9 Ethical Animal Sanctuaries That You Can Visit in Thailand

9 Ethical Animal Sanctuaries That You Can Visit in Thailand

Animal lover or not, you'll appreciate these ethical animal sanctuaries all over Thailand!

It is no secret that the animal tourism sector in Thailand is large.

Often appealing to the amusement and bemusement of foreign travellers and tourists, the animal tourism industry in Thailand typically sees activities such as animal-riding or animals performing different stunts and tricks in a show. 

The problem with such activities is that these animals are sometimes subjected to harsh living conditions, and are often mistreated, malnourished and abused.

elephant rides in thailand

Image credit: PA

It is easy to be hoodwinked by a wondrous moment in an animal circus show, when one sees majestic elephants and tigers walking on tightropes, that we sometimes do not even realise what it might have taken for these wild animals to be trained to execute such difficult acts. 

You may have chanced upon opportunities to go on elephant rides on the streets of Chiang Mai and Bangkok, but did you ever think much of it, or was it just another elephant, another tourist attraction

Well, the truth is that the animal tourism trade often harbours unethical practices of animal mistreatment and abuse when these wild animals are in captivity. Furthermore, it is not just limited to larger animals like elephants, where one sees the trend of illegal animal trafficking and smuggling. Smaller and more vulnerable animals like dogs, cats and gibbons are also common victims of the animal tourism industry. To make matters worse, there are some self-proclaimed “animal sanctuaries” that are complicit in fuelling abuse and mistreatment of animals, such as the infamous Tiger Temple.

Thankfully, there have been increasing and regular efforts by local authorities like the Tourism Authority of Thailand to promote ethical animal sanctuaries, in order to better educate visitors about the dark side of the growing animal tourism industry. 

Do your part to protect these vulnerable animals and visit ethical establishments instead! Here are nine different ethical animal sanctuaries around Thailand that you can visit.

1. The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, Phuket

gibbon rehabilitation in phuket

Image credit: @grp_phuket

Did you know that gibbons were poached to extinction in the last rainforest in Phuket about 40 years ago?

This became the impetus for the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, as it seeks to reverse the effects of poaching, to hopefully return some of the gibbons back into the wild. 

The good news is that under their release and reintroduction programme, the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project has successfully reintroduced about 50 gibbons back into the forests, now swinging freely in their natural habitat. Furthermore, the rescue and care operations have also saved over hundreds of gibbons from unsolicited photo-prop business, of which some were found unattended in abandoned zoos and even abused, used and mistreated for entertainment purposes.

Their gibbon adoption programme also provides an avenue for you to contribute towards the rehabilitation process of the gibbons, so that they are continually looked after and cared for. If you are looking for longer-term involvement, you can even sign up to be a volunteer at the centre!

The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project is thus an excellent sanctuary to learn about gibbons and the conservation efforts behind gibbons, promising to be an exciting and enriching experience for families and kids!

Address: 104/3 Moo 3, Paklock, Talang, Phuket 83100, Thailand

Opening Hours: 9am – 4.30pm from Sunday to Friday; 9am – 3pm on Saturdays

Cost: The sanctuary does not collect an entrance fee. However, an entrance fee has to be paid to the National Park Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department.

Website: gibbonproject.org

2. Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai

elephant nature park

Image credit: Elephant Nature Park

Established in the 1990s, Elephant Nature Park is primarily an elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre located in the mountainous terrain of Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand.  Besides elephants, the sanctuary is also populated with buffaloes, dogs, cats, birds and many other rescued animals. These animals are typically rescued from the abuse they face doing trick shows and tourist rides.

When you visit the Elephant Nature Park, you will enjoy the captivating view of the lush mountains of Chiang Mai, alongside an all-provided-for buffet lunch. Your transport arrangements will also be taken care of from your hotel, the city centre or a bus station.

elephant nature park

Image credit: Elephant Nature Park

There will also be many opportunities for you to get up-close with the elephants, without any elephant-riding of course! Some of the activities that you can engage in at the sanctuary include feeding and bathing the elephants, water-rafting or just observing the carefree elephants eating, bathing and swimming at their own pace.

