Should I Ride Elephants in Thailand?

Do you want to interact with elephants on your trip to Thailand? It’s highly likely, as elephant experiences are one of the country’s main attractions for visitors.

These majestic animals are emblematic of Thailand, so it’s understandable why so many people want to get close to them

What’s more, visitors may have never seen an elephant in their life before, and may never see another again.

But given all the information available on the subject, you and every other tourist coming to Thailand face serious questions about the morality of elephant interactions.

We’re going to address one of the most important questions on this page — should I ride elephants in Thailand?

We proudly provide ethical elephant activities in Phuket, so we’re perfectly placed to offer the answers you’re looking for.

If you have any questions about our Phuket elephant experiences, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Elephant close up

Are You Legally Allowed to Ride Elephants in Thailand?

Yes. If you decide to ride an elephant in Thailand, you won’t be breaking the law. As such, there aren’t any issues from a legal perspective.

But this has always been the case. The greater drive to shed more light on the plight of elephants in the tourism industry comes down to ethics and morals.

Put simply, the question shouldn’t be “is it legal to ride an elephant in Thailand?”, but rather, “is it ethical to ride an elephant in Thailand?”

The importance of elephant conservation cannot be overstated, and stopping elephant riding is one of the most important aspects in helping to protect more of these wonderful creatures.

Elephant eating in Jungle

Is it Ethical to Ride Elephants in Thailand?

In almost every single instance, the answer is no. And the explanation starts with the “training” that elephants in the tourism industry undergo.

Elephant crushing (phajaan, in Thai) is a long-standing, traditional elephant training method used in Thailand.

The process essentially crushes the spirits of baby elephants, making them submissive to humans.

To achieve this, trainers take young elephants from their mothers and keep them in confined spaces. Here, they are abused with bamboo sticks (usually with nails attached) and bullhooks. They are also deprived of sleep and starved.

This horrific process is why the elephants you see carrying humans on their backs are so passive. The act is in no way a natural part of an elephant’s life, but conditioning compels them to do it.

With all this and more in mind, read our Guide to Phuket’s Most Ethical Elephant Sanctuary. We offer life-changing experiences you can enjoy with a clear conscience.

Elephant in Jungle

Does Elephant Riding in Thailand Hurt the Elephant?

Yes, it does. As touched on above, the practice of carrying humans on their backs is not natural for elephants.

Carrying people day in and day out causes permanent spinal injuries to elephants. And things only become more complicated health-wise from having a howdah (chair) strapped to their backs.

These chairs are bulky and cumbersome. Not only do they add even more weight to an elephant’s back, but they also rub against its skin too. This can cause blisters that become infected.

The constant trekking over long distances also results in long-term wear and tear on the feet of elephants. This significantly increases the likelihood of foot injuries and infections.

Given that our rescued elephants come from this background of exploitation and cruelty, we focus on caring for them. This is why our Half-Day Elephant Care Adventure in Phuket is one of our most popular activities.

Woman hugging elephant

Consider Elephants’ Social Interactions and Living Conditions

Elephants are highly intelligent and emotional animals. They are a lot like humans in many respects. They feel happiness, pain, and sorrow. They socialise and have family and friends.

Many of the places that allow riding essentially keep elephants in solitary confinement, or similar. With little to no social engagement, these animals suffer from psychological, as well as physical, abuse.

During treks, baby elephants are chained to their mothers. They are forced to keep pace as she walks with her much longer stride.

As such, the baby can’t rest or nurse. They simply have to struggle. And if they or the mother stops, the mahout (guide), will prod them with the bullhook used during the crushing process (or even worse a cigarette or other nasty object…)

This isn’t only traumatic for the elephant, but it endangers the riders on its back too. If the guide triggers an especially bad reaction, the people on the elephant’s back could fall off.

And even when not trekking, the elephants are still chained up. They are also not given the appropriate amount of water or food for healthy sustenance.

Elephants typically need to eat approximately 150kg of food per day, around 5% to 10% of their body weight. Eating this much food takes between 15 and 18 hours.

This is incredibly difficult if not impossible to do when they are forced to carry tourists on their backs all day.

It’s sadly common to see elephants in riding camps pacing, swaying, and bobbing their heads. These are all signs of serious psychological stress.

2 women feeding elephant

What Can You Do to Avoid Supporting Elephant Riding in Thailand?

There are more resources than ever to help you find ethical elephant activities in Phuket and throughout Thailand.

Supporting reputable, certified companies like the Phuket Elephant Nature Reserve helps to improve the situation here in Thailand.

It’s also important to recognise that ethical elephant experiences are far more fulfilling and inspirational than simply riding one.

Feeding, touching, and caring for these incredible creatures in their natural habitat offers a far deeper connection than hopping on their backs on having them carry you around.

Knowing that your experience benefits you, the animals, and the company that cares for them allows you to create a memory you won’t ever forget — or regret.

Elderly woman watching elephant

Get to Know the Phuket Nature Elephant Reserve Better

We are located in a lush jungle on the west coast of Phuket, only a short drive from famous beaches like Kamala, Surin, and Bang Tao.

Our reserve offers a sanctuary for tired, overworked elephants rescued from the tourist industry. Every aspect of what we do is geared towards education, sustainability, and being as eco-friendly as possible.

The elephants in our care have come from circus shows, riding parks, street begging, and the logging industry. Now, however, they have a safe home where they can live a peaceful, protected life.

We proudly provide the highest elephant welfare standards. The ACES (Asian Captive Elephant Standards), with whom we have a close partnership, awarded us Gold Star accreditation.

Discover more about the Phuket Nature Elephant Reserve and what we provide on the About Us page.

Elephant in Jungle

Support Ethical Elephant Activities in Phuket with Our Experiences

We hope we have inspired you to join one of our elephant experiences in Phuket. Your support plays its part in helping us to care for the rescued animals we have — and more in the future.

If you have any questions for us, please feel free to get in touch.

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