Take a Mud Bath with Elephants in Phuket
The Phuket Elephant Retirement Park is one of the most sought after sanctuaries in Phuket, a place where anyone can interact with these friendly animals. There might be a little too many people and too much noise around the elephants and you might wonder if this is what elephants really like. Keep in mind that bathing with elephants is not truly ethical as it is actually unnatural for them, and even unhealthy for you.
Trekking is steadily disappearing from Phuket. and judging by the growing amount of them and just as we predicted a couple of years ago, trekking camps saw the trend changing and converted themselves into ‘sanctuaries’.
Most camps offer a similar experience, but this experience differs a bit from the other elephant sanctuaries we visited. A van picks you up at your hotel and drops you at the camp at 9 am or 1 pm. The camp consists of several simple constructions made of wood with a tin roof on which water is permanently running to keep the area cool. A much needed features as it was a scorching day.
Welcome and lunch
As you arrive, a guide who speaks perfect English gives a short speech about the elephants, their age, history and a few tips. One of the elephants is pregnant and doesn’t like children. Surprisingly, guests first join a 3 minutes Phad Thai cooking class as an ice breaker. Everyone seems to enjoy how easy their favourite dish is to cook.
The fact that all the ingredients are nicely prepared and measured make it even easier. Phad Thai is ready, and it’s lunch time. Phad Thai of course, but also fried chicken and fried veggies are on the menu. You are welcome to purchase additional soft drinks, beers and ice creams.
Once lunch is over and tables cleaned (by the guests), visitors start preparing food for the animals, which means only chopping sugar canes in small bits and washing some veggies. Nothing complicated but visitors seem to enjoy it, taking plenty of selfies.
The group then splits in two and follow a guide to go feed the elephants, four animals for each group. Everyone seems to have fun the feeding and take even more selfies. Some kids are a bit afraid at first as that’s their first time to be so close to real elephants, but soon they enjoy the moment and wear a huge smile on their face.
Mud bath with elephants
Once feel is over, guests are invited to wear their swimming suits (the camp provides surprisingly spotless changing rooms, showers and toilets!), and soon everyone walks happily down into a vast mud pond — something they probably would never consider doing if it was not for elephants. The animals arrive and enjoy rolling in the mud and allowing humans to rub them with mud and scrub them with brushes. Some could say that there might be too many people around, but the mammals seemed to be enjoying it.
When the time comes, the mud bath is over, and everyone moves to the water pond and have a good rinse and plays some more. The baby elephants dive and roll underwater while the adults are calmer. It lasts quite a while, and visitors love their experience. The camp also has two photographers taking photos the whole time, and you can download them for free later on. A nice touch to end an amazing day!
The common mindset is that with more sanctuaries, there will be less trekking, so you should read what a truly ethical sanctuary mean by reading this page about Tree Tops Elephant Reserve.
Phuket Elephant Retirement Park Prices
- Location: 392/5 Thanon Bandon-Cherngtalay, Tambon Choeng Thale, Amphoe Thalang, Chang Wat Phuket 83110
- Visits: morning: 8:30 am – 12:00 pm, afternoon: 1:00 pm – 4:30 pm
- Phone: 076 608 945
- Price: Adults: 2,600 baht, Child (4-9 years) 1,800 Baht, (1-3 years) free, (includes transfer from the hotel)