If you are able to survive Mr. Toad’s Wild (tuk tuk) Ride across the island without barfing, you will find yourself arriving to a large dirt camp. Your eyes will immediately go to man made pools filled with mud and water. Yes that’s right, you and your new friends are about to toss yourselves into the dirty water filled with you know what…but, none of that matters because you are going to be with ELEPHANTS!!!!
The whistle blows and right before your eyes, in the middle of the Phuket jungle, these large creatures appear majestically through the trees. The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Phuket has created an oasis to protect and care for these amazing animals and allows anyone with a caring heart to be apart of the process. If you aren’t yet informed, the use and abuse of elephants travels way back through Thailand’s history. Everyone has seen photos and maybe even participated in the act of people sitting on the back of elephants and riding them as a tourist attraction. The sad reality is, what creates a fun memory and photo for a tourist, creates a lifetime of pain and abuse for an elephant. As you learn within the first twenty minutes upon arrival at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, when baby elephants are born they are immediately stripped away from their mother and taken to be beaten and abused until they feel worthless. It is only then that they can be trained as entertainment. It is not only traumatizing for the mother to have carried their babies inside them for two years and have them taken from them instantly, but also to the helpless babies who go on to be abused their entire life for the sole purpose to be used for entertainment. This is the harsh and tragic truth about this common tourist attraction. The good news is, it’s not too late to make a change and to help these amazing animals.
No description can truly capture the feeling of seeing and interacting with an elephant for the first time. I will not lie, I was a little frightened the first time I saw them. It is a bit intimidating to be next to an animal that is so large and could crush you in an instant. But, what I quickly came to find out was how unbelievably gentle and loving these animals really are. Your first interaction with the elephant will be the process of feeding them. Not much work has to be done because from the moment you set down the buckets full of various fruits, the elephants will eagerly stick their trunks in, grabbing as much as they can, and practically swallowing all the fruit whole. Peels and spiky pineapple skin included. Then once they have had their first go at the bucket, you can start to feed them yourselves. It will quickly become a chase between you and the trunk. Who can grab the fruit the fastest? When you get a piece of fruit, you hold it up and they will grab it from you with their trunks. I can almost guarantee that after you feed them for the first time you are going to want to find a way to fit this oversized elephant into your luggage and take it home. The elephants at the sanctuary so clearly want to be loved and are very loyal creatures. If you can, take the time to look at them directly in their eyes and pet them. These large animals have been through so much and yet they still have so much love to give.
After you feed them, you will be asked to put on your bathing suits because it’s mud time! This is my favorite part about visiting the elephant sanctuary. There is nothing cuter than seeing the most massive animal transition into an excited puppy dog as it rolls around in the mud, flapping its ears and tail. You can physically experience and see the joy that overcomes each elephant when they know it’s time to play. I do have to say, prepare to be completely covered in goopy mud by the end because the hilarious staff shows no boundaries. If the workers see that you are somehow still clean after decorating and massaging mud into the elephants skin, they will happily take it upon themselves to make sure you don’t leave the first pool without flinging some on you. It’s all in good fun and it’s what makes the experience that much more memorable. After the mud bath, you will jump into the second and deeper pool. This is when you will get the opportunity to swim with the elephants and watch them excitedly spray water from their trunks. One of them may drop a poop the size of a bowling ball, but don’t worry, the pooper scooper will quickly jump in and remove it from the water so you don’t accidentally touch it. Or if you’re lucky like me, they will hold it next to you when you aren’t looking and you’ll capture a great moment like this one.
You will end your amazing morning or afternoon by showering off and brushing the elephants. Energy has definitely faded as they are happily full of fruit and worn out from all the play time. During this final interaction, you will really get to see them and feel the roughness of their skin. I encourage you to not just stand there and take pictures with them (though do this also), but take the time to really experience being in the presence of this amazing creature. After you shower the elephants, it’s your turn to shower off. The staff will guide you to the bathrooms where you can take time to clean and dry off while they set up a buffet lunch. While you are eating, the gracious staff members will pass out souvenirs to ensure that you never forget your time at the sanctuary. Then they will thank you for your time and support.
Words can’t express how amazing our experience at The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Phuket was and what a remarkable job the staff did to make sure our experience was unforgettable. If I could give you any recommendations of what to do while you are in Phuket, it would be to visit this sanctuary. This has been a trip highlight for everyone in the groups Kyle and I have traveled with.
