Elephant conservation holiday in Thailand

Price:
From £2150 (17 days) including UK flights
The group departure for solo travellers, Elephant Steps, is in November. It gets booked up well in advance. The trip costs £2,150 incl. direct flights from the UK or £1,550 excluding flights. Private tours are available throughout the year, dates at your convenience. Click to enquire directly with the operator and ask them about Elephant Smiles (17 days) or Elephant Express (10 days). Please provide as much information as you can in your enquiry.
Vouchers: accepted
Dates:
2014: 7 Nov
2015: 13 Nov
Availability:
Check availability on all dates
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Elephant conservation holiday in Thailand

Elephant conservation holiday in Thailand

Join this highly-acclaimed elephant conservation trip in Thailand. It takes place once a year in November. Ideal for solo travellers.

We also run a similar itinerary as a private tour (Elephant Smiles) throughout the year, based on a minimum of 2. The price for a private tour is a the same as the group tour though you will have to share a room throughout with the person you are travelling with. Also suitable for families. We also have a shorter private tour (Elephant Express) of 10 days - make an enquiry for more information!


There are many holidays in Thailand which feature elephants but are in practice just a day visiting a touristy elephant camp. Or they are 'volunteering' trips, where you spend time at one elephant sanctuary, often with basic accommodation conditions and no respite and you don't see anything else of Thailand.

Why settle for either when you can take this amazing one-of-a-kind holiday?

You will spend several days and nights getting up close and personal to elephants and learning to care for them at two sanctuaries with different approaches to elephant conservation. At one, the Elephant Stay in Ayutthaya, you will 'learn how to be an elephant mahout'. At the other, the award-winning Elephant Nature Park, the approach is elephants being in their natural habitat. In November, you will also have VIP seats to the annual elephant festival in Surin where elephants take part in their very own 'Olympics'.

As well as the elephant madness, you will also get a true holiday in Thailand as you'll start off with a visit to Bangkok where you will do some sightseeing and between the elephant experiences, you'll go for a trek and safari in a vast national park which is home to spectacular waterfalls, tropical birds and wildlife (including elephants!) and explore the city and countryside of Chiang Mai, Thailand's 'rose of the north'. You'll also enjoy some pampering with time by the pool, lovely accommodation to break up the elephant sanctuaries, as well as meeting some of our friends in Thailand whom you will consider yours by the time you get home.

The group departure (Elephant Steps) for just 12 lucky elephant lovers takes place just once a year. It is mainly taken by solo travellers. You have to share a room at the elephant sanctuaries, it is broken up by your own room in Bangkok, Khao Yai and Chiang Mai. The group is escorted throughout.

Day-by-day itinerary

Day 1:The main group will meet on Friday evening at London Heathrow before a direct flight with Eva Air or Thai Airways. We can also arrange flights from UK regional airports. If you are booking excluding flights, you will be met in Bangkok.
Day 2:Arrival. You will be met at Bangkok airport in a private minibus and taken to your centrally-located boutique inn. Time for a quick dip in pool. Walk through the local area for welcome dinner.
Day 3:Sightseeing. Morning at leisure, afternoon sightseeing in Bangkok with guide. Evening out in Bangkok to explore a bustling night bazaar by the river.
Day 4:Elephant conservation. Early morning transfer to elephant conservation centre in Ayutthaya. Full day with elephants and overnight.
Day 5:Day with elephants. Conservation and more.
Day 6:Day with elephants. Early evening private minibus transfer east to lodge near Khao Yai National Park.
Day 7:Day at leisure - enjoy the pool and gardens.
Day 8:Day in Khao Yai National Park with guide - trekking, waterfalls and driving around in a jeep. Special focus, elephants. Late afternoon watch over 2 million bats swarm out of their cave for the night.
Day 9:Day trip east - VIP seats to the once-a-year Surin Elephant Festival where elephants take part in their very own 'Olympics'.
Day 10:Pack up in time for a mid morning drive west to Bangkok airport and short flight to the historic city of Chiang Mai in the north. Transfer to boutique hotel. Evening at leisure.
Day 11:Day at leisure - enjoy the pool. Optional sightseeing in Chiang Mai with a guide.
Day 12-15:Elephant Nature Park Head off to the Elephant Nature Park. Days with elephants.
Day 16:Day at Elephant Nature Park. Evening transfer to hotel in the centre of Chiang Mai. Farewell dinner.
Day 17:End of your holiday. Those flying back to the UK will have a Sunday morning transfer to Chiang Mai airport for a short internal flight to Bangkok and connection to international flight. Arrival in the UK at approx 7pm same day (Sunday).

