Review: Elephant’s World

Filed Under: Travel

Okay, we’re going to do things a bit differently here, and start with the bottom line:

Visiting Elephant’s World was the best thing we did in Thailand, and probably ranks as one of the top ten experiences of my life.

I mean, if you have an aggressive phobia of elephants this probably isn’t for you, but otherwise — just go.

Visiting Elephant’s World

Oddly, given how many people I know who have visited Thailand, I’ve only talked to one who has been to Elephant’s World. Many people have been to the various elephant camps, so I think it’s important to make the distinction.

Elephant’s World is a non-profit sanctuary set up to rehabilitate elephants that have been abused and overworked. This isn’t one of those places where you ride elephants or play soccer with them, which might be why it’s not as popular with the various tourist programs. It’s basically a retirement home for elephants.

It is however apparently popular for Thai school groups, so we were advised to go on a weekday, and to call ahead to see how busy a day was scheduled to be before booking.

Getting to Elephant’s World is a bit of a haul, though if you’re overnighting in Kanchanaburi they’ll pick you up. We had our own driver, and it took about an hour from our airbnb to the front gates (we stopped to pick up pineapples and bananas for the elephants, which I highly recommend as well).

Main entrance to the sanctuary

We were quickly assigned a volunteer guide, had the rules of the place explained (mainly, don’t scare or annoy the elephants), and then went to help feed breakfast to the elephants.

They could probably have managed on their own, but how fun is this?

They just eat the entire pineapple!

Or the whole bunch of bananas

Or the squash (admittedly less impressive after the bananas)

My colleague Jordan had recommended bringing pineapples, which made us very popular.

“I don’t mind that you’re petting me, but I really want the contents of that basket!”

We weren’t even an hour in, and this was already the best day ever as far as I was concerned, but there was far more fun to be had!

After elephant-breakfast, we walked down to the river.

These were all trained elephants, but the mahouts only coaxed, never forced

And I think the elephants mainly knew the drill anyway

Because of course, if you’re an elephant and just ate pounds and pounds of fruit, you’re probably thirsty.

I, however, am glad I didn’t have to drink that water


Elephant’s World does have a pretty structured day for the people, at least, so we then headed over to a pavilion to help make sticky rice for the old elephants. There are several elephants on the property who don’t have teeth anymore (awww), so a special concoction of cooked rice, veggies, and vitamins is made for them.

Cutting pumpkins with rusted machetes. There has to be a better process for this part.

And making rice over coals. Ditto on the process improvement.

While the rice was cooling, we went to have our lunch, and I was actually really impressed with the lunch spread. There was an assortment of Thai foods, along with fruit, and while it wasn’t the best food we had on our trip, I thought it was a substantial buffet for a non-profit to put out.

After lunch, we went down to the mudpits with the elephants. There were two little elephants playing with a tire and a bigger elephant (I’m unsure if it was their actual mom, or a foster mom), and gosh they were cute. 

I could have watched them all day. (But I won’t make y’all do that, you can click through the gallery if you’d like instead).

Eventually we left the elephants to do their thing, and went to make lunch for the elephants.

We divided back into groups to wash fruits and vegetables, or to make baskets for the elephants. Each animal had a basket with their name on it, and a whiteboard on the wall listed each elephant and their likes and dislikes. So one would get extra watermelon, one didn’t like bananas much, etc.


Once the baskets were prepped, we headed back down to the pavilion where we’d made the rice earlier.

The rice was mixed with the vitamins and supplements, and formed into balls. As we got closer to being finished, the older elephants started creeping closer and closer to the hut, not wanting to wait for their meal.

They were so sweet and gentle

And I loved that no one stopped them!

Well, we had to stop him once he started eating all the rice

Turns out feeding rice balls to elephants is impossibly more fun than feeding fruit to elephants.

Rice is hard to hold, both for kids and elephants

Nice of her to pose like that, right?

With the older elephants fed, we went back to the river to help give the elephants a bath.


Elephant bath time!

I don’t have pictures of this, because when it comes down to it, who wants to be managing the camera when you could be playing in the river with an elephant? Not me.

But putting my nephew on my shoulders so he could scrub between an elephant’s ears? Awesome. Getting in a water fight with an elephant? Also awesome. Trying to rinse mud off an elephant’s back? A little logistically complicated, but awesome.

After bath time we went back to the main pavilion, and helped dole out the baskets of snacks we’d set aside for each elephant earlier. Which continued to be adorable.

