Elephant Tourism in Thailand: The Ethical Way To See The Majestic Animals

Elephants are an essential part of Thailand’s culture and history. And they’re quintessential to the Thai royal iconography. So if you’re planning a trip to Thailand, it’s a given that seeing an elephant take a bath or going on an elephant safari is a part of your itinerary. Since the Thai government banned logging in 1989, a lot of elephants ended up in tourism, which has led to a burgeoning growth in the elephant tourism industry.

However, there’s now overwhelming evidence to support claims by animal welfare experts that this form of tourism is harmful for Asia’s gentle giants. In fact, Asian elephants are considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They are also on the CITES list of endangered species.

Popularity Of Elephant Tourism

Despite widespread criticism for most elephant parks parading themselves as sanctuaries, riding on an elephant at these elephant parks is something that is on a lot of bucket lists. You can barely turn a corner in Thailand without seeing a billboard touting elephant rides or shows, but Thailand’s government has yet to implement laws to protect its captive elephant population. Unbeknown to many travellers, newly-captive and captive-born Asian elephants are traditionally subject to systematic abuse in order to ‘train’ them to accept riders and perform in shows.

It might also come as a surprise to learn that elephants don’t have very strong backs. Experts claim that adult elephants can only support a maximum of around 150 kgs on the middle of their back for up to four hours per day, but many of Thailand’s elephants work eight hour shifts, carrying two riders at a time. And this is before factoring in whether these elephants have adequate access to water, healthy food (not just sugary bananas handed out by tour operators) and shade.

This places the burden of responsible elephant tourism squarely on tourists. About 160 travel companies have already committed to stop selling tickets or promoting venues offering elephant rides and shows. In 2016, TripAdvisor announced that it would end the sale of tickets for wildlife experiences where tourists come in to direct contact with wild animals, including elephant riding.

The Solution

Fortunately, there are a small but growing number of elephant refuge centres in Thailand that are employing more sustainable methods to keep tourists, elephants and their mahouts (elephant trainers) happy. A well-taken-care-of elephant has room to roam and isn’t overworked by constantly performing in shows or giving endless rounds of rides. Read on to learn about six of the most rewarding elephant interactions Thailand has to offer – all of which run comprehensive volunteering programs if a short visit isn’t enough.

1. Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary (BLES), Sukhothai

Featured in Lonely Planet’s top 10 unforgettable family travel experiences for 2015, BLES was founded by Briton Katherine Connor after a courageous baby elephant called Boon Lott (‘survivor’ in Thai) inspired her to dedicate her life to nurturing rescued and retired elephants. In the decade since, Connor has been recognised by the International Fund for Animal Welfare for her efforts.

BLESBLES via kimpluscraig

Guests at BLES, located outside the village of Baan Tuek, an hour from Sukhothai airport, are involved in all aspects of sanctuary life, from collecting elephant food from the jungle to maintaining herding areas and walking elephants to grazing grounds. This destination is very popular, so early reservation is recommended.

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Cost: Overnight visit (including transfers and all meals): 5000THB. Due to its remote location BLES does not run single-day tours – most visitors stay for several days on individually-tailored itineraries.
How to get there: Tambon Baan Tuek, Si Satchanalai, Sukhothai 64130, Thailand

2. Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai

Thailand’s best-known elephant rehabilitation centre has won dozens of awards for its commitment to rescuing and rehabilitating Thailand’s working elephants since the ‘90s. On a one-day visit to Elephant Nature Park, about 60 kms from Chiang Mai, you’ll get the chance to hear the elephants’ stories before feeding them, and then walking them down to the river for an afternoon bath. All tours include feeding and bathing the elephant, applicable meals, plus pickup and drop-off in Chiang Mai.

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Cost: One day tour (including transfers and lunch): 2500THB/1250THB (adult/child). Overnight tour (including dinner): 5800THB/2900THB.
How to get there: Elephant Nature Park, 209/2 Sridom Chai Road, Kuet Chang, Mae Taeng, Chiang Mai, Thailand

3. Friends Of The Asian Elephant Hospital

For a truly unique elephant experience, visit Friends of the Asian Elephant (FAE) Hospital. This hospital is one of the few elephant hospitals in the world and is dedicated to the treatment and rehabilitation of elephants.

Here, you’ll learn how professionals treat sick elephants and see the fantastic equipment they have to help elephants return to good health. It’s a great way to see the animals in their natural habitat. Visitors are not permitted to get too close to the elephants, in an effort to protect the vulnerable creatures during their healing process.

