Ethical Animal Sanctuaries in Thailand You Can Feel Good About Visiting

An elephant playing in water
An elephant playing in water | Courtesy of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand
Kelly Iverson

Over 30 million tourists flocked to Thailand in 2016. However, many of these eager explorers, unknowingly fuel a dark and cruel practice: animal tourism. While not all “sanctuaries” mistreat their animals, there are more than a few establishments that are unethical and abuse Thailand’s amazing wildlife, whether it be elephants, monkeys, or tigers. To ensure you have the most memorable yet ethical trip possible, here are the sanctuaries that are rescuing, rehabilitating, and in the end, saving animals’ lives.

Elephant Nature Park

Natural Feature, Park

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand
© Kipperpig / Alamy Stock Photo
Spending the day at Elephant Nature Park is truly an outstanding experience. Not a single aspect of the visitor’s day is neglected, from the informative ride to the sanctuary all the way to the delicious lunch buffet. Located in the mountainous terrain outside the city of Chiang Mai, visitors of this sanctuary are surrounded by rolling, green hills as well as, of course, the animals themselves. The sanctuary was founded in the 1990s; since then, the staff and volunteers have rescued dozens of elephants.Elephants are not the only animals volunteers will come across at this sanctuary. In addition to these majestic beasts, Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary for cats, dogs, buffaloes and animals. Visitors can choose to stay for a short park visit—฿2,500 (US$71), a single day visit—฿2,500 (US$71), or an overnight stay, consisting of two days and one night—฿5,800 (US$165). Children receive 50 percent off on all the packages offered. In addition to spending time with elephants, Elephant Nature Park offers different excursions to villages around Chiang Mai and additional volunteer packages which allow visitors to interact specifically with the animals who reside there. They also have a sister program in Kanchanaburi.

Rescue Paws

Rescue Paws

There are as many soi (street) dogs in Thailand as there are 7/11 convenience stores. All over the country, these abandoned pets roam the Kingdom, in search of food, shelter, and oftentimes, company. While the streets of Thailand have put many of these dogs perpetually on defense mode, others simply want to be rescued. That is where Rescue Paws comes in. This non-profit has been improving the lives of strays since they began in 2013 as a simple feeding program. They work tirelessly, and have the impressive numbers to prove it: 3,539 rabies and combo vaccinations, 741 sterilizations, 4,242 parasite treatments … the list goes on and on.


One of the rescued dogs | © Courtesy of Rescue Paws

If Thailand’s wildlife is not necessarily your forte, then Rescue Paws is the sanctuary to visit. Some of the tasks that volunteers can expect to partake in include feeding runs around the city, maintenance of the clinic, keeping the organization’s social media pages up to date, and, of course, loving and caring for the stray dogs. Rescue Paws is located in Hua Hin, and the accommodation and facilities are not far from the beach. When volunteers are not caring for man’s best friend, they can explore the surrounding, stunning area. Volunteers can stay as little as 1-2 weeks (US$1,000), 2-4 weeks (US$1,550), 5-8 weeks (US$2,000) or 9-12 weeks (US$2,350).

Rescue Paws, Wat Khao Tao (old Police Box), 65 Hua Hin 101, Khao Tao, Hua Hin, Prachuab Khiri Khan, Hua Hin, +66 090 232 8709


Volunteers at the centre | © Courtesy of Rescue Paws

Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary (BLES)

Katherine Connor is behind Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary, otherwise known as BLES. The tale behind the sanctuary is a sad one, with the main protagonist of the story being Boon Lott, meaning “survivor” in Thai. Boon Lott was a baby elephant who overcame an onslaught of obstacles. From almost being separated from his mother, to sustaining an injury that left his hind legs paralyzed, this young elephant did not go down without a fight. Even after Connor doing everything she could, Boon Lott eventually passed away, and Connor created BLES in his honor.

Watching the elephants

Providing relief to abused elephants, rehabilitating them, and offering support to local elephant owners, BLES is one elephant sanctuary working to improve the lives of elephants, as opposed to using them for their own, personal gain. Volunteer groups are kept small, as this benefits both the animals and the volunteers who set time aside to be part of what the sanctuary does. BLES is located in the central and historical province of Sukhothai. Participants pay ฿5,000 (US$142) a night, and this price includes all food, internet access, laundry service, and of course, all of the time spent with the elephants.

Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary, 304 Mu 5, Baan Na Ton Jan, Tambon Baan Tuek, Si Satchanalai, Sukhothai, Thailand 64130, +66 055 910 221

Fun Times

The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project

Natural Feature, Zoo

The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project
© The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project
Rescued from the illegal pet trade and animal tourism industry, the gibbons which are part of the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project have seen better days. That being said, those who volunteer here will be part of the process of rehabilitating these animals and letting them back into their natural environment—the jungle.Volunteers are needed, whether to assist with feeding the gibbons, monitoring their health, maintain the facilities, or observing gibbons who have already been released. Some volunteers are even lucky enough to witness the gibbons being let back into the wild. Volunteers stay in modest bungalows in a village just northeast of Phuket, where the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project is located. The accommodation is homely at best, but it means volunteers form a tight community amongst one another. Meals are made locally by a Thai restaurant near the project, and there are vegetarian options available. When volunteers are not working towards bettering the lives of the gibbons, they are allowed to explore the stunning and popular island of Phuket.

Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

Getting up close and personal with elephants is a dream of many travelers. At Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, visitors will be relieved to hear that they get the opportunity to do just that, but in a responsible way in which the animals are not exploited. The animals at WFFT have been ill-treated, neglected, and often are unable to go back into the wild because of the abuse they’ve received. In addition to helping these animals, one of the main goals of WFFT is to inform those people about things like the illegal animal trade, hunting, and overall educating people to stop the persecution of wildlife. One way in which visitors can do this is to book responsible tourism activities.

“We as individuals have a voice and money talks,” says Tom Taylor, assistant director of WFFT. “If all the tourists who came to Thailand each year visited ethical animal tourist attractions, such as WFFT, instead of giving money to unethical elephant camps, zoos or wild animals petting attractions, the demand for abusive animals attractions would be dramatically reduced.”


Rescued elephants | © Courtesy of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

WFFT offers excursions which last a half-day—฿1,100 (US$31) per person, and full-day—฿1,600 (US$46) per person. This price is slightly lower for children. In addition to getting to spend quality and responsible time with the animals, this price also includes a Thai welcome drink and a large buffet, which has vegetarian options.
Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, Moo 6, Tambon Thamairuak, Amphoe Thayang, 76130 Petchaburi, Thailand, +66 32 458135

Rescued Bengal slow loris released back to the wild

Rescued Bengal slow loris released back to the wild | © Courtesy of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.


Keen to explore the world?

Our passionately curated premium small-group trips are an invitation to connect with like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences.