EVERYONE WANTS TO RIDE ELEPHANTS IN KOH PHANGAN. INCLUDING ME. THAT WAS UNTIL I DISCOVERED THE UGLY TRUTH ABOUT THIS POPULAR TOURIST ACTIVITY.
Just think how amazing it would be to sit on top of an enormous 10-foot-tall, 5-ton animal while navigating your way through a thick, deep and tropical jungle.
That is the image of what many tourists imagine when planning a holiday to Koh Phangan, or Southeast Asia.
However, there is a dark side to the Elephant Trekking in Koh Phangan that many are unaware of…
There is an ancient tradition in the Thai culture called ‘Phajaan’, or otherwise known as ‘elephant crushing‘. This process is named elephant crushing because it’s intended to do precisely that, crush the Elephants soul.
Often, baby Elephants are taken from their mothers and families in the wild. They are then confined into a small space and beaten with bullhooks and other instruments designed to inflict pain. Frequently, the elephants are starved and deprived of sleep until their spirits are crushed and finally become submissive to humans.
In Thailand, this is standard practice, and most of the Elephants you will see in Koh Phangan, and other trekking camps have undergone this horrific suffering. If that’s not enough to persuade you to give Elephant Trekking a miss, then don’t leave yet, there’s more.
Is riding an elephant ethical?
In a single word: no. Riding an elephant is not ethical. Elephants are not made to have strong pressure pushing down on the back of their spines. Although elephants are naturally big and strong, all elephants that carry humans on their back experience pain and possibly over time, spinal issues.
Any elephant park/camp that promotes elephant riding should be avoided at all costs.
Living Conditions Of Elephants In Koh Phangan
When the Elephants are not working, they are held captive in horrible conditions. The elephants are kept in wooden shacks – chained up where they are restricted to move. They are continuously denied water and food, left starving for many days. Again just another tactic to break the elephant’s spirit.
To keep the pace going during treks, the guide (mahout) will jab the elephants with a bullhook to keep them always moving. The elephants will remember this bullhook from their torture during Phajaan, which will immediately strike fear into them.
Many visitors have reported the Elephant Park Koh Phangan, with statements claiming to have seen the elephants swaying, pacing, and bobbing – all of which are severe signs of psychological stress. Below is a recent review from a visitor of the park:
“Dear elephant and animal lovers, this is not the place to go. No matter how well you mean, these magnificent and intelligent creatures are not happy to take you on a ride. They are forced, chained and stressed. This tourist business has to end, help by not supporting it.” – Leanne Prins, Google Reviews.
Do Not Partake In Elephant Trekking in Koh Phangan
By partaking in Elephant Trekking on Koh Phangan, or any other South East Asian country, you are assisting in promoting and funding these kinds of horrific practices. If a tour guide offers you anything other than spending quality time with elephants, then turn the other way.
When an elephant ‘sanctuary’ is promoting any form of riding or circus shows, you can be confident that the elephants have been a victim of this type of abuse. If you’re still uncertain, always make sure to do your research beforehand by reading reviews on websites such as TripAdvisor.
Still want to see Elephants in Thailand?
If you’re still looking for a place to see elephants in Thailand, then we would recommend visiting Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. Located in the North of Thailand, Elephant Nature Park is a natural home and sanctuary for Elephants and other rescue animals.
At the Elephant Nature Park, you will be able to observe Elephants enjoying their freedom and happiness; with no riding: they can now walk, play, swim, eat, and bathe all at their own pace.
The park was founded in the 1990’s and has provided sanctuary for dozens of distressed Elephants all across Thailand. Over 80 Elephants are living at the park, each with their own story of an upsetting past.
The Elephant tourism industry in Thailand is in a phase of development – many travel companies are now starting to ban elephant trekking from their itineraries, and more are following.
More Koh Phangan Guides:
Things To Do In Koh Phangan When It Rains
Leela Beach Koh Phangan
Bottle Beach Koh Phangan
Koh Phangan Nightlife
The Secret Mountain Koh Phangan