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How to get there: Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital, Wiang Tan, Hang Chat District, Lampang, Thailand

4. The Surin Project, Surin

Not far from the Cambodian border, this innovative not-for-profit is focused on improving the living conditions of Asian elephants and providing sustainable economic revenue for their mahouts in the local community. A one-week minimum volunteering stint is required to visit the Surin Project, located about an hour northwest of Surin city. During their stint, volunteers primarily help to plant, maintain and harvest elephant food for the project’s 13 permanent residents, and assist in the development of elephant-friendly tourism options for the elephants and mahouts of Surin province.

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Cost: One week (all-inclusive): 13,000THB
How to get there: Ta Klang Village | Tha Tum, Surin 32120, Thailand

5. Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, Petchaburi

Based 30 kms from the seaside resort of Hua Hin, WFFT runs nine animal welfare projects across Thailand ranging from an elephant refuge and education centre to a marine research and rescue outfit and a gibbon rehabilitation program.

The elephant refuge camp is equipped for day visits, during which guests will learn about the conservation issues threatening Thailand’s elephants before taking some of the residents for their daily walk and shower. Visitors will also follow WFFT’s volunteers on their feed out to the 350 rescued animals at the centre, and get to see the bears and monkeys enjoy their meal.

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Cost: One-day visit (including transfers and lunch): 1800THB
How to get there: 108 Moo 6, Tha Mai Ruak, Phetchaburi 76130, Thailand

6. Burm & Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary

The Sanctuary was founded by Burm Pornchai Rinkaew and Emily Rose McWilliam in 2011. Since Burm and Emily started BEES they have been working to preserve and protect the local forest area and with the help of visitors to BEES and local village kids, BEES have planted approximately 10,000 trees since 2012. Located in a stunning area of rural Thailand, South-West Chiang Mai in the district of Maechaem, the sanctuary focuses on letting the elephants be, and helping out in the overall taking care of the elephants.

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How to get there: Tambon Chang Keung, Mae Chaem 50270, Thailand

The post Elephant Tourism in Thailand: The Ethical Way To See The Majestic Animals appeared first on Ithaka Travel.

Winter Art Exhibitions 2019

My final article for 2018? If you are looking for information regarding New Year’s Eve in Stockholm… click here!

From Warhol 1968 at Moderna.

Are you coming to Stockholm this winter season? Indoor cultural activities are always nice if it is cold and snowy outside, and Stockholm has a wide variety of musuems to choose from! If history is your thing, we have many museums and attractions that concentrate on history and our royal family. More interested in art and design? Here are the main art museums and their exhibitions this coming season:

From “Feathers” at Etnografiska. 
Traveling with small children? Art museums might not be their favorite activity; Stockholm thankfully has many child-friendly attractions as well. And don’t forget a visit to ABBA the Museum and learn all about Sweden’s #1 pop export! 

The Ultimate Romantic 10-Day Thailand Honeymoon Itinerary

Thailand was made for honeymooning. Share an epic 10-day adventure with your loved one and you can relax in beach-side luxury, embark on a wildlife-filled adventure and find cosy city hideaways for quality time, all in one country.

Our 10-day honeymoon itinerary pairs a romantic city escape with beach-side bliss. Experience Thailand’s northern culture and cuisine and trek the northern national parkland for once-in-a-lifetime wildlife encounters. Choose between two castaway island escapes to end your blissful travels together. Whichever you choose, your honeymoon photo feed will be the envy of everyone back home.

Bangkok (3 Days)

The Thai capital of Bangkok has the most international flights arrive at its main airport, so most trips to the country begin here.

A beguiling mix of hedonistic nightlife, gastronomy and impressive ancient temples, this is the perfect place to get your first taste of Thailand. Spend at least three days here to recover from jet-lag and get under the skin of this vibrant city. Soak up the romantic atmosphere of the Old City in the evening where ancient shop houses contain atmospheric restaurants, and secret rooftop bars look out over illuminated temples and palaces shimmering on the water.

Live it up in a luxury hotel in the modern Sukhumvit district where twinkling highrises scrape the sky. Or seclude yourself in a cosy boutique hotel in the heart of Bangkok’s old streets and be within walking distance of the Royal Palace and Wat Po.

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Recommended Romantic Hotels: Mandarin Oriental, Ariyasom Villa, and Old Capital Bike Inn

Check out more recommended honeymoon hotel with our list of 13 Dreamy Hotels in Bangkok for the Perfect Honeymoon.

