I’ve always loved Elephants. My mum collected elephant ornaments, broaches, jewellery – you name it. My childhood home had a huge collection of around 100 or more models in all shapes and sizes that sat on a shelf halfway up our staircase. As a young child I was allowed to play with the less breakable ones and as I grew older and would help around the house keeping the elephants dust free became one of my weekly chores. 

My mum is a big animal lover but elephants have a special place in her heart as they are such gentle giants. Elephants are intelligent and feeling animals. Their heart warming traits include the ability to recognise one another, remember events spanning their whole life time, empathise, hug one another and to feel and show emotion. 

I knew our visit to Thailand would absolutely have to include meeting these wonderful creatures but I was also aware that the tourist industry can be less than kind to their elephants and I was keen to ensure we supported an organisation that was doing their best to help this endangered species.

 

The Importance of Research

I reached out to some fellow travellers online to find a reputable elephant sanctuary near to where we are staying in Hua Hin. Hutsadin Elephant Foundation was recommended. I continued further research by looking at Trip Advisor reviews and other google searches.

I discovered two other elephant attractions nearby both of which did not have great reviews. One in particular featured several statements by visitors who had asked their taxi drivers to take them to Hutsadin but they had actually been taken to the Elephant Village instead as this organisation has an ‘arrangement’ with the local taxi’s.

Note, if you intend to visit Hutsadin Elephant Foundation and arrive to an organisation that does not have the Trip Advisor sign outside you are at the wrong one, insist that your driver takes you to the correct one!

On arrival at the Hutsadin Elephant Foundation we were greeted in the car park and lead through to a reception area where we were asked what activities we would like to take part in. We were then charged accordingly to what we chose. You can have an educational talk, walk with and wash the elephants, bare back ride on an elephant (not cage seating and only 1 person on the elephant) or try the Mahout experience.

The Mahouts

A Mahout is a Hindi term for an elephant’s primary carer/keeper. Traditionally a Mahout is a respected career handed down through many generations. A Mahout will bond with their elephant for life and invest time, love and patience with their elephant.

Unfortunately Mahouts have developed a poor reputation over recent years as the tourist industry employed unskilled new Mahouts who used harsher force for compliance. 

The Mahout experience at Hutsadin is a hands on activity that in which visitors can learn more about what it means to care for the elephants on a daily basis. Unfortunately this was for over 18’s only so we chose the education and walk along activities.

Shortly after arrival we were shown to a shaded seated area where we were given water, two wooden engraved elephant keyrings and a packet of rice as gifts for visiting the foundation. In this area there were boards displaying photos and the stories of each elephant.

Elephant Education

We were then taken to another area of seating where we were given an educational presentation on elephants in general, the elephants in Thailand, the work of the Hutsadin elephant foundation and the six elephants at the foundation. This was fascinating, well presented and really good for the kids. Perhaps a multi media presentation or a slightly more interactive presentation would have been a slight improvement and better to keep hot, restless kids engaged but to be honest I’m being picky.

Then the fun really started. We were each given a bucket of bananas that we would be feeding to the elephants while walking with them (although I think this Rooster had other ideas).
We were also given some safety instructions about being around the elephants. Elephants don’t have great eyesight but they do have fantastic hearing so standing too close but out of their line of sight can spook them and cause an issue.  Once the volunteer guides were satisfied the kids wouldn’t get squashed we were taken to meet the elephants in their stables.

 

Meeting Gentle Giants

Meeting the elephants and walking with them was definitely a bucket list moment. Our beautiful beast was 63 year old Neung Lan. 

We stopped regularly to give her bananas and we walked to a tree that all the elephants like to have a good scratch against. You can really feel the satisfaction that Neung Lan felt scratching against that tree!  
Once we arrived back we hosed off Neung Lan to cool her down alongside the other elephants.
Tips for the Mahout’s are encouraged. They work and live full time with the elephants at the foundation and they and their families make small items for the guests. We got each of the kids a small elephant charm on a leather necklace for 300 baht each and they are yet to take them off!
We were then shown how the whole of a banana tree is used to feed the elephants and how much they eat!

 

Hugs and Kisses

We returned back to the first area we had arrived at to meet Song Khran the youngest of the elephants at Hutsandin at 11 years old. Song Khran was rescued from another elephant organisation at 3 years old when she was rejected by her mother. This playful elephant came over to meet us, give us a cuddle and pose for photographs, she also gave me a very wet sloppy kiss!

 

She then picked up a basket to ask for tips, cheeky little elephant!  I was planning on donating to the Hutsandin anyway so I didn’t mind.

 

A Word to the Critics.

Although Hutsadin has mostly good reviews on Trip Advisor it does have its fair share of critics. First and foremost Hutsandin is a a foundation and not a sanctuary and as such does not currently have the facilities to let its elephants roam freely.

The foundation has been criticised for the fact that the elephants have a foot chain. This is because the land they are on is not secured and they are by a main road, the part of the chain around the elephant’s foot is protected by plastic and you could see that their feet were not hurt in anyway.

Hutsadin is urgently raising funds to improve its facilities and secure a large field for the elephants to be able to roam securely and enjoy a bathing pool. You can see more information and donate to their Land Appeal here

As with many non profit animal welfare organisations in Thailand Hutsadin is doing the best they can with limited funds, they are continually striving to improve and look after their family of elephants with what they have.

If you’d like to visit elephants in Thailand and are not in the Hua Hin area check out www.thailandelephants.org which lists other responsible and ethical Elephant venues. They also have a go to guide which explains what to look for if the place you would like to visit is not on their list. 

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