elephant trekking in thailand

Smiles all around.
Photo credit: Katrina Jakola / Southeast Asia TravelingMom

When traveling in Asia, Thailand is always a great option. The people are warm, the food sensational and the scenery is amazing. We’ve visited different areas and have never been disappointed. (Except when we were in Phuket when the 2004 tsunami hit, for obvious reasons.) This summer we were fortunate enough to spend an entire month in Hua Hin. It was an amazing family vacation chock full of exciting adventures, but all 3 children agreed that our elephant day was at the top of the list.

Not All Elephant Trekking Places Are the Same

We came across a place called Hutsadin Elephant Foundation in a “Tripadvisor – things to do in Hua Hin” search. It came in at a respectable #3 on the list. Numbers one and two were golf courses. And because we don’t golf, and we were with a 10, 6 and 2 year old, we figured we’d pass on those.

We were a little wary because we had done the elephant trekking thing in the past, and felt a little less than satisfied with the experience once it was over. The options of places to ride elephants are endless in Thailand, but there are also a lot of elephants being mistreated and abused. I’ll leave it at that.

elephant trekking in thailand

We’re sharing a moment.
Photo credit: Katrina Jakola

It became clear that this place was different. They don’t buy elephants for profit. Instead, they raise funds to rescue unwanted elephants, often due to injuries or old age, and care for them.

A lot of these are the big, BIG old guys that have had hard lives of heavy labour. There was an information board filled with pictures and the story of each elephant and how they came to be at Hutsadin. My son particularly enjoyed learning about them and was touched by the stories.

Hiccups on the Way to Elephant Trekking

The map provided for Hutsadin on TripAdvisor directed us to somewhere just off the coast, and into the Gulf of Thailand. Google Maps was no better. If you ever do find yourself in the area, I’d advise calling to confirm directions or simply paying the small extra fee for a pick up and drop off. (We were navigating by ourselves on scooters.)

Also, the people (Mahout) who train and work most with the elephants stopped in the middle of our trek and offered us jewelry for sale. We politely declined and were on our way. And they asked for tips after the elephant show and after the ride.

I only bring this up because some people have made a big deal of this in reviews of the foundation, but honestly there is no big pressure and we happily tipped anyway. To clarify, the complaints were that people felt that they were led to believe the money would be going towards the foundation, when in reality it goes to the workers you tip.

Great for Kids

elephant trekking in thailand

Enjoying the ride.
Photo credit: Katrina Jakola

Our time there began with a show put on by the lovely 4-year-old, Songkhran. He just seemed like a happy little (but still huge) guy. He danced for us, put hats on and took them off our heads and even played a little soccer. The kids got to be keepers while he took a couple shots on them. My son made sure to let him score the second time around because “he’s an elephant.”

Next we went for a 30 minute ride on the big guys. Because of the ages of our children, we just went with the shorter trek option, but there are also hour-long treks and something called the Mahout Experience available. I think the latter sounds like an interesting educational option, if you have the time.

Our family needed to split between two elephants and I rode with my 10 year old son and 2 year old daughter. So, while I felt safe the entire time, I wasn’t completely relaxed. But, is it ever a relaxing ride on the back of an elephant? There’s not a lot of comfort there, for sure. The kids were over the moon and this was definitely a highlight for all of us. We ended with feeding our large friends some bananas and then we were served ice cream. Perfect experience for kids? Yes indeed, I do believe so!

Will you be visiting Thailand sometime soon? Look here for tips on how to pack for children, and enjoy your time in the Land of Smiles!