If you only emerge from marital bliss for one activity in Bangkok, make sure it’s a trip to the historic heart of the city. Stroll hand in hand through the shambling streets filled with street food vendors and shops selling Thai crafts. Stop for coffee in Sino-Chinese shophouses turned into hip cafés. This is also where you’ll find Bangkok’s most impressive attractions. The golden pagodas of the Royal Palace, the giant reclining Buddha of Wat Po and the intricate stupas of Wat Arun.

Chiang Mai (3 Days)

Once you’ve had your introduction to Thailand, have a 3-day mini adventure in cultural Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is an easy hop by air from the capital. Airlines to suite all budgets run numerous flights throughout the day, taking just over an hour. Once you arrive there’s a fantastic foodie scene to be discovered between temple hopping. The pace in Chiang Mai is more laid back than Bangkok, and within the ancient city walls in the centre, you’ll find dozens of temples dating as far back as the 11th century.

Day trips from Chiang Mai into the jungle-cloaked mountains are an easy option to discover Thailand’s wild side. A trip to an ethical elephant sanctuary makes unique honeymoon memories. Accommodation options in Chiang Mai are a far cry from highrises as romantic boutique hotels nestle down alleyways and straddle the city walls.

For the ultimate romantic experience in Chiang Mai city, visit during the stunning lantern festival, where thousands of fire lanterns fill the night sky.

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Recommended Romantic Hotels: 137 Pillars Hotel & Bodhi Serene Hotel

Koh Lanta or Koh Samui (3 Days)

Spend the final days of your honeymoon relishing the cherry on top of Thailand’s delightful landscapes. Depending on what time of year you travel, there’s an idyllic castaway island just for the two of you.

If you’re heading to Thailand in September or October, you’ll find much better weather on the east coast where Koh Samui will fulfill all your desert island fantasies. The weather here is decent all year round, but avoid November with the highest rainfall. Koh Samui has its own airport with regular flights from Chiang Mai. The island is filled with luxurious beach-side hotels.

While away the days on the stretches of white-sanded beach where hammocks and day beds are designed for loved-up couples. Those seeking adventure can head into the centre of the island where jungle treks lead to cascading waterfalls, and you might spot some of Thailand’s elusive wildlife in the trees.  

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Recommended Romantic Hotels: Six Senses Samui and Mantra Samui Resort

Or, head to Koh Lanta, off the West Coast where you can avoid the rains of the East Coast in November. There is no airport on Koh Lanta itself, but most luxury hotels on the island offer a pick-up service from Krabi or Phuket airport. From the airport it’s a taxi ride or local bus to the pier where a ferry takes you to the larger of the two islands. You can book this journey through a tour operator or your hotel as a combination. It takes a little more effort to get there, but this just makes Koh Lanta feel like a true romantic escape.

Spend days hanging out on Long Beach, the longest stretch of golden sand on the island with uninterrupted views across the Andaman Sea. Hop on a speedboat and discover the most beautiful beach in Thailand at Koh Phi Phi on a romantic day trip.

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Recommended Romantic Hotels: Layana Resort & Spa and Houben Hotel

Bangkok (1 Day)

Relax back in the capital before taking your long-haul flight home. If you’re leaving early in the morning, stay at a hotel near the airport to give yourself the most time to spend time together at the end of a perfect honeymoon.

Top Tip: Bangkok has two different airports, and domestic flights could land at either Suvarnabhumi or Don Mueang depending on which airline you fly with.

If you have a spare day in the city take a romantic tour of the canals watching daily life on the waterside of Bangkok’s atmospheric streets. Or hit the shopping malls to pick up mementos of your time together.

Board your flight back home filled with memories to last a lifetime.

The post The Ultimate Romantic 10-Day Thailand Honeymoon Itinerary appeared first on Ithaka Travel.

"Wonderland" Exhibition (and more) at Fotografiska

I stopped by Fotografiska, the Swedish Museum of Photography, the other day to see their new exhibition “Wonderland” by Kirsty Mitchell. It was a chilly, snowy day in Stockholm and the perfect day for indoor cultural activities. Fotografiska is one of those great museums you can visit several times a year as they generally always have 3 or 4 beautiful and thought provoking exhibitions each season.

The photographs in this exhibition are stunningly beautiful, many with bright, vivid colors. The intricate details in the pictures were fun to study up close and, at first, I thought that the photographer had used a lot of photo-shopping to create all these details. Not a strange assumption in this day and age. But, in part of the exhibition, you learn how the photographer, Kirsty Mitchell, created all of these looks herself… making the costumes, head pieces, props and more.

