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Please note nothing in this post is sponsored including any mention of food, hotels, or activities.
I love elephants. I adore them. Maybe it’s there gentle nature, or their need to form community with one another, or the fact that the young stay with the mother as long as humans do. I had seen them before on a trip 7 years ago. In Kenya, the giant size and potential aggression of these wild animals had me viewing them from a respectful distance. Rightfully so, I never got up close and personal.
That being said, I was determined to have the experience in Asia. However, one thing that is very important to both of us is the well-being of these animals. Riding and performing are hugely harmful to elephants — please consider alternative ways of spending time with them when you visit. If you have to question it, just skip it! It’s not worth the Instagram post for the harm it causes them.
Elephant Haven Kanchanaburi is the newest branch of the popular Chiang Mai located Elephant Nature Park. Once a riding and trekking camp, it has been converted into a full sanctuary where 7 female elephants are currently living out their retirement in peace and comfort. In the future, there are plans to build structures to allow for males and babies to live there as well.
We did a LOT of research before settling on Elephant Nature Park. While there were other parks that seemed to be doing similar work, Elephant Nature Park is the oldest and most trusted of the bunch. After hours of googling, poking, and prodding, we decided we’d rather put our money into a place where we felt confident that the elephants were the top priority. We’d spent weeks of eating and bouncing around the country, hiking waterfalls and just generally enjoying the country, and were so excited to spend time that was all about the elephants in Kanchanaburi.
Wanting to spend as much time as possible with the elephants, we opted for the overnight stay.
Kanchanaburi is a small touristy town about 3 hours outside of Bangkok by train or 2 by bus located in the River Kwai. Charming and beautiful, we stayed the night before and after our stay at Elephant Haven Kanchanaburi. Our hotel, Good Times Resort, was a really cute place with clean and well-priced rooms on the river. We spent the day we got there touring around, renting bikes for the equivalent of about $1 USD and heading up to caves and the bridge on the River Kwai. We could have spent at least another night or two in the town, we loved it.
How to get to Kanchanaburi from Bangkok:
Bus – There are buses to and from Bangkok daily.
Train – This is not the most popular option for tourists, but the one we opted for due to our love of train travel (link to post). Trains to Kanchanaburi are 3rd class only, but we loved it. We actually enjoyed these seats much more than our 2nd class ones up to Chiang Mai. See exactly how to take the train here.
*Note the times below are estimates based on the time of day and typical amount of time we spent doing each activity, actual start and end time may vary
The Overnight Package for Elephant Haven Kanchanaburi
Day 1 – Arrive at Elephant Haven Kanchanaburi
8:00 A.M. Picked up from the hotel if within Kanchanaburi town or bus station.
We stayed at a hotel in Kanchanaburi the night before which I definitely recommend. It’s not the easiest trip to get out there and the day spent with the elephants is long, we were exhausted by the end of it and glad to have had a restful night the night before. Good Times Resort had beautiful grounds (think pathways along water filled with beautiful giant fish), was on the river, and reasonably priced.
9:00 A.M. Arrive at Elephant Haven.
You get out of the van and see — ELEPHANTS! Maybe that’s obvious, but we were really excited to see them upon arrival. All 7 were hanging in the front with stacks of plants and buckets of bananas to feed them.
9:00 A.M. – 10:00 A.M. Meet and feed the elephants, safety talk.
Spend time meeting, feeding, and hanging with the elephants. After you feed them the current supply that’s left out for your arrival, you than cut watermelon, There is a short talk on safety and a bit of history about the park. Also, there is free coffee, tea, and water the whole time you are on site.
10:00 A.M – 12:00 P.M. Walk with the elephants in the forest.
The first real interaction with the elephants. Each one has a mahout that walks with them, so we never felt intimidated. They tell you when the elephant needs space and when it is okay to approach them.
12:00 P.M. – 1:00 P.M. Lunchtime–good vegetarian food provided.
