Thailand has many beautiful national parks. Some are home to the few remaining wild elephants in Thailand which are more endangered and rarer than African elephants. Researchers estimate a population of about 3000 left in the wild. We both love elephants and sponsor two orphan African elephants and have travelled to Kenya to see them in the orphanage and in the wild. It has been on our wish list to see Asian elephants in the wild too. We plan a trip to Kui Buri National Park when we learn it’s the best place to spot them in the wild.
Kui Buri National Park
The park is home to about 250 elephants which include 20 family groups and 30 single males. The park is in the Prachuap Khiri Khan province and is one of the best places in Thailand to see elephants and other wildlife such as the gaur in the wild. At the park headquarters in Kui Buri, we jump on the back of a light truck and rangers drive us around in search of elephants. Vehicles stay on the designated roads and don’t encroach on or violate the elephants in any way. Rangers radio ahead and check their location so the chances of seeing them are high.
Over the two days, we observed the elephants free in their natural environment. Driving past deciduous trees, dry forest, rainforest and open grassland we see the majestic elephants come out into the open areas to graze. It’s exciting to hear the roaring, rumbling and trumpeting in the rainforest, as we eagerly anticipate a sighting of them.
Young single males tell us off by indignantly waving their trunks at us. One is so incensed by our presence that he warns us of his strength by tearing down a tree and furiously waves his trunk as it comes crashing down. Family groups interact and socialise with each other while swimming, playing and throwing dirt and leaves over themselves to cool down.
After swimming in the river a young female spots us. She moves to the front of the group and waves her trunk. She is hesitant but protective of her baby sister. It is touching and cute to see this brave little elephant who is no more than a baby herself and way too small to protect her group.
A shielding cocoon of huge feet and trunks protects a baby so young, she’s pale and still has the tufts of dark hair she was born with. Elephants are born with a layer of thick hair called ‘lanugo’ This continues to shed as the baby grows.
There is a no more ethical and satisfying way of observing elephants than in their natural habitat. Wild and free where they belong. The sanctuaries can be a great place to see them, but you need to know that the elephants are being cared for and their environment mirrors their natural one. The only true ethical experience is watching them in a way that has no negative impact on the elephants. By visiting Kui Buri, we support the local villages and farmers, and help the conservation of one of Thailand’s most beautiful animals. This once majestic and proud animal endures a lot of cruelty behind the scenes so tourists can ride them and watch them do tricks. Please don’t support this trade. It’s easy to make this mistake and think elephants are big and strong and can cope with taking tourists for rides. In the past, we thought we were doing the right thing and gave money to owners of cute baby elephants to buy bunches of bananas for them. This only encourages them to get more baby elephants and the cruel cycle begins.
Ask yourself why the baby elephant is on the beach or in the city in the first place. Chances are the baby is a victim of trafficking and torture for the entertainment of tourists. Their mother and family were possibly killed while trying to protect the baby from capture. In our short time at Kui Buri, we see firsthand how protective they are of each other.
Seeing the wild elephants in Thailand is a great alternative to riding them and watching them do tricks. While staying in Hua Hin or the nearby beaches of Pranburi or Prachuap Khiri Khan, you can arrange transport from your hotel or resort for an afternoon of elephant watching.
Elephant Sanctuaries in Thailand
If you want an ethical encounter with elephants, these sanctuaries in Thailand put the well-being of the elephants before anything else.
Elephant Rescue Park is a newly established elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai which provides a haven for homeless and abused elephants. They have three adorable babies, Shabu, Pailin and Nam Choke with plans to expand the family. The elephants have a new life of freedom, hope and love. There are no chains, no hooks, no shows and no riding. Taken from their mother and made to do tricks and work in circuses these baby elephants now have a safe, loving and secure home. Elephant Rescue Park is unique because it offers private and small group packages.
An Elephant Sanctuary and Animal Rescue Centre located in the beautiful valley of Mae Tam outside of Chiang Mai. BEES is a retirement home for old and neglected elephants. The sanctuary is now home to two old elephants, Mae Kam and Mae Jumpee, ages 53 and 68, and two new additions Kham Mee and her baby Boon. Relying on donations, they need all the help they can get to bring more elephants to this haven. Experience personal and authentic encounters during a few day’s stay. Accommodation is in traditional Thai style and volunteer programs are available.
A sanctuary on a reserve outside the historic town of Sukhothai. BLES provides a safe home for neglected and abused elephants. Quaint accommodation and unique hands-on experience are what you get here. Founder Katherine Conner will not turn her back on any abused animal and is also forming the BLES Cat and Dog Home.
This is a large conservation project in Chiang Mai province that rescues and rehabilitates elephants and other animals on 250 acres of lush wilderness. You can visit or volunteer to help. Different packages are available including day and overnight visits.
Kui Buri National Park Information
Kui Buri is about a 4-hour drive from Bangkok. It is about an hour from Hua Hin so elephant watching is the perfect activity to do while staying here on the nearby beaches.
The cost to visit the park is about 1000 Baht which includes the entrance fee, the vehicle and your guide.
Most hotels and accommodation can arrange a visit to the national park.
Camping and other simple accommodation are also available inside the national park.
Tour operators charge up to 4000 Baht per person for the visit which includes return transfers from Hua Hin and the surrounding area.
If you prefer you can arrange your own transport to the national park, but a guide is compulsory inside the park.
The Elephant watching goes from 3 pm to 6 pm.
A 300 to 400mm lens with a tripod is recommended for photographing the elephants.
If you plan to visit the park, check to make sure it is open before you make your plans as it has been closed in the past due to the death of some of the wildlife.
The following local tour operators have a close relationship with the park and can arrange all tours, transfers, accommodations and camping inside the park and other national parks in Thailand.
We stayed at the Sheraton Hua Hin Pranburi Villas in a gorgeous villa with our own private pool. At the time, they had a promotional Hot Escape Special for about $160 per night per villa. Keep your eye out as they often have great deals. The cost also includes complimentary bicycles for exploring the area.
Pranburi is about 30 minutes away from Hua Hin and is a fishing village more laid back without the crowds and nightlife. Local restaurants, massage shacks, bike hire and many different accommodation options from quaint local guesthouses to luxurious retreats dot the long stretches of beach. The three towns of Hua Hin, Pranburi, and Prachuap Khiri Khan are under the province of Prachuap Khiri Khan.
Getting to Pranburi
Hua Hin to Pranburi – 30-minute minute drive.
Bangkok to Pranburi – about a 3-hour drive.
Buses depart from Bangkok to Pranburi several times a day from Bangkok’s southern terminal.
Trains from Hua Lamphong Railway station in Bangkok travel through Hua Hin, Pranburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan every day. To Pranburi, the trip is about 5 hours.
Prachuap Khiri Khan to Pranburi – about a 1-hour drive.
Pranburi to Kui Buri National Park – about a 1- hour drive.
Pranburi to Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park – about a 1-hour drive.
While visiting the dusky monkeys in Prachuap Khiri Khan it is well worth visiting Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. It has spectacular scenery, cave-filled cliffs and a population of cheeky crab-eating macaques and dusky monkeys.
More of our Thailand Travel Blogs
Dusky Monkeys of Prachuap Khiri Khan: How to Visit Thailand’s Most Adorable Primates
Khmer Ruins in Thailand: Everything You Need to Know Before Visiting
3 Adorable Babies at an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai