I first read about the ElephantsWorld sanctuary in a Lonely Planet article where they discussed ethical ways to interact with elephants. That was exactly what I was looking for. I was and still am very bitter and sad about the ways these animals get forced to perform for us humans. It doesn’t matter if it’s elephants or tigers, no animal should be sedated only that we can pet it. I was very happy to find out about places where they really care for the animals.
The sanctuary was founded by a Thai vet who would rescue elephants which were mistreated. They were used as working elephants in woods, used for begging on the streets or also as trekking elephants to carry around people on their back for fun. I really love the place because they have a huge property so the animals have a lot of space to move around. They are close to the mountains and bring the elephants there to sleep at night, and there’s also a river where they can take their daily bath. First I was a bit skeptical about the Mahouts, people who sit on the elephants’ necks, but they explained that the elephants actually need this kind of support because in the time before, they always had humans telling them what to do so now they could not survive without that guidance anymore. Every elephant has its own Mahout which dedicates his life to guide that one special elephant.
The sanctuary is located close to Kanchanaburi, which is also known for its history that goes back to the Second World War. This is where thousands of prisoners died while building the famous bridge that goes over the river Kwai. I combined visiting Kanchanaburi together with the ElephantsWorld and also the Erawan national park. All of this is definitely worth visiting.
One day with the elephants
When I first arrived it was already time for a snack. Every elephant had their own bucket with loads of bananas, watermelons, and pumpkins. We could hand them the food and they took it carefully with their trunk. Afterward, we started cooking sticky rice for the old elephants that lost their teeth already. It was a lot of fun to be able to contribute something for their wellbeing. We also heard from some volunteering vet students how they treat wounded animals and it was very inspiring to see how passionate everybody is over there. There were a lot of volunteers who stay for several weeks and months, but only a few are employed permanently. That also means that all the money they make with visitors can directly go to the elephants. They really need it since every single one of them can eat up to 250kg of food each day.
Then it was time for our lunch which was a great variety of typical Thai dishes with some veggie options as well. I met the sweetest German couple when we got picked up in the morning and stayed together in a group with them all day. It went as it mostly goes as a solo traveler where you don’t expect much but then meet the nicest people and have the best experiences.
But back to the elephants. When we finished lunch we got a little education session about what they eat, how their brains work, and how sensitive and intelligent they actually are. This is so impressive. We also learned about the sad side of their life and what happens when they’re forced to work in woods, on the street for begging and as trekking attraction. As many people don’t know, the middle of the elephant’s back is actually their weakest spot. They cannot take much more than 100kg or their spine breaks. The iron chair they have to wear for trekking is mostly about 50kg already and then one adult sitting on the back is normally too much already. Unfortunately, it happened to one of the elephants in the sanctuary before and her spine was broken twice. I was so glad to see that they’re all doing so well in the sanctuary and I hope it helps them to forget a bit of their past. I can only beg everyone who’s planning to go to Thailand or anywhere else to see the elephants, you can visit them, feed them, touch and bath them, but please do not ride on them. It will seriously hurt them and nobody actually wants that, right? Just do your research upfront to see if the elephants are really treated well at or only held for making money.
After that very interesting session, we went back to the elephants, fed the older ones with the sticky rice balls we cooked in the morning and went into the river with them for their afternoon bath. We got some bowls and scrubbers and gave them a nice relaxing cleansing scrub in the river. It was so much fun to be able to interact so closely with these gentle giants.
It was such a great day with a lot of learning, fun, and interesting people. I even made new friends again. I can only recommend to the fullest to go and visit ElephantsWorld because it’s a great place where they really take care of the animals and with the entrance fee you will directly support the sanctuary.