Elephant Nature Park also has projects in Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar. They also offer a flagship programme called ‘Saddle Off!’, where you can go up to different villages and enjoy walks with elephants.

What better way is there to appreciate these beautiful and majestic creatures than in their natural habitat, roaming freely?

Address: 1 Ratmakka Road, Phra Sing, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand

Opening Hours: 7am – 5pm daily (Office) 

Cost: From ฿2500 (~S$110.32) onwards depending on length of visit and type of visit package chosen

Website: elephantnaturepark.org

3. Lanta Animal Welfare, Koh Lanta

lanta animal welfare koh lanta

Image credit: Lanta Animal Welfare

Started more than a decade ago by Junie Kovacs in 2005, Lanta Animal Welfare seeks to bring an end to the many cases of animal suffering in Koh Lanta. A recognised animal sanctuary and foundation in Thailand, Lanta Animal Welfare has successfully reached out to over 15,000 stray animals with their planned sterilization and treatment programmes.

Be inspired by some of the hard work at Lanta Animal Welfare, which is open to visitors all year round! Under the guidance of an experienced volunteer, you will be introduced to some of the facilities and rehabilitated animals at the sanctuary.

lanta animal welfare in koh lanta

Image credit: Lanta Animal Welfare

There are also other exciting activities that you can take part in, such as cuddling with over 30 felines in Kitty City (a recently-opened facility in the sanctuary) and walking a rescue dog on one of the three designated walking routes. You can also volunteer to help out with the day-to-day tasks of de-ticking, grooming and shampooing cats and dogs, or choose to just socialise with the animals in the sanctuary. 

With so many things that you can do at Lanta Animal Welfare, you might just find yourself spending a full day, in the company of some of the most adorable cats and dogs on the island of Koh Lanta!

Address: 629 Moo 2, Saladan, Koh Lanta, Krabi, Thailand

Opening Hours: 9am – 5pm daily

Cost: Free; but donations to help keep the facility running will be greatly appreciated!

Website: lantaanimalwelfare.com

4. Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT), Petchaburi

Founded in 2001, WFFT is a non-governmental organisation aimed at rescuing and rehabilitating captive wild animals while also advocating against the illegal animal trade in Thailand. 

Since its inception, the Wildlife Rescue Centre has provided shelter to over 1,000 wild animals. While those that can be rehabilitated are released back into the wild, others are looked after and housed in the shelter for life. Most of the animals currently residing within the rescue centre were rescued from poor living conditions, the illegal wildlife trade and even road accidents and dog attacks. 

WFFT offers the option of either a half-day experience or a full-day experience to the Wildlife Rescue Centre and Elephant Refuge, where you can get a glimpse of the rescued animals in a responsible way. At the rescue centre, you will find a handful of gibbons, macaque, lorises, langur, reptiles, otters, birds and many other animals. 

However, in order to protect the animals, the Wildlife Rescue Centre has a strict “hands-off” policy. Any direct contact with animals is not permitted, even for volunteers. 

Again, advanced booking is required for entry into the Wildlife Rescue Centre. The price is inclusive of a welcome drink and buffet lunch, but not transport. 

If you are an animal enthusiast and happen to be in the Petchaburi region, then you might want to pay WFFT a visit!

Address: Moo 6,Tambon Thamairuak, Amphoe Thayang, 76130 Petchaburi, Thailand

Opening Hours: Daily; last admission at 4pm (advanced booking required)

Cost: From ฿900 (~S$39.72) onwards (child) and ฿1100 (~S$48.54) onwards (adult)

Website: wfft.org

5. Rescue Paws, Hua Hin

rescue paws hua hin

Image credit: Rescue Paws

Rescue Paws is a not-for-profit organisation founded in 2014 with a mission to reduce the stray dogs and cats population of Hua Hin through sterilization and education, due to overpopulation. To date, they have conducted approximately 276 adoptions, 1,569 sterilizations, 8,534 vaccinations and deworming.