“Om nom nom!”

So it was a pretty good day, basically.

Overall thoughts on Elephant’s World

At 2500 Baht (~$70) per person, this was the most expensive thing we did the entire time we were in Thailand. I would happily pay it again. Repeatedly.

The place was so calm and almost-magical, and as feeding two dozen elephants is obviously expensive you could instantly see where the money was going. So I felt really good about the time and money spent.

Besides, we got to play with elephants all day.

Has anyone else been to Elephant’s World? What did you think?

  1. Haven’t been to Elephant World, but did 3-days at the Anantara elephant camp that is run by the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation and was easily the best part of our trip to Thailand (and maybe best 3-days of travel ever). It’s been over a year since we were there and my kids still rave about it. One of my girls even continues to write letters to “her” elephant – and gets letters and emails back thanks to a very patient volunteer at the camp. Highly recommend this type of experience with a proper, professional, and established care organization.

  2. We also didn’t go to Elephant’s World, but we did Tiger Trail Outdoor Adventures in Laos, where we stayed for two days and got to live with the mahouts, helped bathe the elephants, feed them, etc. Would highly recommend them as well.

  3. We went to an elephant sanctuary in South Africa where we got to spend about an hour with the elephants and feed them a little bit. They also did a pretty nice presentation about elephant life cycles and physiology. Very interesting but this looks every better. Might have to do it :).

  4. Hi Tiffany Mr Silver Springer and I did the same kinds of things in the same area and liked it a lot. Did they show you a film about how elephants are trained (tortured actually) so they will allow people to ride in their backs? It was really eye-opening.

  5. @ Silver Springer — There was a film at one point, but I missed it. I’ve heard horrible things about the treatment/breaking of elephants though, so we were motivated to find something more responsible to begin with.

  6. @ Michael — Correct. Most elephants that are trained to provide rides to tourists have a pretty hard life, and this is meant to be a sanctuary.

  7. My heart initially sank when I saw the title of this post because I recently found out the horror that the Thais inflict on elephants to train them.

    This is the opposite of course. There is a photo going round Facebook of a baby elephant being “trained” in Thailand with whips and clearly in agony. It was posted by a reputable animal charity. I 100% believe it to be true. I’ve seen a trainer with a massive ice pick type instrument riding an adult in the Phuket Marriott. He had the most evil looking eyes I’ve ever seen. It made me so sad, especially as years before I ignorantly went to one of the attractions where you ride and play football etc with elephants.

    Kudos for posting this… And I don’t run your show obviously, but any chance of editing it to raise awareness for people to avoid those cruel and disgusting animal attractions? You would REALLY be doing a good thing. Omaat has a huge readership now as you know, and would reach thousands more than I can on my pathetic Facebook etc. It is so wrong and deeply sad what they do there to these wonderful gentle creatures. Please consider helping with a few taps of your keyboard.

    Respect and warm regards Tiffany,


  8. Check out this website where you can adopt an orphaned African elephant baby> It is a legitimate rescue facility and once you adopt a baby elephant you get regular updates from their keeper on their behavior and progress. It only costs $50/yr and seems well worth it.

  9. @ Andy — Thanks for your thoughtful comment, and I completely agree. I don’t want to tell other people how they should or shouldn’t travel, but hopefully seeing examples of a more responsible way to interact with elephants will inspire some different choices.

  10. Absolutely understood Tiffany and thanks for replying.

    Of course this is not a political blog or a charity. Neither should you preach or imply that people do or don’t do anything.

    However I don’t think a simple one sentence letting people know that there can be (is!) cruelty (even torture) involved in these other animal attractions. Without leading people.

    Just my humble opinion. If we never stand up for a cause or turn a blind eye and say “not my problem”… How will things ever change? You have people’s ears and eyes. I wish I did.

    Great writing however and thanks!

  11. Tiffany, theis is the best trip report I have ever read. I have eagerly awaited each day’s installment. You have inspired me so much to plan a trip to Thailand. Thank you.

  12. My 11 y/o daughter now has a new goal in her young Life. Just the pictures of your nephew interacting with the elephants has started a “when can we go when can we go when can WE go?” echo!

    So thank YOU, Tiffany, for inspiring my daughter! Another excellent contribution to the blog with excellent unintended consequences.

    And thank you also to Nancy Addison — I sent the Sheldrick link. Sent it to my daughter just now and asked if she’d like to participate.

