Elephant Hills Thailand: A review, an experience and ethical?
Updated: Dec 12, 2021
Now if you can’t tell I am quite passionate about animals; keeping them safe, seeing them and giving them the best life, which often means leaving them in their amazing natural habitat. Well recently, I was lucky enough to go on holiday to Thailand and Singapore, which whilst I was there had a 3 day tour to elephant hills and the Khao Sok National park located In Southern Thailand. Me and my partner both love animals and wanted to experience elephants as magnificent as they are but in an ethical way. Well whilst searching for an experience like this we found out about Elephant Hills. My partner did a huge amount of research to find a place that puts the animals first, whilst giving us an amazing opportunity to experience Elephants and some incredible wildlife in the most ethical way. As mentioned, this led us to Elephant Hills and here I will tell you about my 3 day experience there, my opinion on their ethics and my recommendation whether you should go or not.
Are Animal Encounters Ethical?
Firstly, a lot of people are conflicted about encounters with animals and I should also note the best way is from a distance in a safe place in the wild with the animal is in their natural habitat. However, this is not always possible, as many animals have already been captured, put through horrendous acts, bred in captivity or require relocating and rehabilitating. Therefore, there are some places that will let you ethically help these animals, enjoy their company and get once in a lifetime experiences, which I would recommend. I should note you do need to do your research and find out what companies are good, bad and doing the right thing. Also, use your common sense, as there are so many different types of animals that you can have experience with and some you can instantly tell is not the right thing (such as those you should not be near (tigers, lions, most bears, certain apes, etc.)).
Elephant encounters are much more common, I believe due to their softer nature but also as the unfortunate mode of transport some people use. Again I must press to leave the animal wild and in its natural habitat is definitely the best but some animals have had tough lives due to us (humans) and therefore left to our care. So when considering any experiences with these beautiful creature please take note of some of the following things. Firstly, never ride an elephant to do this it is often very painful for them and they have to have their soul broken to achieve it, something I hope you a agree you do not want to contribute too. Secondly, there can be many practices when having elephant encounters that are unethical such as using bullhooks, chains and forcing them to do anything. Therefore, make sure you do your research, so that these unethical practices are not undertaken and the elephant has freedom to do what they want.
Who is Elephant Hills?
Elephant Hills is a luxury tented jungle camp in Thailand, who offer amazing nature tours. They have two camps, one ‘Elephant Camp’ based in Phanon District between the Khlong Phanom and Khao Sok National Parks and the second ‘Rainforest Camp’ that floats on the Cheow Lan Lake. I would start by saying the luxury tents at both locations are for certain glamping and do give a luxury but adventurous vibe. I would also state you defiantly get a great experience of nature and local wildlife in the Khao Sok National park.
The Elephant Hill Camp has their luxury tents a very short walk surrounding the main hall, where you will go to eat, be briefed on the activities, as well as being able to participating in some. At the camp they have some information about the place, a small shop and have a small swimming pool for your down time. There is also plenty of staff to help you with any queries.
The Rainforest Camp again has luxury tents but on a floating string of approximately 20 with a slightly larger floating section for meal and again briefs. It is surrounded by the forest, which has Asian elephants, Malayan Sun Bears, Asiatic Black Bears, Clouded Leopards, Malayan Tapir, Asian Golden Cats, Crab-eating macaques, Great Hornbills, Gibbons and more.
They aren’t all about the luxury holidays they are also part of the bigger picture of helping the wildlife and nature. They are part of Elephant Conservation Projects ensuring elephants have the highest priority for their care, welfare and are happy but also spreading awareness of endangered Asian Elephants and conservation by keeping the wild populations safe. Further to this, they are also part of wildlife monitoring projects to find out all the kinds of wildlife in the forests of Khao Sok National Park.
Are they ethical?
This is a huge concern for us, Me and my partner, wanted to have a once in a life time experiences with amazing creature but in a way where it is ethical, benefits the animal, the environment and in a safe manner. Therefore, we looked at, where the elephants came from? How they were treated? Do they help prevent animal captivity of any sort? We understand Thailand has their own culture and rightly so but we still wanted our experience to align with our own beliefs. Therefore, we did not want anything we didn’t agree with such as elephant riding, bullhooks or forcing the elephant into anything. To help show their devotion to the animals in their care (many who had been rescued) they have been audited by Global Spirit (an independent UK-based company, assessing animals welfare standards) meeting 100% core criteria and achieving level 5 of exceeding requirements. Also, when booking we confirmed with our travel agent that their ethical standards of no rides, no bullhooks and only great care for the animals. When we arrived we found many of the elephants are rescued from labour roles and even a circus, which we were happy they no longer lived these lives. During the visits the elephants could come and go as they please and were not forced to do anything they did not want to. Additionally, we were told that they limit the visits to two visits a day to further prevent any stress of the animals.
Now to tell you more about our experience on our short get away to both their camps and what we thought, saw and felt about our adventure.
When we arrived we had a brief induction to the camp and schedule and then got allocated our tent for the night. The whole place was as described eco-friendly and this certainly seemed to be the case with all the items appear to be from natural sources and waste free, including the lack of air conditioning. Although it was hot, it was not unbearable and we managed to get some sleep with ease. Before this we had a dip in the small pool, explored the site, as well had a nice dinner in the evening within the main hall. Around the place and our tent we saw many glimpses of wildlife, from strings of ants, a snail climbing a leaf, numerous birds and many other insects.
