Talking Elephant Tourism With Sadie From Eclectic Trekker


It was about two years ago now that I discovered the awful truth about elephant tourism and ever since, I’ve been telling every man, woman and lamppost that I met all about it! I would love to volunteer, at some point, with some rescued elephants in one of the very few genuine sanctuaries out there, but so far have not had the chance; however, many of my friends have. One of these pals is the lovely Sadie from Eclectic Trekker, and we recently got together to chat about her experiences.



Sadie has done a great deal of volunteering during her travels, and she started her website to highlight the opportunities that are out there for people who want to make a difference. She has spent a lot of time volunteering with Elephant Nature Park here in Chiang Mai and on their project in Surin Province, and so the welfare of elephants is very close to her heart.

It was really great to sit down and hear the passion of a person who has worked up close and personal with these beautiful animals. If you aren’t familiar with why elephant riding and elephant tourism in general is so bad, have a watch of the video and find out more.

If you care about elephants but you weren’t aware of the torture they go through to provide tourists with entertainment, there’s a lot you can do; first and foremost you can vow never to take part in elephant rides or shows and never to buy any elephant paintings. Secondly, you can financially support organisations like Elephant Nature Park to continue doing their great work. Thirdly, you can volunteer your time and energy if you are in Southeast Asia, because volunteer programs are a big source of monetary and physical help.

Sadie and I went on to chat about some of her other volunteering adventures, including regrowing coral and caring for animals rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. Those videos will be coming up soon, so keep an eye out!


Talking Elephant Tourism With Sadie From Eclectic Trekker: Why you must steer clear of elephant rides and shows in Southeast Asia. There is a way to interact with elephants ethically and without cruelty - find out how!


Do you have any thoughts on the video above? Any feelings or opinions on elephant tourism? Do you have any personal experience with volunteering abroad? Let’s discuss!




  1. I love this post! When we traveled to Thailand a couple of years ago, I did a lot of research to try and find the perfect place to interact with elephants without supporting unethical tourist spots. I was astonished to see how many places were exploiting elephants for the amusement of tourists! Hopefully next time we ll make it to Chang Mai.

    • Yes, unfortunately the majority of elephant camps in Southeast Asia are not conducting themselves ethically. And many of them use the term “sanctuary” to describe themselves, when they are anything but a sanctuary!

      If you are unable to get to Chiang Mai next time you are in Thailand, there is a place called Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary in Sukothai which has a similarly good reputation.

  2. i am SO SO glad people are finally becoming aware of the things elephants go through in the tourism industry. thanks for the video!!!

  3. I’ve heard such good things about the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai and it’s on my list of places to go. I did go on this excursion in Thailand (in Koh Phagnan) and one of the stops was this elephant place. Everyone except my group and another group did the elephant riding. I don’t know if this place was legit or not. My friend said she say a certificate claiming its validity on the wall of the place. Instead we just pet them, fed them bananas and took some pictures. They are such precious animals. HUGE too! lol

    • Unfortunately it doesn’t take much to get a certificate of validity…before I knew the truth about elephant riding I spent a day looking after elephants at a place in Phuket and they swore black and blue that their elephants were well cared for and there was no cruelty involved…but they still offered rides and made them do tricks though. 🙁

      You’re right though that they are so beautiful – and so huge and awe inspiring. As Sadie says, to stand before an elephant is a humbling experience!

  4. I agree with this, there is a lot of information as justification that takes place, I choose to just enjoy their presences and beauty from afar and do my best not to participate in any of the above mentioned.

    • Fantastic Alicia! They are such amazing animals that really, to enjoy their beauty from afar is more than enough, right? 🙂

  5. Nice and noble post, appreciate the intent and seriousness of the issue, it is really a pity what that the majestic elephants have to undergo.
    You may want to read my post on this about the Boon Lott elephant sanctuary:

    • Thank you Sandy! And thanks for that link – a friend of mine spent time at Boon Lott’s too and she raved about it. I’ll check it out!

  6. This is such an important topic that many are not aware of what’s happening, so thank you for posting about it!

  7. Sadly this is a huge problem in South Asia. Not only elephants but from elephants to horses, monkeys and even birds are tortured.

  8. Wow, unethical elephant tourism sounds absolutely horrifying. They’re such majestic creatures, it makes me so sad. As Tania says though, it’s a huge problem for a lot of other animals across Southeast Asia. Even in the Philippines, there’s controversy about experiences such as whale shark feeding because it makes them dependent on humans for food. Thanks for the video – watching it now with breakfast!

    • You’re right Mel, there are many animals that all need to be treated better. Let’s hope that over the next few years we will see some real grassroots changes.

  9. I know all about elephant tourism and how most of them have no ethical practices in place. It’s very admirable that you’re doing this because it helps to raise awareness. I’ve known of Elephant Nature Park as well as a reputable place, but have you looked over Patara Elephant Farm?

