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Ultimate Guide to Playing and Feeding Elephants in Thailand

Ultimate Guide to Playing and Feeding Elephants in Thailand

If you haven’t been to Thailand, then there’s a big chance you haven’t gotten up close and personal with elephants. You probably have only seen these elegant yet gentle giants in documentaries or when you visited a zoo and saw one behind a cage.

Here in Thailand, you and your family can interact with these majestic creatures, an experience we’re sure you’ll never forget. We’re here to help you cross out one item on your bucket list and teach you how to play and feed elephants when in Thailand!

How to Play With and Feed Elephants in Thailand

DifficultyVery Easy ●○○○○
Number of StepsFive (5)
Time requiredOne (1) whole day
Things you needVegetarian items and treats provided by the elephant sanctuary to guests. These include items suitable for elephants such as fruits, herbs, flowers, seed pods, bark, bamboo, roots, twigs, leaves, and grasses. 

Elephant feeding sessions usually cost around 3,000 THB.

To play with and feed elephants in Thailand, avoid interacting directly with elephants in the wild, choose a sanctuary that adheres to the ethical treatment of animals, feed/ interact with them, give them a sweet treat, and tell others about it!

Read our guide on how to play and feed elephants in Thailand to know more!

Step 1: Avoid interacting directly with elephants in the wild

Thailand has an estimated 3,500 elephants out in the wild. This is why the first step to properly play with and feed the elephants is to make sure that you avoid interacting directly with wild ones.

HECs or Human Elephant Conflicts may and can still happen since these wild elephants aren’t used to direct interaction with humans. These majestic beasts might react a certain way which can then lead to untoward incidents.

As such, we strongly advise that you avoid directly interacting with these wild animals especially if you encounter one outside of an authorised sanctuary. This is to ensure that you and your family are safe if and when you see them out in the wild.

So what should you do if you encounter them? It’s simple. Just watch them or take pictures of them from a safe distance! 

Better yet, you can also admire them as they pass by and then make your way to an elephant sanctuary, which we will discuss in the next step.

Step 2: Choose an ethical elephant sanctuary to visit.

For us, this is the most crucial step if and when you decide that you want to play and feed elephants in Thailand. To give you some context, the country has been stepping up on how it treats these gentle beasts.

Locals often saw elephants as beasts of burden and, at the same time as, animals that deserve to be revered. However, these do not change the fact that these elephants were given less-than-ideal conditions when it comes to tourism.

This means that many years ago, you may still see a number of local tour operators offering to give travellers elephant rides. In fact, there are some that do exploitative practices just to entertain tourists—a practice that we should definitely frown upon.

At present, though, you can get up close (but not too close) with these elephants through what is called an open enclosure. 

Within these sanctuaries, elephants are still free to roam within a confined area that can still give them the freedom to roam and live a life free from harm. No elephant is caged or forced to work!

By visiting these ethical sanctuaries, you can observe elephants from afar and learn all about these majestic animals without having to disrupt their established bonds and ecosystem.

Some of the popular elephant sanctuaries are ChangChill and Burm & Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary (BEES) in Chiang Mai, Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary (BLES) in Sukhothai, Following Giants in Ko Lanta, and the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary. 

Step 3: Feed and interact with the elephants

As we mentioned earlier, the ethical treatment of these animals in these sanctuaries has shifted from direct tourist interaction to observation-only experiences. Hence, feeding and interacting with these elephants will be a bit different.

1. Designated Feeding Areas

First, you need to check with the sanctuary’s staff if you are allowed to leave some food for the elephants. There may be designated feeding spots or areas for the animals to enjoy whatever it is you left them to feast on.

However, we observed that some sanctuaries still allow you to feed elephants directly but only if you do it behind a protective barrier. This is to ensure that the animal can maintain its autonomy and remains stress-free.

2. Food for elephants

Sanctuary staff will provide you with food items to give these creatures. These include grass, small plants, some twigs, and tree bark–standard elephant fare that they surely will appreciate receiving from guests like you.

3. Preferred elephant interaction

In terms of interacting with elephants, this could be a bit tricky as well. Some sanctuaries will allow you to give elephants a bath while some will only allow you to walk with the elephants through the jungle.

Look for the best ethical sanctuary that can provide you with your preferred elephant interaction experience. Some offer more than just walking or feeding the elephants but what’s more important is that their treatment of these animals remains ethical.

4. No elephant rides

Last but not least, riding an elephant is now considered unethical. So, it’s no longer allowed here as it can cause lifelong pain and stress for them! 

If you’re looking for ethical elephant sanctuaries, then elephant rides are automatically a no-no.

Local Tip: Keep in mind that some of these elephants may be old, blind, or deaf. As such, make sure that you do not make any sudden movements or loud noises when feeding or interacting with them to keep these animals calm or at peace.

Step 4: Give them a sweet treat

Similar to the earlier step, giving elephants a sweet treat should be done based on the policies of the sanctuary. You can either directly feed them the treat (if allowed) or just leave your treat in the designated feeding spot of the elephants.

Either way, giving them a sweet treat like a melon or banana is a great way to cap off your visit to an ethical elephant sanctuary. The elephants will surely appreciate it and will let these gentle giants know that you and many others care for them deeply.

This image will forever be a reminder that you once bonded with one of the most intelligent and sweetest creatures to ever walk the planet while visiting one of the most beautiful tropical countries in the world–Thailand!

What food items should I avoid giving to Elephants?

However, keep in mind that there are also some fruits or foods to avoid giving an elephant as a treat. While bananas are okay, banana stalks shouldn’t be given to these elephants as they can lead to intestinal blockage if not chopped properly.

You should also avoid giving elephants pineapples. While this sweet fruit is considered a sweet treat by many, giving elephants pineapples can lead to them developing diarrhea or mouth sores.

Lastly, sticky rice is another thing to avoid feeding elephants. While this delicacy is ubiquitous in Thailand, giving these to animals in large quantities can lead to constipation. 

The bottom line? Yes, you can give your elephant friends some sweet treats but make sure that you first get the go signal from sanctuary staff about what you can and can’t feed these animals for their own safety and welfare.

Food Item to Avoid Feeding ElephantsPossible Adverse Reaction
Banana StalksIntestinal Blockage
PineapplesDiarrhea or mouth sores
Sticky RiceConstipation

Local Tip: We recommend that right after giving them your sweet treat you take snapshots or photos of this beautiful encounter as elephants will react positively when given sweet fruits.

Step 5: Tell Others About Your Experience

You shouldn’t be keeping all of these experiences and learnings to yourself! Once you’ve found an ethical elephant sanctuary, share with your family, friends, and other people what you’ve learned and your experiences.

This way, you can educate others about the importance of interacting with and handling elephants the right way. In addition, you can promote healthy tourism and help with the upkeep and maintenance of the habitat of these elephants.

Remember that the recent COVID-19 epidemic drastically reduced tourist visits to and profits of these sanctuaries. It would be a great help if you can encourage others to experience them firsthand to help boost tourism and the ethical treatment of animals.

Also, keep in mind that elephants are intelligent and very sociable animals that mostly appreciate and enjoy the presence of humans. If you can encourage other tourists and travellers to come, these friendly animals will surely be elated with the companionship.

Lastly, we strongly recommend that you inform others about how to properly interact with the elephants. It’s best that you educate them about the importance of ethically caring for them such as not riding them and feeding them based on sanctuary rules.

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