Why We Chose Not to Ride Elephants in Thailand

Thailand is a dream vacation for many, with its incredible white sand beaches, intriguing culture, delectable cuisine and unique wildlife. When envisioning a trip to Thailand, an image of riding elephants along those beautiful beaches or jungles may come to mind. As magical as it seems, we want to shed light on this topic that will hopefully make you think twice about riding elephants as well.

The harsh truth is that this popular activity in Thailand, due to the booming tourism industry, is actually extremely harmful to the elephants and is putting them on the path to extinction. Elephants have already suffered at the hands of ivory poachers for decades; in the 1980s, 100,000 elephants were killed per year. This still poses a threat today despite the ivory ban in 1989. In addition, elephants also suffer from loss of habitat because of population growth and extension of agriculture. Elephant riding is a seemingly innocent activity that is detrimental to elephants.

In order to be tamed and ridden, baby elephants are first taken away from their families, and often illegally captured from neighboring countries as a result of high demand. After they are captured, the baby elephants are then kept in a tiny cage and subject to a brutal training process. Typical training involves beating with clubs and bull hooks with nails, as well as starvation and sleep deprivation.

Besides the training process, the elephants continue to be pierced with bull hooks in order to control them on a daily basis. They are in constant pain because their spines cannot support the weight of humans for hours on end, especially when there is a chair attached to their backs.

Elephants are remarkably intelligent creatures. They are capable of using tools and solving problems. They are even empathic, and studies suggest that they do have a well-developed consciousness.

There are plenty of alternative ways to enjoy Thailand without including an elephant adventure, now that you are aware of the torture involved in training the elephants to entertain you on your vacation. Let’s spread the word, and be more humane when it comes to the animal kingdom, even at the cost of forfeiting a tradition that has been tied into Thailand’s tourism for a long time.

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  1. Caroline Reply

    My husband and i went to Thailand for our Honeymoon two years ago now, and decided to do an elephant ride, because as you said, it was a ‘must’ while there.
    To say that i hated it would be a tremendous UNDERSTATEMENT! About 5 minutes in to the ride i felt so HORRIBLE about being there that i DECIDED not to go to the tiger zoo either.
    Will never do anything like it again!

  2. Kesana Reply

    I live in thailand and loving it. There are so many non-profit organizations. one of them i found is http://www.pataraelephantfarm.com in chiang mai (Ethical and meaningful tourism with happy elephants.)
    We, thai people, are learning to appreciate what we have.

  3. Paul Paul Reply


  4. Ronja Reply

    Great decision and thank you for sharing! Happy bikini days 🙂

  5. Kelsey Reply

    I’m so glad to hear you made this decision!! Thank you so much for posting and bringing awareness to this issue. I have been a follower since before ABAD (and Tash I met you once at swim week) and I’m so proud of how far you’ve come. Elephants being stolen from their families and sold into captivity is not at all different from the dolphin captivity industry. I travel around the world working to end the slaughter and capture of dolphins, and I hope you can make the same pledge never to buy a ticket to a facility that keeps dolphins or killer whales.

    Thanks again, and keep up the good work!!

  6. Shelby Reply

    I loved this article. So true! I feel the same way about eating animals..they’re not on earth for our entertainment!, we have to take care of them 🙂 Thanks for raising awareness. xoxo

  7. alexandra Reply

    So happy you’re raising awareness about this! when my friends and i visited thailand, we did our research and found out the sad truth behind elephant riding. instead, we chose to visit a no-ride elephant sanctuary (‘happy elephant home’ in Chiang Mai – amazing!), where they rescued elephants from riding camps and other tourist attractions. One elephant that they had just rescued had horrible scabs where the riding baskets rubbed against their skin – it was so, so, sad. observing the elephants in a natural habitat where they are able to roam free with their friends was (seriously) magical.

  8. Nina Reply

    What a beautiful text and iniciative…Congratulations!

  9. so glad to see you guys spreading the word on this issue. i visited thailand a few years ago and was lucky enough to visit the elephant nature park where abused/mistreated elephants were rehabilitated and loved. such a shame that the maltreatment is still rife in what is otherwise a beautiful country.

  10. Jessica Reply

    Good for you girls! Thanks for shedding light on that. So sad to hear about animal brutality, especially when its for the enjoyment of humans.

  11. Judith Reply

    Thank you for posting this. I was not aware of the harm it caused to elephants. I know like me, this will stop people from participating in the activity.

  12. Olivia Reply

    LoVe this article! So true & well written. It breaks My Heart to see Tourists riding elephants or posing with tIgers and lions on instagram. It is just not natural or ethical.. Thank you for writing thIs 🙂

  13. Thank you so much for making this post! so many people don’t understand/aren’t educated on what they are actually supporting when they pay to ride on one of these beautiful creatures. hopefully a lot of people come to this post and share it, much like i did, so the word gets out an this industry dies down, or even better stops altogether.


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