the world.
But wait there is more…
It may sound like a cliché but when I wake in the morning, whilst having that first mug of coffee the thing I desire most is a view, and not just any view. I want a view that exceeds anything I have previously experienced and let me tell you, Elephant Hills didn’t disappoint.
What’s more, it wasn’t expected. We had decided to stay at Elephant Hills not only for the elephant experience but also because we struggled to find many glamping locations within Thailand.
It seems a strange thing to seek out I know but for anyone that truly knows us, they will know that unusual glamping sites have become a bit of an obsession for us. When we booked though we had expected to be surrounded by forest and therefore never predicted we would have such a magnificent view whilst overindulging on the fantastic food provided.
This wasn’t simply a night in a tent however, this was an experience. Not only did we get to spend time with one of the most incredible animals of all time, we spent an afternoon canoeing down a river in the rainforest seeking out monkeys before enjoying an evening of cooking classes and the company of local school children who are part of yet another project run by Elephant Hills where they hope to provide a better future by providing funds for their education. Not only that, but they also make sure that everyone is educated on the best ways to conserve nature and the local environment, hopefully for generations to come.
If you are after an exceptional experience surrounded by one of the world’s oldest rainforests, a night at Elephant Hills is something you will definitely not regret.
Have you been to Khao Sok National Park? Perhaps you have stayed at Elephant Hills yourself and would like to share your experience with other readers. We would also love to hear about other glamping sites you may have found in Thailand.
We would like to thank everyone at Elephant Hills for making our stay so memorable. We did receive a complimentary stay at Elephant Hills, but as always all views and opinions are our own.