  13. Hi,
    Honestly, if I were Thai, I would felt really insulted that the best thing you did was the elephant tour as it is a really rich country in terms of culture. My guess is that you meant this experience was more enjoyable for a family trip where you can not do a lot of visit in temples and remote places…

  14. Tiffany, thank you for sharing this part of your travels. I know that this blog is mostly about “getting there” – using points and trip reviews of aircraft/lounges etc. but this is a great example of how the actual being there – usually – trumps the getting there for most people. Not that I don’t love a good F/J trip report, of course 🙂

    Again, thanks so much. Looks like a very special time.

  15. Just curious how old that child was? Would love to take my 4 year old there but he might be too young yet

  16. @ tyler — I think it really depends. Heather was able to have a good conversation with him beforehand (“Do we yell at the elephants? Do we run at the elephants? What do we do if we feel like we need a break to play?”), and he was great. But there was a 7/8 year old there who was pushing everyone, throwing things, generally being a brat, and was basically too immature to be there.

    So my view as a non-parent is that it has more to do with parents than kids, and if you’re asking about it, you’re probably fine. 🙂

  17. @ tyler — I just asked Heather, and her “mom perspective” was that 7+ would be a better age, so they could fully understand and participate. I hadn’t thought about it, but there were lots of things our little guy couldn’t reach, in order for him to “help” wash the elephants he had to be on someone’s shoulders, etc.

    So if you’re only going to go once, maybe waiting is best?

  18. Isn’t it glorious! We went to Boon Lott Elephant Sanctuary for 3 nights and it was amazing. My heart breaks for those animals that are cruelly treated so someone can ride them or take a photo with them. Helping with the day-to-day work at BLES and getting to know the elephants was something I can still barely describe.

    Boon Mee was one of my favorite old ladies during our time at BLES:

  19. Awesome post Tiffany. I will echo others and say the best post ever. And great job on the photos.

    Thank you,

    Bobby H

  20. Great story Tiffany! I’m curious as to how far in advance you planned your visit to Elephant’s World. My wife and I visited Chiang Mai two years ago and tried to visit an elephant sanctuary on short notice but couldn’t get confirmed and were heartbroken. This is exactly the type of place we would like to visit as we’re not interested in riding elephants or anything like that. We are heading back to Thailand in March so will try to plan better this time.

  21. @ SAN Greg — I think we booked two days before? You can book online three days in advance, and after that you need to call or email.

    I got the sense that as long as you avoid the weekends (when there seem to be many school trips, oddly), that they’ll try to accommodate everyone.

  22. @Brian Anantara Golden Triangle was also my favorite travel experience ever. My wife and I were really concerned about the ethical issues surrounding elephants and there luckily aren’t any when the elephants are left to roam around the two days we spent there were magical. The location, rooms, and staff are amazing too.

    @Jeff sorry but elephants beat temples any day. Have you run around a field playing hide and go seek with baby elephants? When they’re happy they play and rough house just like giant puppies; unbeatable.

  23. Absolutely the best article you’ve ever written. I felt as though I were there. Could you say a bit about how they felt to touch? I’m so happy my family had such a happy day.

  24. Dear Tiffany,

    What a wonderful article and such great pictures! This would be a fantastic trip. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Love, Judy

  25. Hi Tiffany,
    I love the way you write! Such an interesting article with fantastic photos! It sounds like a very fun experience. Thanks!

  26. Tiffany — your reports are amazing. Very helpful and entertaining. I appreciate Bens reports, but when it comes down to it, I’m only going to be flying 1st class on an A380 a few times in my life. Your posts are so practical for folks who want to see the sights and get good value for their points.

  27. Just wanted to comment that I just did this recently and it was great, and I was also pleasantly surprised to discover it coded as a hotel and earned 3X TYP on Citi Prestige.

