Thailand has many beautiful national parks not often visited by tourists. Some of these are home to the few remaining wild elephants in Thailand.
We both love elephants and sponsor two orphan African elephants in Kenya. It has been on our wish list to see the Asian elephants in the wild. They are more endangered and rarer than the African elephant with some estimates of only about 1000 left in the wild.
Kui Buri National Park
We visit Kui Buri National Park in the hope of seeing the elephants and it does not disappoint. The park is home to about 250 elephants which includes 20 family groups and 30 single males.
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 or violate the elephants in any way. The national park is made up of deciduous trees, dry forest, rainforest and open grassland. Elephants come out into the open areas to graze. Though not guaranteed there is a good chance of seeing them, as rangers radio ahead to check their location.
Over the two days we observe the elephants free in their natural environment. 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. Even though we see him from a distance, one male is incensed by our presence. He warns us of his strength by tearing down a tree and furiously waves his trunk as it comes crashing down.
Family groups interact with each other. They play and love 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 little elephant who is no more than a baby herself and way too small to protect her group, being very brave.
A mother and her baby come close and they stand for a while. There is mutual curiosity between them and us. Another highlight is a baby in a shielding cocoon of huge feet and trunks, so young, she is tiny, pale and still has a lot of the hair she was born with.
It is very rewarding to see the elephants free in the wild where they belong. Why would anyone want to ride them, use them as surfboards, watch them paint pictures or stand on their heads? 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. It’s easy to think elephants are big and strong and can cope with taking tourists for rides. In fact, their spines suffer permanent and painful damage and they are forced into submission to grudgingly take 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. Ask yourself why the baby elephant would be on the beach or in the city in the first place. Chances are he has been trafficked and tortured so he can entertain tourists and his mother and family possibly killed while trying to protect him 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. While staying in Hua Hin or the nearby beaches of Pranburi or Prachuap Khiri Khan, you can arrange to be collected from your hotel or resort for an afternoon of elephant watching.
If you want a close and personal encounter with elephants, these sanctuaries in Thailand put the wellbeing of the elephants before anything else.
Elephant Rescue Park is a newly established elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai. It provides a haven for homeless and abused elephants. They have three adorable babies, Shabu, Pailin and Nam Choke with plans of expanding the family. The elephants have a new life of freedom, hope and love. There is no chains, no hooks, no shows and no riding. Taken from their mother, and also made to do tricks and work in circuses these baby elephants are now in 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 days 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 or 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 the visit to the national park.
Camping and other simple accommodation are also available inside the national park.
Tour operators charge 2000-4000 Baht per person for the visit which includes return transfers from Hua Hin and the surrounding area.
Who Care Asia has a close relationship with the park and can arrange all tours, transfers, accommodation and camping inside the park.
Wild Thailand is another local company who has close ties with the park.
If you prefer you can arrange your own transport to the national park as it is cheaper to do so.
The Elephant watching goes from 3 pm to 6 pm.
A 300 or 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. It has been closed in the past due to the death of some of the wildlife.
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 some great deals.
Pranburi is about 30 minutes away from Hua Hin and is more laid back without the crowds and nightlife.
This area is a quiet seaside village dotted with local restaurants, massage shacks, bike hire and many different accommodation options.
Another national park in the area is Khao Sam Roi Yot. It has some spectacular scenery, cave-filled cliffs and a population of cheeky Crab-eating Macaques and Dusky Monkeys.
More of our Thailand Travel Stories
- Dusky Monkeys of Prachuap Khiri Khan
- Khmer Ruins in Thailand
- Three Adorable Babies at an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai
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