Krabi Part 3- Elephant Trekking Tour

I’m really not good at keeping up with my holiday posts so continuing on our Krabi vacation, we headed for elephant trekking the next day after our island hopping adventure to Hong Islands.

Actually as I was writing this post, I was in two minds about sharing our elephant ride experience because some of the things I saw was really unsettling. Later my friends shared about the disturbing truth behind this seemingly touristy activity in Thailand and it made me feel guilty for doing it especially since we love these gentle giants.

So I’m changing the focus of this post on how you can support a more sustainable elephant tourism industry.

Why you shouldn’t be riding elephants

Like many tourists to Thailand, going for an elephant ride seems like a must do activity. Every corner we turned in Krabi offered elephant trekking yours and we booked our elephant trekking tour along with our island hopping adventure. Before we set off for the elephant ride, we were entertained by an elephant show.

The guide introduced the little fella to us and it charmed us by curtsying, playing with the hula hoop and even balanced on its hind legs and fore legs. At one point, it even played or rather made noises on a harmonica!

Elephant trekking Krabi

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While all these seemed impressive to us tourists, one can only imagine the kind of training the elephants have to go through and this might even mean abuse in some cases to get them to obey.

Photographer Brent Lewin won an award for capturing this haunting image of the torture which I wished I never seen. But not knowing the truth will only leave me ignorant of the problem and I hope that others will be made aware of this problem and not support the elephant tourism blindly, causing them more bodily and emotional harm.

Mistreatment of elephants

During our elephant trekking, we sat on a metal chair that was strapped on the back of the elephant. But little did I know that their spines are not made to support the weight of humans  and that riding on them can cause serious long-term harm and spinal injuries. And the chair that’s attached to it’s back?

The contraption rubs on the elephant’s back, causing blisters that can get infected along with wear and tear on the elephant’s feet 🙁

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And if that’s not enough to make you think twice, I actually witnessed the guides using a bullhook like the one in the photo below to pull the elephant’s ear to direct them so that they will not steer off course. Can you imagine the pain that is being inflicted on these elephants just so they would submit 🙁

The guide for our elephant was not so cruel and only used a wooden stick, but it’s not hard to imagine that the elephant might have received beatings just to tame it too.

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The truth about elephant training

Later as I read up more about elephant training, I was horrified that elephants have to go through rigorous and abusive training known as the Phajaan in Thailand, or more colloquially ‘‘the crush’, because of the way it crushes the elephants spirit and forces them to be submissive.

The young elephants are taken away from their mothers by force and held in confined cages where they are tortured and beaten constantly for an extended period with bullhooks, bamboo stick and even cattle prods. They are often starved, sleep deprived and mentally and physically tortured and abused for many days until they learn to submit.

During the trek, there was a baby elephant that came along and it was chained to it’s mother. We had to navigate a very steep and muddy terrain and it was clearly a very daunting task for the little fella because it lost it’s balance a few times and even fell while trying to keep up.

And as you can guess, when it went the wrong way, the guide would prod it with a bullhook to keep it moving.

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Truth is, I’m not proud to say that we rode the elephants in Krabi and wished that we could have chosen a more elephant friendly way of interacting with them. And I hope that this post about what I’ve learnt from my experience will make you think twice about adding this to your bucket list when you visit Thailand.

There are now elephant nature parks which allows people to get close with the elephants by bathing them, feeding them or growing and harvesting food for them.

Make an informed decision and support these sustainable elephant centres which  promote ethical interactions with elephants. 

I hope this gives you a fresh perspective of elephant trekking tours and let’s do our part to protect these gentle giants.


I promise that there’ll be a final post on the places we dined at in Krabi. So stay tuned for that 🙂


Krabi Part 1 – Our stay at Holiday Inn Resort Krabi

Krabi Part 3 – Krabi Part 3- Elephant Trekking Tour

Krabi and Ao Nang food guide for families

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Comments: 18

  1. Carol Lim October 6, 2015 at 12:03 pm Reply

    i am glad the Singapore Zoo has also stopped elephant rides since early this year.