1:00 P.M. – 3:00 P.M. Walk with the elephants to the mud pit and the river. The elephants are very playful in the water. One in particular, Chopper, spent one of the days splashing with her mahout and just being especially silly.
3:00 P.M. – 4:00 P.M. Hang at the front with the elephants, say your goodbyes if staying offsite.
I can’t speak for what happens after this point if you stay on the actual grounds as I did not. A few people we chatted with who had stayed the night before said that after everyone left they pretty much just hung out with staff for the rest of the night (who I would like to mention at this point are AWESOME). I was a bit envious of that experience, but if the group is too large, it’s too challenging for them to split it up, so we went to the hotel at this point.
4:30 P.M. – 6:00 P.M. Chill, shower, whatever you feel like at the hotel.
The hotel was nice, and I can not find it or remember the name of it for the life of me! Each couple/person/family got their own little bungalow along the river, private bathroom included. The room was actually really nice, the bathroom was functional but nothing to write home about.
6:00 P.M. Dinner and hanging
Our guide and one of the mahouts came to hang out with us. Dinner was first, although this meal was not vegetarian nor as good in our opinion, but still good enough and a huge portion. Afterwards, we hung out with the other visitors, our guide, and mahout just chatting for hours.
Day 2 – Leaving Elephant Haven Kanchanaburi
8:00 A.M. – 9:00 A.M. Breakfast
Breakfast was served at the hotel, cooked to order. Plates of eggs and toast.
9:00 A.M. – 10:00 A.M. Go back to Elephant Haven grounds.
This was a repeat of Day 1. Hang with elephants, feed, and relax.
10:00 A.M. – 12:00 P.M. Visit the death railway and Krasae Cave.
One member of our group opted out of this to spend the morning walking with the elephants. Looking back, I wish I did this. The railway was interesting and historically important, it was built by prisoners of war and local slaves during WWII. You can walk along a portion of it in spite of the fact that it is still fully operational. Cut into the cliff face along the railway, the Krasae Cave is home to a giant Gold buddha. The spot is a bit touristy and crowded, but makes for some cool pictures. Otherwise, I did not think it was really worth it.
12:00 P.M. – 1:00 P.M. Back to Elephant Haven for lunch.
Lunch was similar to the first day, all vegetarian food that was very tasty.
1:00 P.M. – 3:00 P.M. Walk to mud pit with elephants and river for bathing.
Another repeat. This was a more fun day for us though. The first day they did not tell us to put the mud on the elephants, so we were kind of just hanging out wondering what to do. This day, they told us to put the mud on them (it’s like lotion for them!) so it was a bit more fun. The river was better this day as well, partially because there were less people in the water, and partially because the elephants were more spunky.
3:00 P.M. – 4:00 P.M. Spend time feeding and saying goodbye to elephants.
The saddest part! Having to say goodbye to our new friends. We took a few final photos and got back into the van to our hotel.
4:00 P.M. Ride back to bus station or hotel.
There are some other great stays in the area. This one, the Mahouts Elephant Foundation, sounds particularly great.
We stayed another night in Kanchanaburi, though most others left that same day.
Tips for getting the most of your time at Elephant Haven Kanchanaburi:
- Stay in Kanchanaburi the night before.
- There are only 4 spots for accommodation on the property itself. If the group is too large, they book a nearby hotel on the river that is really nice.
- All food is included in the cost of the package. It is vegetarian and really good.
- There no bikinis allowed for women. I wore shorts and a tank top to go swimming with the elephants.
- Bring a change of clothes for after swimming.
- Book ahead! All Elephant Nature Park experiences book up, especially in the high season.
- The staff is awesome! Not so much a tip as an observation. If you take the time out to chat with them, you will not regret it.
As mentioned above, elephant riding and other activities hurt the animals — this is so important! As tourists, we have a responsibility with how we spend our money. Please do the right thing and support reserves!