After the night our first day was off to see the elephants, which was a great experience and the main point of our trip. When we arrived we saw a separate group leave, so waited in their café overlooking the elephants. When we went up to visit the elephants we first saw them around the large pen with some currently bathing in a large pond splashing about. I should also note that we were happy not to see any bullhooks and no one on top of an elephant with each elephant having their own keeper, so they connect with a regular person daily. The keepers encouraged the elephants over by holding their trucks like two people holding hands but never forced any of them, as proven when some chose not to come over and to remain elsewhere in the large pen. Even when they came over to the section we were at they were also free to walk off at any time. We were each given a platter of food to give the elephants including a number of veg and a medicine ball of herbs to help them. This was great to have the elephants come over and hand feed them and watch them spit the little herb medicine ball out, whilst holding out for their favourite treats. We then went over to another section to give them a wash, each elephant had their own spot, we were given a bucket, a hose and some brushes to scrub them. I would have to say this was incredible to get this close to the elephants, touch them, get picture and help them out, bearing in mind they were free to leave whenever they wanted. We then went back to the little café nearby, where they taught us more about the care of the elephants and the project to protect the wild ones.
After this, we went down onto a small boat trip along the meandering river nearby. The guide was incredibly helpful and pointed out creature for us to see, one unique one was a bright yellow mangrove snake dangling over a tree. They also told us some information about the local national parks. After this when we got back we got changed for the evening to get a taste of the local culture and participated in a cooking demonstration, as well as a dance presentation from a local school, which gave us a great experience of the local culture.
On the second day, we went out to a remote Khao Sok lake to their ‘floating Rainforest Camp’ a string river tent boats. On the way, we stopped off at the Ratchaprapha Dam, which has some beautiful gardens, trees and view of the lake and was close to where we set off to the river houses. The journey took some time but was amazing to see the beautiful crisp water, white cliffs and surrounding forests. When we arrive we got another brief introduction and saw the fish by the cooking house section of the string of boat, who seem to convene for the food they receive.
The journey had taken much of the time but there was still time for a bit more adventure, so me and my partner grabbed a Kayak free to go on and paddled around the lake into the creaking arms etching into the forests to hear the chirping of birds and the odd movement stirring our interest further. One of my favourite animals is the Gibbon, so I was on a keen look out for them.
When arriving back we saw another marvellous site when a group of Langur Monkey began jumping through the trees by the waterside. We were lucky as they were right of toward the backside where our river tent was, I quickly scampered to the tent got my camera and began taking some photos. We must of stood there for about an hour watching these monkeys in their natural habitat until they disappear back into the forest they came from.
The evening was another spectacular. We enjoyed a meal in the communal tent and then sat outside our river tent for about an hour. Looking out at the darkening tree line, listening to the noises that seemed alien to us, wanting to see the incredible creates they come from. Then just before we went to bed the skyline transformed into what I can only describe as a work of art. Due to us being in the middle of a large national park there was no light pollution, so the night sky stars were more vivid than ever, another memory I would never forget (the photos below do not give it justice).
After another night on the river houses, we had another opportunity to see more wildlife. A short boat trip and a wobbly run across some large floating logs we stopped in the middle of well a rainforest. From here, we went for a walk to see some incredible tree and plants, that we climbed up and over through the forest on a small track, I would barely call a path. This was exciting because tracking through the jungle is an amazing experience. We saw all manner of bugs and stings of ants marching across and up the giant trees. then after a little trek, we ended up at a steep decline and descended into a large opening of a cave. The cave was massive, very high inside, which we walked through and came to a large opening and was directed around to see the wildlife, including bats, whip spiders and even an incredible colourful (blue headed) snake. Coming out of the cave, it felt like we had experienced another different world of nature among an amazing wildlife tour.
After a short tour back to the boat we got to the river boats with enough time to get our belongings together. As we had some time we did take another short kayak journey in and out the meandering lake into the crevices, eye peeled for any more signs of life. We saw some birds but other than that we were unlucky. Back to the string of riverboats we did get another chance to see the langur monkeys appear again, which we watched for some time. We were given lunch and then got back onto a boat to take us back to civilisation.
Would I recommend going?
Well from my experience, I would defiantly recommend you visit and experience Khao Sok National Park and if you want an ethical elephant experience then Elephant Hills is a great choice. I should note it is quite expensive and when we were out in Thailand many trips for elephant experiences were offered and detailed to be ethical, however, we didn’t know that going to Thailand and we weren’t able to vet it and hold someone accountable. What I will say is the whole experience did seem ethical for the elephants and all other animals we experienced. Although, I have heard of one or two possibly negative things in regard to ethics in the past. I believe that you need to give time for places like this to receive more education and change to a better standard. It is important to understand that these cultures that have been there for years takes time to change to what we consider ethical. All I can say is I did not witness any poor ethics and I do believe the people there had the animals best interest at heart as well as that of the locals. Overall, It was a great experience filled with nature and wildlife.