The Green Elephant Sanctuary Park in Phuket is one of the top-rated attractions of its type. Here, tourists can feed, bathe and pet these gentle giants. Many companies offer a similar experience, but visitors to Green Elephant place it above the others and rave about its supposed ethicality.
Somehow, the Green Elephant Sanctuary Park got singled out as one of the most ethical elephant parks in Phuket. I think this is just a way for tourists to justify their “amazing experience” guilt-free. Sure, the elephants have it better here than with their previous abusive owners, and maybe even compared to some other Phuket elephant parks. However, the up-close interactivity that tourists love so much isn’t very ethical and is notably different from Phuket’s proper top ethical elephant park, the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary.
We chose to visit the Green Elephant Sanctuary because it honestly did seem better than some of the other sad elephant parks in Phuket. I was expecting more based on its glowing reviews, but afterwards, I just felt worse about having visited.
Our driver was notably late in picking us up, about fifteen minutes. When he arrived, we were very sceptical that he was even official. Our driver was just some dude dressed in casual clothes, and his car was not branded with Green Elephant Sanctuary logos. We did not have to share the car with anyone. Nobody else visiting the sanctuary was staying in the Nai Thon area. If you’re staying in a popular hotel or area like Patong, however, expect to carpool.
There is a large, open-air bamboo cabana where all the non-elephant activities happen. A girl with a clipboard checked our names off a list and gave us a locker key. Afterwards, there was nothing to do but wait for the rest of the guests to arrive. There were complimentary sodas and bottles of water in a cooler to drink.
The toilets are in a long bamboo structure behind the registration hut. They were really nice facilities, considering the park is in the middle of nowhere. It was very clean every time I went into a stall, and there was toilet paper. There are only two sinks at the end, though. Showers are in the structure next door. Shampoo and body wash are provided, but not towels. The lockers are on the other side of the toilets. Start putting away bags and items you don’t need into your assigned locker while waiting.
I highly recommend that you arrive already wearing your swimwear under your clothes. If not, definitely change into it while waiting during the registration. The cabana that everyone uses to “change” when it’s time to bathe the elephants has absolutely no privacy.
There were a lot of people during this day’s session. They split us into two groups, but even our smaller group was quite large with maybe 25 people or more. I don’t know if the park always crams this many people into a session or if it was just them being greedy after the pandemic.
We were in the second group, so we had to sit and waste time for about fifteen minutes before the tour started. We kept getting spoilers for what was coming next since the first group was always in our sights just ahead of us during the entire experience.
Meet the Elephants
The guide gave us an overview of the do’s and don’ts when interacting with the animals and a bio of the elephants we were about to meet. Then we were let loose into an area with about eight elephants standing around with their handler. We were free to visit whichever one we wanted.
Some elephants could be fed and some could be petted, while others could not. Professional photographers working for the park will hovered around and snapped candids and asked me to pose for photos. Guests are free to take photos on their own devices, though.
We were taken deeper into the park to see where the elephants relax once all the humans are gone. You can try to tell yourself that this sanctuary is soooo ethical. However, during the park tour, they openly show you the small pens that the elephants sleep in at night.
There is a small covered cabana where you can leave your phones, shoes and clothes before you enter the mud bath pool. This natural pool is filled with brown water but doesn’t smell bad. It’s only waist-high at its deepest on a short girl like me.
Only a couple of the elephants will be in the mud pool. Prepare to get mud, like everywhere, during this part. A lot of times, there would be splatter when we slathered on the mud or the elephant’s wagging tail would flick some mud onto our faces. After that, it’s time to wash the mud off. Everyone got a little bucket to scoop water from the pool and splash it onto the elephant.
Shower With The Elephants
Across from the pool is a large blue contraption that looks like monkey bars. The “XXL Shower” is where guests and the elephants can get clean under a rain shower-like spray. There were brooms off to the side for scrubbing the mud off the elephants. This part is a prime photo op in which the photographers will capture plenty of pictures.
After the elephant excitement, it’s back to the registration cabana. There was a buffet of Thai specialities, and the drinks in the cooler were restocked.
Unfortunately, since we were in the second group, the food was half-eaten and cold by the time our group got to it. We also took the time to shower properly in the park’s facilities, and there was literally nothing left at the buffet except for the dregs of fried noodles. Others in our group were hovering around the empty buffet. The cook prepared a handful of fresh spring rolls in response, but that was it.
If you are in either group, don’t bother showering after the tour. The queue for the showers was slow and you’ll end up with slim pickings in the buffet spread afterwards.
The park’s photographers wander around during the tour capturing photos of everyone in the group. You are encouraged to call one over and request pictures whenever you want.
A couple of days after your visit, all the photos will be posted to the Green Elephant Sanctuary Facebook page and downloadable via Dropbox. There will be separate posts for the morning and afternoon session photos. Anyone on a long trip without access to a computer doesn’t need to worry – the photos will be available forever.
Once you get into Dropbox for your day and session, it’s a slog since everyone’s photos are jumbled together in the same folder. We had to sift through a ton of pictures of the strangers from our group to pick out the photos of us. There were an inordinate amount of photographs of this one pretty white girl in the skimpiest black bikini ever in our folder. It’s obvious who the photographers prioritise once everyone is in their bathing suits.
I was severely disappointed by my time at the Green Elephant Sanctuary Park. There were way too many tourists than they could handle. It was clear from how they scheduled the activities, to the amount of food they served, even by the queue for the showers. I also despise the hordes of Instagram skanks that Green Elephant Sanctuary Park seems to attract, based on the clientele I saw during our visit.
We did have a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I’m not going to delude myself that it was completely ethical. Aside from the small sleeping pens, the animals at Green Elephant Sanctuary still have to put up with humans touching them every day instead of doing regular elephant stuff. They barely have any space to roam – they go as far as their pen to the mud pool. The elephants that can be fed during the tour are given the elephant equivalent of candy so they can tolerate the strange human so close to them. I’m not an animal rights activist, but it’s important to remember that the Green Elephant Sanctuary is a huge money-making operation at its core.
Tourists will go to places like this no matter what. Green Elephant Sanctuary Park offers a unique opportunity that will make you the envy of all your friends back home: all the elephant touching that you could want, and with professional photos to boot. If this is all you care about, then Green Elephant will oblige.