  28. My friend and I went to ElephantsWorld in December (2017) on the “Mahout Experience”, which is a week with your own elephant/mahout. We were each assigned an elephant and her mahout. I got Sao Noi (rhymes with Hanoi) because my friend had longer hair and Sao Noi had been abused by someone with long hair. My mahout spoke not a word of English, but his love for Sao Noi shone through and we got along famously. Every morning he’d bring her to the pavilion where they prepare the baskets and we’d feed her – or just supply her with – “jam beans”, pounds of them! Then it was time for what I call the tourist feeding. This is when the day visitors get those baskets and feed the elephants. It’s amazing to see how the elephants eat, what they like most, etc. Those trunks can do amazing things! It’s also very funny to see the tourists try to give an elephant one banana at a time. That’s like giving her nothing at all! And those bananas are MUCH smaller than what we have in the States. After the feeding, most of the elephants go to the mud baths, which is great fun to watch. On my first day Sao Noi got to the general mud baths first and decided to “bathe”. I’d been warned and stayed well back to be sure I didn’t get a mud bath myself. Again, those trunks are amazing! Then we started walking her to the river and she shook her head. Guess who got a mud bath anyway! A mahout is NEVER clean! But Sao Noi, being a bit less social than some of the other elephants, generally bypassed the normal mud bath and went to the river where the mahout and I watched over her as she roamed and found leaves on trees to eat, and drank. There was a picture in the pavilion where we sat out of the sun while she waded in the river. It was of her when she’d arrived in April, 2016, presumably from a trekking camp. You could see every rib on her! She looks much better now. After her river wading, and sometimes a roll in her own private mud hole, we’d chain her up while we ate. Yes, the elephants are sometimes chained. But I never felt that it was abusive, rather more her for safety. If they wandered off they could be injured on the road outside of the sanctuary, or could wander into the woods across the street, which would not have enough food to support them. The chains were always plenty long and they were in shade. And we were only gone for an hour. After lunch we’d take her back to the river for a bath, and then to the medical pavilion to tend to the wound on her belly. She’s had it since she arrived at EW. Every day the mahout cleaned it out with multiple treatments. The sticky rice pavilion was close to the medical pavilion and Sao Noi loved sticky rice! She’d make a beeline for it and often just walked into the pavilion, which barley accommodated her height, to get some. After the medical attention, as we headed back for another tourist feeding we’d let her wander by the mahout housing to eat leaves off trees. Again, that amazing trunk! After the tourist feeding, at about 3:30PM, it was time to set her up for the night. Her spot was down toward the river. There were some trees and a pond full of algae. There was a circle, maybe 30 feet in diameter where she was chained for the night. The chain was probably about 30 feet long. There was also a large stand of the tall grass that the elephants eat. The mahout would cut armfuls of grass with his machete and I would bring it to the area where she was chained. I’ve watched more than one elephant be chained. They actually put their foot out to accept the chain. One evening, after we’d bedded her down, my friend and I went with the mahouts to cut banana trees. A local farmer donates them. We went with two pickup trucks and loaded them up. Yes, there were bananas, but the trees themselves were what we went for. How much fun was riding back on top of banana trees? The next night, instead of grass, Sao Noi got a 3 or 4 foot section of a banana tree.

    Someone asked me what my favorite part of the trip was. I have to tell you! Sao Noi, her mahout and I were walking back up the hill to the tourist feeding. I was a bit ahead of them, over to the left of the dirt road because one never knew when a vehicle or a few elephants would come by. Suddenly I was nudged. By a trunk. Now, you can’t help but notice being nudged by a 6,000 pound animal. But it was a gentle nudge. I could’t ask the mahout why she did it, but I have to believe it was an affectionate gesture. After all, if a 6,000 pound elephant was trying to be nasty, I think one would know!

    Yes, the Mahout Experience is a bit pricey, but you do get a decent place to stay and plenty of wonderful freshly prepared food. And they must need a lot of money to feed and take care of the elephants so I don’t begrudge them a cent! I just wish I could go back tomorrow!

    Is ElephantsWorld ideal? No. Elephants are chained, some are without a mahout (like the one whose mahout was getting chemo), and it can be a bit expensive as a tourist. People do ride the elephants. But only the mahouts, on their necks, which is far better than several people in those trekking baskets. But I do believe that all of these elephants are far better off there than wherever else they might be. What needs to happen is that the trekking industry needs to be banned and having elephants doing tricks on the street to pull in money has to be banned. Meanwhile, a place like ElephantsWorld is a wonderful place.

  29. Andy,
    Those ice-pick type instruments are called bull hooks. Each mahout in ElephantsWorld has one, but I only every saw them used in three ways. One was to hook into the rope (like a dog collar only just rope) to persuade this large animal which way she should go. I did see some mahouts hook that curved part over an elephant’s ear, again for the same purpose. Sao Noi’s mahout often nudged her with the blunt end for the same reason. But the bull hooks have been used in horrible ways. Sometimes the elephants have been poked in their eyes with the sharp part and are now blind. So sad.

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