Responsible travel: Elephant conservation holiday in Thailand

Environment

Elephant conservation - This holiday supports two of the three best elephant conservation centres in Thailand (and there are hundreds). By living and working alongside elephant mahouts at the Elephant Stay Kraal in Ayutthaya, you will learn about their lives as well as the elephants. The other sanctuary, Elephant Nature Park, particularly is a showpiece of wildlife conservation in Asia. It was named Time Magazine's 'Asian Hero of the Year'. Not only does Elephant Nature Park provide a refuge for elephants from all over Thailand, often previously-abused, but it spreads knowledge on humane training and elephant welfare to the wider community, as well as providing hands-on medical assistance to elephants who are not lucky enough to live there.

Accommodation - The accommodation on this holiday is small and local, within existing buildings or built with comparatively low impact to the environment. For example, at the elephant conservation centres, you will be in rustic chalets and in Bangkok you will be staying in a boutique inn which is in a converted historic mansion.

Community

This operator employs people locally which helps them work with other local people on a highly individual basis. Their local guides mean local. They don't mean guides from Thailand, but guides in each local area (not those from the ‘big city’ like many other operators assign).

They often provide opportunities for people who are not involved in tourism to benefit from cultural exchange as well as financially. They also build in ‘shopping stops’ these are at places like out-of-the-way villages which specialise in a particular handicraft – a great way to break up the longer journeys whilst supporting local economies.

It goes without saying that they also provide cultural guidelines and travel, including responsible travel information.

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Elephant conservation holiday in Thailand

Reviewed 25 Nov 2013 by Helen Baxter4 star rating

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Being so closely involved with the elephants, and learning so much about these wonderful animals!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Just to enjoy it all and make the most of every opportunity to learn more about Thailand- its lovely people and culture, and of course, the elephants!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes it definitely supported conservation and benefited local people. I am not sure about how it reduced environmental impacts.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Fantastic!!

Reviewed 31 Dec 2013 by Sue Barter3 star rating

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Riding and caring for the elephants at Elephant Stay

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Limit the amount of clothing you take. Plenty of opportunities to get laundry
done

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Brilliant except for the stay at Elephant Nature Park. That should have been
shorter. Only Ok if you dont mind living with lots of dogs as well

Reviewed 27 Nov 2013 by Claire Maletroit3 star rating

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


The best bit for me was working with the elephants at elephant stay and riding into the river something I will never forget. The place was very welcoming accommodation basic but clean. Would recommend it to anyone.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?




3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?




4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


The driver for the beginning of the holiday was always late which was very annoying even airport pickup he was late. One morning he asked us to be ready for 4.30 which we were he turned up 45 minutes late which meant when we arrived in Surin we had missed the elephant breakfast also he never knew the way to hotels having to ask directions and often going the wrong way. I was very disappointed with the accommodation at elephant nature park was really dirty pillows quite disgusting totally different to what we had experienced at elephant stay. Shame as apart from this holiday was great.