    • Susan October 7, 2015 at 9:01 am Reply

      That’s great to know.

  2. Waiwai October 6, 2015 at 2:15 pm Reply

    Oh poor elephants! Thanks for sharing an insightful perspective of elephant riding!

    • Susan October 7, 2015 at 9:02 am Reply

      Hope that more people are made aware of this problem and that we can do our part to save the elephants.

  3. May October 6, 2015 at 2:50 pm Reply

    I’m not sure if all elephants are trained the same way just so they can perform and walk tamely through the trails. I hope not all trainers are harsh because I’m sure there are compassionate ones. If we don’t support elephant trekking tours, demand will drop but by how much? I stop eating shark fins for the same cruelty reasons but still I’m just the only one on a table of 10 that said No to shark fins soup. People say, “die already ma. Don’t eat die in vain”

    They will also say, “these elephants are trained already ma. Don’t sit, they got abused in vain”

    But thanks for sharing. I’m not so inclined to sit elephants any more

    • Susan October 7, 2015 at 9:08 am Reply

      In the first place, the elephants’ back are not made to take heavy weight so that in itself is causing harm to the elephants. I do hope that not all elephants are mistreated too for the sake of tourism and it’s such an irony since elephants are an iconic animal of Thailand.

  4. Soon Koon October 6, 2015 at 3:12 pm Reply

    Thanks for sharing with me about how these friendly animals are being mistreated during their training grounds. It kinda hurts me to see that fallen baby elephant on the muddy ground.

  5. Angie.S October 6, 2015 at 5:58 pm Reply

    Dana has always asked to go on elephant rides but somehow we didn’t because of the long queues. Thanks for using this post to raise awareness of the plights of these elephants used in tourist trade. Feel quite sorry for them…

  6. Phoebe October 6, 2015 at 7:43 pm Reply

    Great post. the best so far to date and thank you for informing about the tough training the animals undergo.. … We will definitely think twice before going for animal rides..

  7. Bumble Bee Mum October 7, 2015 at 8:07 am Reply

    Okay, I feel super bad now because I also went for elephant trekking when I was in Phuket. Though I was pretty sure that was the one and last time I would sit on an elephant because it was pretty scary. Now that I’ve read this, definitely not going again. Especially with the photos of the poor baby elephant.

  8. Lyn Lee October 9, 2015 at 11:26 am Reply

    Thanks for writing this post – it’s really important to raise awareness. Feel so sad to read about how elephants are treated. I’ve not been on an elephant ride, and now never will! I think in many asian/south east asian countries, animals are really treated very badly…

  9. FunFlyingFour October 10, 2015 at 7:53 am Reply

    I am not an ‘animal person’ but I absolutely love elephants, its so sad what they go through for the sake of tourism. Thank you for writing this post and hopefully bringing more awareness to what actually goes on.

  10. […] Elephant Trekking Tours in Krabi […]

  11. tayzenneth May 30, 2016 at 6:46 pm Reply

    Its sad to know that elephants are treated so horribly. I’m glad you dedicated this post to spread awareness about the plight of these elephants

  12. MamaLun June 25, 2016 at 12:51 am Reply

    Hi, do you know of any elephant friendly parks in Krabi that me and my family can visit? Do share with me pls. Thanks.

  13. […] Krabi Part 3 – Krabi Part 3- Elephant Trekking Tour […]

  14. Nisa December 16, 2017 at 4:16 am Reply

    I think you are very brave to share this! People don’t often share this kind of stories, times of doing something bad when not knowing the truth. Instead they just defend their actions because they are naturally bit ashamed, and that’s bad because then others won’t learn either. So I think you set a really good and mature example here! 🙂 Nice blog!

    • Susan December 18, 2017 at 10:07 am Reply

      Thanks Nisa. I felt for taking my family on the elephant trekking tour and later learning about how the elephants are usually mistreated. I hope that this raises a greater awareness and encourages others not to go for it or support it.

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