Mitchell likes to refer to herself as an artist with a camera instead of as a photographer because of the weeks/months it takes to create each image before snapping the actual photograph. Her background as a fashion/costume designer and student of art history are very evident in her work. “Wonderland” started as a book and this is the first time all 74 images are being shown in an exhibition.

The story behind “Wonderland” brings an extra depth and poignancy to the images. Kirsty Mitchell’s mother was an English teacher and loved literature, often reading fairytales aloud to her daughter when she was a child. When her mother passed away from cancer in 2008, Mitchell started this project a few months later as a way to work through her grief and get in touch with her childhood memories of her mother and the fairytales they shared. This exhibition runs until March 3rd, 2019.

I also visited another ongoing exhibition at the museum: “Smile and the rest will follow” with the work of photographer Jörgen Hildebrandt (in cooperation with Operation Smile). Operation Smile is an incredible nonprofit medical organization that provides free repair surgery for children and adults with cleft lips/palates around the world.

Before and after, “Smile – and the rest will follow”

It is a heart-warming exhibition which looks at the young patients before and after their surgeries through photographs, video and text, showing what a difference these relatively simple surgeries make in the lives of the children and their families. This is what makes Fotografiska so great, they always have a great mix of exhibitions: beauty, documentary, fashion, whimsy, news worthy.  “Smile…” runs until February 3rd, 2019.

Before and after, “Smile – and the rest will follow”

Fotografiska is located on the northern waterfront of Södermalm, just a 15-20 minute walk from the Hotel Rival. The closest subway/bus station is Slussen (10 minute walk from the museum). One extra special aspect of Fotografiska is their generous opening hours, closing at 11pm on Sun-Wed and 1am on Thurs-Sat. They are also open daily all through the holiday season, including Christmas! They also have a café and award-winning restaurant on the top floor with views of the harbor… well worth a visit.

They are doing some major construction in the Slussen area. But just follow the signs, like the one above, to get to Fotografiska.

Aerial Views

I’m disappointed if my travels don’t take me to some ‘new’ (for me) countries each year and this year was certainly a good one in that department with nine previously unvisited locations – that’s the next blog. Some great aerial views also make me happy and there have been a few of those.

▲ Right at the end of the year, on my way from Dubai to Baku in Azerbaijan, the best view of the year popped up outside my window. Sometimes you just have to get lucky, the weather was perfectly crystal clear, I’d accidentally chosen the right side of the Fly Dubai 737 and there right below me was Mt Damavand, Iran’s classic mountain under classic winter snow. It’s between Tehran and the Caspian Sea and over the years I’ve seen it a few times, but from below rather than above.

▲ It was a Fly Dubai 737 again when we flew right over Jeddah in Saudi Arabia on my way from Asmara in Eritrea to Dubai, again, earlier this year. I noted ‘There are 70 or 80 pax, rather more than the other way at the start of this trip, but still pleasantly uncrowded.

I switch sides soon after take-off, better views not looking into the sun and we fly a rather strange route, more or less directly north across a lot of empty Eritrea, then along empty Eritrean coast, the road runs quite a distance inland, the coast is desert and deserted. Then we’re across the Red Sea for a surprisingly long distance before we reach the Saudi coast directly over Jeddah at which point we turn east and fly right across Saudi Arabia, emerging on the Gulf a bit north of Dubai.’

◄ From a 737 again, but this time with Belavia, the airline of Belarus, flying from Minsk to London. Nothing special below, just a lot of nice green farmland on another crystal clear day. Presumably it was Poland although it could have been Germany.



◄ In May, flying to London on a Singapore Airlines A380 I played with in flight internet and as we approached Heathrow here’s my iPad showing me all the other aircraft around us on the FlightRadar24 app. I blogged that all one of Putin’s Buk missile-men had to do was look at his smartphone to absolutely know who they were shooting down. They could have chosen a Singapore Airlines 777 or an Air India 787 instead or even shot down all three.

▲ But finally – and happier – my other aerial view of the year. I’d just been by boat to Middle Island in the Recherche Archipelago south of Western Australia and as I flew back to Melbourne from Perth I spotted the island with its bright pink lake from my Qantas 737 window. In fact it was a long way down and quite a bit north, but my pocket size Canon G1X clearly does the job. Click here for a wonderful Red Bull YouTube clip getting much closer to Lake Hillier.