Reviewed 04 Dec 2012 by Nicola Jane5 star rating

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


The highlight of the trip was, without doubt, the three days we spent getting up close and personal with elephants at Elephantstay (Ayutthaya). On arrival we were each assigned our own lady elephant, which (or should I say ‘who’) we helped to feed, water, wash and ride for the duration of our stay. It was a dirty job – cleaning out her sleeping area in the morning, riding into the river, wading through mud to collect food and scrubbing the dirt off her – but every moment was pure joy. It was a truly magical experience, and a privilege to interact so closely with such noble and intelligent creatures. Unforgettable.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


The holiday is sold as a 'soft adventure', and is perfect for anyone who wants the excitement of an adventure without the risks of going solo. The trip was very well organised, and we were extremely well looked after from start to finish. Just one thing to bear in mind – the trip is technically suitable for all ages and abilities, but I would say you need a good basic level of fitness and health to get the most out of the holiday. The itinerary itself is not too demanding, as you can choose to opt in or out of any activity, and the busy days are interspersed with quieter days, but working with elephants requires a certain amount of agility. It would be hard to ride and wash an elephant if you have a bad back, for example, and the humidity in Thailand in November can be a bit draining. However, if you do have any health issues, don’t be put off. Just discuss it with the operator before booking and they will advise and accommodate you accordingly so you know what to expect. I have a health issue myself and they were very helpful indeed.

Another couple of tips -
1) Don't take too much luggage. It's easy to have clothes laundered very cheaply along the way, and you will most likely pick up a few bit and pieces in the night markets.
2) To avoid getting bitten by mosquitos and other bugs, take vitamin b supplements for a few weeks before you go and while you’re there. The bugs hate it, and it works a dream

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes. I did not feel that we were following the usual tourist trail. We ate in local restaurants, stayed in small boutique inns, and had a lot of contact with local people. And the itinerary had a strong conservation theme.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


The holiday was fantastic. You don't know what to expect when you go on holiday with a group of solo travellers, and I think everyone was a little anxious about what 'the others' would be like, but it couldn't have worked out better. We had a lot of laughs and it was great fun sharing the experience with so many like-minded people. In fact, we had such a good time that we are considering getting together the same next time year for another trip.

Reviewed 28 Nov 2012 by Hannah Wilson5 star rating

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Working directly with elephants at Elephant Stay in Ayatthaya and Elephant Nature Park in Chang Mai

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


The suggested list of what to take was not helpful. No need for long sleeved tops. Need to pack far less than was suggested. Mainly wore shorts and strappy tops except for visits where covering up was essential.
Mossie spray was also essential applied three times a day. Several people got infected bites. Jet lag for the first few days was difficult.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes - at both elephant parks the locla community benefitted from our work and from purchases we made where the money went to help the elephants. We also donated gifts to a local school in Chang Mai.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


For me this was an excellent experience which lived up to my expectations and more. Plenty of variety and personal challenge. An excellent tour guide/escort who was knowledgeable and lovely to have with us. Gave me a good understanding of Thai culture and close up working with elephants.

Read the operator's response here:

Thank you so much, Hannah, for taking the time to submit this review.

We're glad that you had such a fantastic time. There has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears to put together our trips, and they are a lot of work to run, so we always like to hear our efforts are worthwhile!

In regards to the packing list, in light of your comments, we will review it with the tour escort. However, we do recommend both long sleeved tops and trousers, partly for cultural reasons and partly to help avoid sunburn as well as mosquito and insect bites.

Reviewed 06 Jan 2012 by Julia Vick2 star rating

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Being up close and personal with the elephants and sleeping in a bamboo hut at Elephant Nature Park with the sound of elephants, dogs, cats and insects for company!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


If you want a true volunteer holiday experience avoid this holiday and head directly to one of the elephant parks. Expect to spend a lot of time travelling in the first wk.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Only when staying at Elephant Nature Park.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Since this was an elephant volunteer holiday I was shocked to find that the Surin festival was on the itinerary. Not only did we witness elephants being made to perform tricks, paint and play football but baby's as young as 19wks were put under extreme stress. The founder at ENP has rescued several elephants from Surin and she works tirelessly to highlight the darker side of this festival.

Read the operator's response here:

Thanks for the feedback, as well as for filling in our own more detailed feedback form. We're really sorry that you felt the holiday was only 'OK'. Others on the same trip rated it as the 'holiday of a lifetime', which is what we aim for. Unfortunately, your trip in was soon after the worst weather Thailand had in 60 years, which did necessitate a bit of extra travelling at the beginning, but we hope this did not affect your enjoyment too greatly. Our tour leader did say you seemed to enjoy yourself on the holiday itself, so we really hope you did.