Rescue Paws regularly organises day visits for interested individuals. You’ll get the chance to find out more about the works at Rescue Paws and also spend time doing beach walks with dogs. You can also choose to sign up for their volunteering programme or adopt a dog at one of their adoption drives.

If you are a dog lover, then this is no doubt the place for you! 

Address: 65 Khao Tao Temple, Nong Kae, Hua Hin District, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand

Opening Hours: 8.15am – 5pm daily (Office); advanced booking required

Website: rescuepawsthailand.org

6. Burm and Emilys Elephant Sanctuary (BEES), Chiang Mai

BEES prides itself as a sanctuary where “humans work for the elephants”, welcoming elephants that may have been the subject of abuse and exploitation to a home of their own. 

As far as possible, BEES also strives to create an environment that is as close as it can get to the natural environment where the elephants can roam, forage and socialize freely. BEES also doubles up as a home to many rescued cats and dogs in the area, having launched its own domestic animal outreach programmes, to provide sterilization and care to animals in need.

Apart from observing the elephants in the forest during your visit to BEES, you may also be involved in the harvesting of bananas, as part of the preparation of afternoon treats for the elephants. Other activities that you can participate in include teaching english to local children, cleaning of the living spaces of the elephants and planting grass for the elephants.

Similarly, an advanced booking is required if you are looking to visit BEES especially if you are looking at an overnight visit at the animal sanctuary in Chiang Mai. This promises to be highly-immersive experience where you must be prepared to work hard to serve these gentle giants!

Address: 188/1, Tambon Chang Keung, Mae Chaem District, Chiang Mai 50270, Thailand

Opening Hours: 8am – 3pm daily; advanced booking required

Cost: Not available online; however you may contact them directly for enquiries.

Website: bees-elesanctuary.org

7. Krabi Elephant Sanctuary, Krabi

The first ethical elephant tourism experience in Krabi, Krabi Elephant Sanctuary offers a place for overworked elephants that were formerly in the logging and tourism industry! 

Krabi Elephant Sanctuary offers half-day visits in the morning and afternoon, where visitors will get the opportunity to interact and spend quality time with free-roaming elephants. Here, you get to feed, photograph and get up-close with these majestic elephants.

After meeting the elephants, you will get muddy with the elephants where you will be involved in applying a healthy cosmetic mud treatment to their skin. Who says that elephants don’t deserve a relaxing spa treatment too? 

Thereafter, you will walk the elephants to a nearby river pond and join them in the water for a refreshing bath. Help bathe and brush the elephants as they wade through and play in the water, and also take a nice swim while you’re at it! 

Beyond just watching the elephants enjoy their newfound freedom as an onlooker, you are also part of their world at the Krabi Elephant Sanctuary it really can’t get any better than this!

Address: 83/13 Ao Luek Tai, Ao Luek District, Krabi 81110, Thailand

Opening Hours: 7am – 6pm daily

Cost: ฿2500 (~S$110.32) for adults; ฿2000 (~S$88.26) for children

Website: krabielephantsanctuary.com

8. Soi Dog Foundation, Phuket

soi dog foundation in phuket

Image credit: Soi Dog Foundation

Started in 2003 on the resort island of Phuket, Soi Dog Foundation was established to provide a humane and sustainable solution to tackle the problem of overpopulation of stray cats and dogs. With the hard work and continuous effort by Soi Dog Foundation at their sterilization programmes, the overpopulation situation has since been brought under control around 50,000 strays were once roaming the streets of Phuket.

Apart from running a sterilization programme, Soi Dog Foundation also attends to the medical needs of the stray animals and participates in the advocacy scene against the dog meat trade, animal abuse and cruelty.

Soi Dog Foundation

Image credit: Soi Dog Foundation

If you are looking to visit Soi Dog Foundation, there are free guided tours at 9.30am, 11am, 1.30pm, and 2.30pm from Mondays to Fridays, and at 10am on Saturdays. No advanced booking or reservation is required for the tours. 