It has been a wonderful thing to be able to see the progression of this sanctuary over the past year. Not only are there more elephants and two separate camps in Phuket, but their website and staff has grown exponentially! When we first visited the sanctuary back in June, 2017, there were fewer elephants, fewer staff members and we had to book through email because their website was completely down. It was truly an amazing experience, but having gone back a second time I can clearly see how much the sanctuary has grown in just a short time.
Though watching the baby elephants wrestle in the rain the first time we visited was quite entertaining, the staff of the sanctuary took the health of these elephants into consideration and was able to fund the opening of a second camp in a nearby area. This allowed them to separate the fighting baby elephants and ensure that they would never have to separate families. When they moved the baby they were able to move his mother with him, allowing them more space to roam around and play free from the stress that the other rambunctious baby elephant caused. The staff at the camp pays close attention and cares for each and every elephant that they are able to save. It is remarkable to see how passionate they are about making sure their rescued elephants have a peaceful and loving environment to grow old in.
As I mentioned above the amount of elephants and staff members are growing. The second time we visited the sanctuary there were more elephants to play with and the staff was almost completely different. This just shows that their funding is increasing and they are able to support much more than they could last June. I will talk about their funding later in the post, but spreading awareness and having people visit is key for them to be able to grow and rescue more elephants.
The last change that really stood out to us was their website and booking process. When our original backpacking group tried to arrange a reservation at the sanctuary last June, nothing on their website was really working. There were a lot of glitches in the system and we ended up having to book through email and pay upon arrival. Not that this was a big issue at all, however when you are traveling from overseas and aren’t able to confirm a spot, it can make things a bit more stressful. Our second time around, we had no issues at all. We were able to reserve seven spots in advance, as well as, pay online. It may be a small change, but it allowed our group to have a stress free visit and we were able to confirm everything beforehand.
Location – (shuttle service) The sanctuary will send a tuk tuk shuttle service to pick you up (within a certain area) and bring you to the sanctuary for no additional cost. Prepare for it to be a cosy and bumpy ride, but an experience like nothing else. Our group couldn’t stop laughing as we bounced all over the place, squished in the back of the tuk tuk truck. If you are traveling to Thailand, tuk tuks will easily become your new favorite mode of transportation. Even if a crazy ride doesn’t sound enjoyable, I encourage you to still give it a try at some point during your trip. The Phuket Elephant Jungle Sanctuary gives you the opportunity to ride one for free!
Weather – Weather in Thailand has a mind of it’s own. From May through October they have what is called the rainy season. The first time Kyle and I visited the sanctuary was during this season and man did it rain. Everyone was a little bummed out when they first saw rain on the forecast, but little did we know at the time this would make it all the more fun. Once you accept the fact that you are going to get completely soaked anyways, you lose all inhibitions and just jump in the water with the elephants. Your pictures may not turnout the best, but your memories will be hilarious and everlasting. So even if you happen to travel to Phuket in the rainy season, don’t let this stop you from making time to play with the elephants. No matter what the weather is like, you’re going to have a blast!
Price and Payment – The best thing about EJS is that you can see directly where your money goes. Everything you pay for, including the souvenir shirts and accessories you can buy at the end, goes towards rescuing elephants and providing for them. I have seen first hand that the money the sanctuary has raised has allowed them to improve their facilities and save more elephants from abuse.
Photos – Throughout your time at the sanctuary, there will be two awesome photographers roaming around waiting to capture all the best moments. With most tourist attractions and tours, you know the photographers taking your photos are about to suck you into buying a whole dvd full of photos from your “experience” when in reality you only really want one of those photos. What sets this sanctuary apart is that all the pictures they take are free! That’s right, I said FREE! The night after your visit you will be able to check out their Facebook page and find a full album of downloadable photos from your day at the camp. The pictures stay online for two days so don’t forget to save them or take screenshots!
Food – I mentioned above that your experience at the sanctuary includes a buffet lunch. The food is delicious and there is a variety of authentic Thai food to choose from. I want to mention the food aspect because as someone with a food allergy, buffet lunches can be a concern for me. But, everyone at the sanctuary exceeded my expectations and were extremely helpful. Any of the staff members will take the time to talk to you about the ingredients and what you can and can’t eat. They are cautious of food allergies and very informative, so as long as you let them know you have nothing to worry about!
Kyle and I have fallen in love with this sanctuary and recommend it to anyone traveling to Phuket. I hope that this post inspires you to visit and makes you aware of the treatment of elephants as you embark on your future travels.
Book your time slot today to participate in this incredible experience. Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
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