This trip benefits local people and the environment by supporting two elephant conservation centres, through accommodation (eg using a hotel which is a converted old mansion rather than a new-build in Bangkok) and where possible geographically, our private vans use natural gas rather than petrol or diesel. These are just some examples.

In regards to the Surin Elephant Festival, we (and elephant conservation experts we know in Thailand) feel it is an important festival. Surin is a poor province, with less work and fewer opportunities than elsewhere, and although many mahouts and elephants are from the area, it is the only time they can make a decent income in it. Many of the elephants are healthy and well looked after, especially given the challenges of the area. Not all of them are of course, but the situation in Thailand with elephants is very complex and support and education are key. It's not like avoiding the tourist camps (which we do): we feel avoiding such an important festival would be shortsighted.

This holiday is best suited for those who want a tour of Thailand and a soft adventure, rather than those who are looking for a pure volunteer experience. This trip includes 3 days volunteering at one sanctuary and 5 days at another, sandwiched between fun activities, sightseeing and relaxation. For those looking to spend 2 weeks volunteering, then we highly recommend the project in the Surin area run by the Elephant Nature Park. It can be booked directly on their website if you organise your own flights and transport to their meetup points. Accommodation there is very basic, but the experience will be highly rewarding for those inclined.

Reviewed 30 Nov 2011 by Lisse Caird4 star rating

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Holiday was overall great - we moved about a lot so difficult to say the best bit but probably early mornings when everything was so quiet and having a cup of tea looking at elephants!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


The operator gave lots of info so no tips to pass on - very quiet in evenings so a pack of cards could have been handy.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Not really - we did go to a local school and bought biscuits and bracelets and the elephant camps employed local people in the kitchens and for massages.

Reviewed 12 Jan 2011 by Vicki Biddle4 star rating

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


There were so many - bathing with the elephants in the River Kwai, working with the elephants at the Elephant Park near Chang Mai, touring the Celadon factory in Chang Mai, the Elephant Festival in Surin and the massage!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Take some old clothes to the Elephant Park, leave them there and shop for some new ones. Bring a few pairs of cheap light gardening gloves and leave them behind too. The park will donate anything left behind so you are still being ecofriendly. Don't forget your camera charger. I was glad I took my small netbook as there was often internet provided in my room. I also could upload my photos as I went and shared them with others using memory sticks easily purchased locally. I wished I had binoculars at Surin and the Khao Yai National Park.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Definitely. Much of our accommodation was locally owned and run. We often used local transport. We volunteered our time at the Elephant conservation areas and visited a local school and factory. At all times our guide encouraged us to be ecofriendly.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Excellent. Everything was so well organised. Our accomodation alternated rustic with luxurious. Our tour leader was highly professional, knowledgable, patient and helpful. Our tour operator went out of their way to adapt to our needs if necessary.
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Date Prices (Adult,pp) Basis Status  
07 Nov 2014 £ 2150 including UK flights 1 space left Click here to enquire about or book the 07 Nov 2014 departure
13 Nov 2015 £ 2150 including UK flights Departure Guaranteed Click here to enquire about or book the 13 Nov 2015 departure
Small group holiday
You will be travelling with a group of an absolute maximum of 12 other people, including the group leader. As this is a special interest tour, whilst people may come from all walks of life, you should have plenty in common! This trip is mainly designed for people who wanted to take our private tours but wanted to travel solo, so unlike most other tour operators we guarantee that the majority of people on this tour will be solo travellers. You will have your own room (except where this is not practical and specified in the itinerary) so even though this trip has no single supplements, it is certainly not on the condition of you having to share a room with a friend you haven't met yet! If you are travelling in a couple, you are welcome to join our set departures, but please note we restrict numbers for group dynamic reasons. You also have the option of taking a private tour with us.
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