Elephant tourism is rightly controversial, but we have worked to ensure that our elephant tours are not only responsible, but actually beneficial to the elephants involved. We created our elephant tours in conjunction with the Save Elephant Foundation, run by the renowned Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, which works in Ban Ta Klang under the “Surin Project” moniker. To be clear though, this is not a rescue facility and sanctuary like Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. Rather Ban Ta Klang is a tourist attraction within a working village and their goal is to improve the lives of the elephants, and their mahouts, residing here as much as possible within these limits.
Most of the elephants here spend their days chained up, which is bad for them both mentally and physically. They also do circus tricks such as painting pictures and throwing darts. While these sorts of things are not directly detrimental to the elephants (though posing in unnatural postures like headstands definitely is), the training methods* used to teach these skills often are. Others give rides to tourists using heavy chairs (elephant spines are actually quite weak and carrying loads on their backs causes permanent damage) or are taken street begging in big cities across Thailand where they roam through traffic so the mahouts can sell sugarcane to people to feed the elephants.
Our tours do not include any of these activities. Our elephants are off chains the entire time and spend most of the day out walking and bathing in natural surroundings. This not only lets you interact with the elephants, but also allows you see them interact socially with each other. It is not an exaggeration to say that every guest who visits Ban Ta Klang with us gives an elephant a day of happiness and freedom. And you will quickly find that walking with the elephants is a far more intimate and rewarding experience than riding one. If you still want to ride, it will be bareback, for a limited time, and just a single person per elephant.
We offer these elephant activities for a full day on our Elephant Encounter, Elephant Encounter Plus, and Elephant Encounter Express tours and for a half day on our Absolute Isan, Southern Isan, and Southern Isan Shortcut tours.
*It should be noted that the phajaan torture technique used to train elephants in Northern Thailand is not part of Kui culture and is not used by mahouts from Surin.