Ethically run elephant sanctuary
Published/Last edited or updated: 11th June, 2019
The original Elephant Valley Project was established in Cambodia's remote Mondulkiri Province with the aim of rescuing working elephants and providing a stress and gimmick-free environment where tourists can interact and learn about the indigenous pachyderms without the usual trappings of shows and rides.
The longer-standing Cambodian initiative was located in some gorgeous but seriously remote countryside so this more recently created site—just down the road from the huge tourist draw of Wat Rong Khun and a short ride outside of Chiang Rai City—is a big departure for them. They do seem to have found a fine spot though—well off the main highway at the foot of some low, wooded hills and encompassing forest and pasture areas.
The idea is to create as much as possible a natural environment for their half-dozen residents which are largely left to wander and do their own thing with visitors following them around with cameras and a guide. Elephant Valley does go to great lengths to emphasises the uniqueness of this style of elephant tourism, and while there are opportunities to feed the animals, visitors are otherwise requested not to approach within 15 metres of them. We repeat, there are no shows of any description nor any riding or jumping up and down on them while they're bathing.
These are at the end of the day domesticated animals though so some compromises are necessary and you will still see mahouts riding them. They are also large and potentially dangerous/destructive creatures so again some form of control is obligatory. Whatever the Project's website may claim, rehabilitating domesticated elephants is notoriously difficult to do, as is finding suitable remaining forest areas to attempt to do so in.
Elephant Valley then seems a realistic compromise and a worthy initiative but as a tourist site it isn't going to appeal to everyone. The camp's commendable philosophy means interaction with the elephants is minimal so the site's attraction depends upon the number of hours you can spend watching elephants and assimilating pachyderm related information.
There are three options on the table—though we've heard that a homestay for longer visits is now operational—which include a day visit, half-day visit and something called an “elephant express” lasting 90 minutes. The day programme includes lunch and a “volunteer experience” which involves planting and harvesting elephant food and costs 1,800 baht per person. The half-day can be either morning or afternoon and also includes lunch for 1,400 while the express option offers watching, learning and feeding for a 1,000 baht price tag. The latter is timed from 14:30 to 17:00 including travel time and all options include return transfer from your Chiang Rai hotel or guesthouse. That may seem quite expensive for a 90-minute visit plus short transfers but elephants are costly to keep.
Entrance to the site is only for those accompanied by a staff member so you can't just pop by and would have to reserve in advance. You can do this via their website or call into one of their two offices in town. Both are well located with the main one set on Phaholyothin Road near the bus station and a second office, evenings only, located in the Night Bazaar itself. A great initiative for the ellies though as far as a tourist initiative it all's down to how passionate about the animals you are.
Address: Phaholyothin Rd
T: (095) 452 1974;
Coordinates (for GPS): 99º46'44.44" E, 19º49'2.94" N
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
Our top 10 other sights and activities in and around Chiang Rai