"Elephant Sanctuary" by Michael via Flickr Creative Commons

The chance to interact with elephants is one of the biggest draws to Thailand. Unfortunately because these majestic giants are such big business, there is a lot of animal abuse to give the tourists what they want: the perfect elephant riding picture. It is a common practice in Asia. Worry not though, because not all elephant sanctuaries makes their money off of mistreatment. There are plenty of virtuous compounds that dedicate their lives to providing a happy, healthy, and safe home for elephants to thrive. Visitors can interact with the animals in totally natural ways - like bathing them or walking with them through the jungle greenery. If you are in Thailand and want to kick it with some elephants, here is a list of some completely ethical elephant sanctuaries where you can make memories with the gentle creatures and support their proper care.

"Patara Elephant Sanctuary, Chiang Mai 2012" by Evo Flash via Flickr Creative Commons

The Happy Elephant Home - Chiang Mai

The Happy Elephant Home is indeed a happy and wholesome experience. The kind of place you'd want to retire, the elephants reside in a big green rolling field next to a small cluster of bamboo structures surrounded by picturesque mountains. Everyone dons traditional attire so the elephants aren’t surprised by any strange smells or odors. You'll help feed them giant bushels of bananas, bathe them in mud, and treat them to cane sugar (harvested by you with machetes), before cooling off in the river together. The full day includes lunch and transportation to and from Chiang Mai.

"Patara Elephant Sanctuary, Chiang Mai 2012" by Evo Flash via Flickr Creative Commons

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary - Phuket

This sustainable eco-tourism project has five locations throughout Thailand, but is headquartered in Chiang Mai. Their mission to promote the proper treatment of elephants, and to educate visitors on the problems with irresponsible tourism practices. Respect for the Asian elephant and their plight is one of their foremost qualities, and they ardently advocate for the proper and humane treatment of elephants. They house over 30 elephants, all of whom were victims of abuse and mistreatment, and all of whom can now enjoy full and free lives. A visit there includes a walk with your animal, and strictly no riding. If you want an even more immersive experience, you can spend the night at the Karen village.

Photo Credit: Evo Flash

Phang Nga Elephant Park - Phang Nga

If you want to support a small, budding family business and ethical elephant practice, then you are going to want to check out the newest elephant park in Phang Na. Offering both half-day and full-day tours, you are sure to make some incredible memories at Phang Nga Elephant Park. The full-day includes a Thai cooking class so it's really a two-for one on Thailand's best activities. Phang Na Elephant Park is a gem we highly encourage travelers to visit.

Photo Credit: Evo Flash

Elephant Hills - Khao Sok

Just on the edge of Khok Sao National Park lies the luxurious elephant sanctuary known as Elephant Hills. But the nicest thing about this place isn’t the amazing tents or the comfortable accommodations, it’s the fact that you can spend multiple days wth the elephants and guides. Up to three day safaris are available here, which includes lodging and meals. Guests will get to bath, feed, and walk with the gentle giants as you travel across the jungle landscape that is their native home. Elephant Hills currently hosts 12 Asian elephants that were once living lives full of abuse and inhumane treatment, but now wander around happy as can be.

"Elephant's Sunscreen - Thailand - July 2012" by Matt Martin via Flickr Creative Commons

Elephant Nature Park - Chiang Mai

The biggest elephant park in the region, Elephant Nature Park is an incredible place to watch elephants in their natural environment, socializing, playing, and full of life. It's an amazing thing to see considering almost all 30 elephants that live here were once subject to abuse and mistreatment. The park is just on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, easily reachable by tour bus. Now they have more friends than they can keep track of and get to frolick and feed all day long. Besides the regular day passes the park offers, devoted visitors can ask about volunteer opportunities, where they can get to spend more intimate time with the animals.

Photo Credit: Bradjward

Patara Elephant Farm - Chiang Mai

This awesome elephant sanctuary offers visitors the chance to "Own an Elephant for a Day," which means intimately taking care of these majestic creatures. Tourists are trained how to approach an elephant, how to check their health, and how to communicate with the animals through spoken commands. It is a learning experience, but it is also an amazing chance to become friends with one of nature's most intelligent gentle giants.