    It’s also said to be a great place and I’ve been there myself.. They take care of their elephants a lot and also promote their breeding; but the only questionable activity is the riding of the elephants (it’s safely done by the neck — a more approved way; still I know that most would love any riding activity to be halted) What do you think?
    Aileen Adalid recently posted…10 Things Foreigners Should Know About Hong KongMy Profile

    • Thanks Aileen! I haven’t heard of Patara Elephant Farm but unfortunately I would still not support any place that does elephant riding of any kind, even if it is on the neck. Yes, it may be slightly better for the elephant to carry weight on their neck and shoulders instead of the middle of their spine, but the fact is the elephant has still been tortured through training in order to get it to submit to carry a human at all. The only truly worthy sanctuaries are the ones that allow elephants to just be elephants. 🙂

  10. It’s great that more and more people are getting aware of elephant abuse in Asia. I did some volunteering a couple of times in Thailand and I was heartbroken to see the condition in which some of the recently acquired elephants were in. Such a shame.

  11. Sad they are tortured. Although if like Aileen said if there are places that do things more with the elephant in mind and safely that is better. A step in a better direction.

    • Unfortunately I still wouldn’t be okay with a place that offers elephant rides at all but yes, it is good to see steps being made, even if they are baby steps. Thanks for commenting Holly! xx

  12. I’ve never been to the park and it is one of the few beacons of light in saving the elephants from abuse in the area. But I also don’t think the abuse should be a blanket statement for all of SE Asia when there are also a few responsible mahoots and groups that do this very well and treat their animals like a family member.
    noel recently posted…Fun and unusual activities to do in San FranciscoMy Profile

    • We will have to agree to disagree there Noel…although there are many mahouts who do love their elephants, the practice of riding and training is still cruel. I would like to see all mahouts treating their elephants the way the ones in the Surin Project do – no rides, no tricks, exemplary care. After all at the end of the day you wouldn’t expect a beloved family member to hurt themselves to make you money, would you.

  13. good on you for doing something. The world needs more people like yourself who will put their message out there and take a stance

  14. It makes my heart feel so overwhelmed with joy because there are still guys like you who really dedicate themselves to a great cause. Kudos to you and Sadie.

  15. Protect the elephants and fight against tourism that involves animals is a day by day task. And I believe that communication is the key to rise awareness. I never been in of the proper elephants rescue camps, but I know how important their work is. Every friend that travels to Thailand and ask me about how can they ride elephants, I give them a long speech in hope to convince them how bad this tourism industry is, and how they can o it right… I believe if everyone try to spread the the message, soon we´ll have tourist conscious enough to avoid this horrible practice!
    Cheers and congrats for the talk, Sadie is such a sweetheart girl.

    • I really agree Natalie! And yes, every time I think that most people know the truth about elephant tourism, people ask questions about riding elephants and I remember that not everybody knows. We’ve just got to keep spreading awareness. And yes, Sadie is so lovely! I don’t know if you got the chance to hang out with her while she was in Chiang Mai but she’s gorgeous. 🙂

  16. So glad the plight of elephants is getting more and more awareness and it’s so nice to hear people share their passion for the cause! When we visited Thailand we did so with the main focus of visiting elephants, in some capacity, but we wanted to do so at a sanctuary that we KNEW treated their animals properly. It took tons of research and talking to people who had been to various “sanctuaries” before we finally decided on one we felt comfortable visiting. I think there’s still a lot of ignorance and misunderstanding around the issue and I love your passion, and Sadie’s, for educating people on this topic!

    • Thanks so much Carolann! Yes, there are too many fake sanctuaries out there. As I’ve said a million times, if there’s rides, tricks or painting, it is NO sanctuary. Thank you so much for doing your research, it’s so important that we do that with any activity we take part in!

  17. Oh wow thank you for posting this. I never knew that this was happening behind the scenes. Im actually one of those people that have been dreaming of interacting with elephants but if this is how they are treated, then I dont want any part of it. So sad. 🙁

    • Janna, thank you so much for making the decision not to participate in cruelty! You can definitely still interact with elephants – just ethically. If you come to Chiang Mai, go to Elephant Nature Park and you can interact with them in a way that doesn’t hurt them or require them to go through pain and suffering. 🙂

  18. it sure sounds like this is becoming more and more well known, especially with the way news travels on social media. even Ringling Brothers has stepped in and said they will be ending their elephant act. Its definitely a slippery slope, the relationship between people and animals!
    Lindsay Nieminen recently posted…MEC Packing Cube ReviewMy Profile

    • Yes, I was so happy to hear Ringling Brothers made that decision! Obviously they should have made it a long time ago, but making it now is better than making it in a year’s time. Thanks Lindsay!

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