The elephants found in Phuket and the rest of Thailand are classed as Indian elephants, a subspecies of the Asian elephant. However, Thai elephants differ from other Asian elephants as they have a stockier body, shorter front legs, and are generally smaller.
Around Thailand and in Phuket, elephants have been used as manual labour in the logging industry until logging was banned in 1989. After that, elephant trainers turned to the entertainment and tourism industry where they would train the animals to perform tricks such as painting and taking tourists on rides. The exploitation of these gentle giants still continues today. That being said, there are also more places being established to rescue and give exploited elephants a place where they can be themselves, like the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary.
First opened in 2016, the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary is the pioneer of ethical elephant tourism in Phuket. It's located in northeast Phuket and is situated in a 30-acre national park covered in lush greenery, pools, and rivers, perfect as an elephant's natural habitat.
All of the elephants here are rescued, being bought from elephant camps where they spent years working, performing, and often abused. Because they are rescue elephants, many of them are advanced in age and have permanent injuries. The sanctuary provides these gentle giants essential care with daily medical attention and most importantly, freedom.
There are two tours daily, from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and another from 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. You start your visit with a video presentation to help you understand more about the elephants and prepare you for the tour. You'll then head to the forest to walk with the elephants and observe them in their natural state. Depending on where the elephants go, you can end up exploring the grounds with them or watch them from one of the many Observation Salas on site. By keeping a respectable distance, you'll get to see the beautiful creatures behave naturally, which is a rewarding experience especially when they bathe and play in the river with no human distraction.
To protect the elephants, the sanctuary doesn't allow close interaction between them and visitors, except during feeding time when you can feed the elephants from behind a short barrier. There are also no performances, rides, and bathing sessions here. However, there's plenty of opportunities for photographs and selfies.
Besides the regular tour, you can book a private tour where you'll have a personal guide to take you through the elephant's regular morning or afternoon program. You'll be able to learn a lot about the work done in the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary and even get up close with the elephants for a private feeding. After the tour, you can enjoy a vegetarian Thai buffet overlooking the lush forest and lagoon.
Since you'll be walking in the forest when on a tour through the sanctuary, there are some items that you need. The sanctuary provides umbrellas for use under the sun and in case of rain, as well as wellie boots if it gets muddy. However, it's best for you to be prepared as well. So, here are other things you should bring with you:
Closed-toe shoes. Don't wear flip-flops as you'll be working on dirt paths and sometimes even off the paths.
Sunglasses, sunscreen, or a hat to protect you from the sun.
Comfortable casual clothes. Sports attire that can wick away moisture is a good idea.
A reusable water bottle. There are chilled filtered water dispensers on-site which you can use to refill your bottle.
A copy of your passport to complete the insurance agreement for when you're in the sanctuary.
The Phuket Elephant Sanctuary is one place you should visit when you're in Phuket, especially if you love wildlife and want to support the ethical treatment of local elephants. If you're staying at Club Med Phuket, the sanctuary is only about 30 minutes away. After a rewarding day with the elephants, there's nothing like satisfying your hunger at our exquisite restaurants and open bar to complete the day. So what are you waiting for, book a stay with us!