During the tour, your friendly guide will bring you through the history of Soi Dog Foundation, and explain how they have been working to eliminate the dog meat trade and other practices of animal abuse in Asia. Furthermore, you will get a glimpse of the cat hospital and dog enclosures in the facilities as you are introduced to some of the 700 over animals that have been rehabilitated at the sanctuary.

There is really no better way to spend your day than at the Soi Dog Foundation if you are visiting Phuket!

Address: 167/9 Moo 4, Soi Mai Khao 10, Tambon Mai Khao, Amphoe Thalang, Chang Wat Phuket 83110, Thailand

Opening Hours: 9am – 3.30pm on weekdays; 9am – 12pm on Saturday

Cost: Free

Website: soidog.org

9. Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary (BLES), Sukhothai

BLES is another elephant sanctuary in the Sukhothai region of Thailand dedicated to protecting and rescuing elephants from abuse and extinction. 

Inspired by the unrelenting determination and courage of the baby elephant Boon Lott which endured serious abuse and mistreatment before it was rescued, Katherine Connor started BLES to honour Boon Lott a name which translates to ‘survivor’ in English. 

At BLES, their core belief is that Elephants should live in dignity and respect. This means that there are no animal shows, painting of objects by animals or animal rides; animals are simply free to interact with the natural environment. Endowed with over 600 hundred acres of forested land consisting of mature banana plantations, grasslands, open fields, fresh-water rivers and many different types of fruit trees, this is about as close as it can get to the natural wilderness for the animals living in this sanctuary.

BLES also currently houses other animals like dogs, cats, monkeys, boars, tortoises and a crocodile, which were rescued during their special rescue efforts. 

At this sanctuary, visitor numbers are highly-regulated and deliberately kept small in order to create a low-stress environment for the elephants. This means that advanced booking and reservation is required before you visit the sanctuary, especially because most visits to the sanctuary are overnight visits. 

So if you are looking to experience what it’s like to live with the elephants in the comforts of nature and away from the bustle of the city, then Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary might just be the place for you!

Address: 304 Mu 5, Baan Na Ton Jan, Tambon Baan Tuek, Si Satchanalai, Sukhothai 64130, Thailand

Opening Hours: Daily; advanced booking required

Cost: ฿6000 (~S$264.77) per night; includes meals, two-way transportation from either Sukhothai Airport or Uttraditt bus or train station

Website: blesele.org

With so many different animal sanctuaries out there, you should always do your due diligence and research about the various animal sanctuaries and scrutinize their practices, before heading down to one! The last thing you want to happen is to patronise a sanctuary where the animals are but just a facade of the illicit animal trade where you end up becoming complicit in perpetuating the vicious cycle of animal trafficking and abuse.  

We all know Thailand as a shopping and food paradise, for its amazing street food and festive night markets, but maybe we should also do our part to care for and protect the very animals that live amongst us. 

So the next time you are thinking about going on an elephant ride or watching an animal show in Thailand, you might want to think twice, and head to one of these ethical animal sanctuaries instead!

Headed to Thailand soon? Enjoy a complimentary one-way airport transfer* from the Tourism Authority of Thailand Singapore Office when you arrive, anytime from 1 Jul – 30 Sep 2019.

Be sure to book in advance, as it’s only available for the first 800 redemptions!

Redeem a FREE Airport Transfer

*This promotion is valid for Singaporeans only.

Visit the official website of the Tourism Authority of Thailand and their Facebook page for more information about things to do when you are in Thailand!

Also read: Find Your Zen with a Yoga Retreat at These Om-azing Sanctuaries in Thailand

Brought to you by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (Singapore Office).

About Author

Daniel Lim
Daniel Lim

Daniel recently returned from his Exchange Programme in the United States, where he got to embark on his first ever solo travels around a few countries in North America and Europe. You can sometimes find him at the airport watching planes take off, marvelling at them as they roll down the runway and lift off into the skies; reminiscent of his very own travel experiences. He thoroughly enjoyed himself in his most recent travels, and hopes that you too, will be able to find your own unique travel experiences as you write your very own story.