Safe haven for elephants

27 August 2014

“We work for the elephants, they are not working for us” this is the number one rule of the Elephant’s World in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. The welfare of the elephants is always put first, this is evident to anyone on the visitors programme at this peaceful sanctuary.

Elephant's World Its estimated that in 1900 there were 100,000 elephants roaming Thailand, today they're numbers have decreased to an estimated 2,000 domestic and a further 2,000 in the wild.

Our day started with feeding the elephants, they eat up to 10% of their body weight per day. Here they grow fruits and vegetables for the elephants but also need to source a huge amount from the town. The 45 year old, Malee, was one of the first three elephants at this haven, her temples are sunken in, but her eyes have so much life. She was hit by a truck and broke her leg before she came to Elephant’s World.

Elephant's Worls The 45 year old, Malee, she loves to trumpet, especially in the river!

Holding some food in my hand, she reached out to me with her trunk. I flinched for a second, but gently held it closer. She looked at me and wrapped her trunk around the leaves and stems then put it in her mouth. Her pink tongue showing after every chew.

After feeding, these gentle giants (what felt like endless quantities of pumpkins and fruit), it was time for the laborious task of fertilising the veggies in the hot Thai sun. While working we learned numerous facts about these beautiful creatures, one of which was unknown to me: elephants can comfortably carry up to 100 kilograms on its back. Doing this for 8-10 hours a day or carrying several people are stressful for an elephant in many ways.

The highlight of my visit to Elephant’s World was the scrubbing session in the river. Before entering, we had to wait for the water buffalos to get out. Shouting one sharp word in Thai, they all stood up and moved out of the river. I was amazed and walked into the river with three elephants and clutching a brush and a bucket.

Elephant's World

My bathing partner’s name was Somboon (meaning: complete), I scrubbed her back and head over-and-over while I spoke to her, is it “lekker” Somboon? Are you enjoying it? –as if she can understand me… The mahout (elephant carer) shouted “Mulong!” – I did not know what that meant, but Somboon suddenly dove under water, I was in awe. Every time she emerged from the river, streams of water rushed down her skin and I scrubbed her a little more.

Elephant's World

For ten minutes this was the routine: Somboon dive, I try to keep my balance, she resurfaces and I scrub. She dives. I hold on, resurface, scrub … - Not bad for a 60-year-old, I thought.

There are a lot of volunteers, who are residing at Elephant’s World, from four weeks to more than six years. A project like this relies heavily on volunteers and donations. I would encourage anyone to go spend a day at this safe haven for old, blind, injured or illegal elephants.

Visiting Elephant’s World:

A one-day visit to Elephant's World runs from 10:00 to 16:00 and costs 2,000 baht per person (approximately R670 per person) , including a Thai buffet lunch and pick-up/drop-off in Kanchanaburi town if desired. If you want to support this great programme please visit their website:

If you want to visit as a “day visitor” book at least two days in advance.  They can help you arrange transfer from Bangkok and Kanchanaburi. You can drive there with your own car, but only if you book as a day visitor.

To stay here overnight (or to volunteer even longer) you must email or contact the sanctuary – they will advise if they have any vacancies available.

Telephone:    034 514 800 (Thai & English)
086 335 5332 (Thai & English)
Please call 8:00am - 10:00am or 4:00pm - 8:00pm (Thailand time zone: GMT +7)

Elephants world view from the mountain When you are in Thailand and you wish to spend time with these magnificent animals, please consider a visit to Elephant's World. They are 32 km from the city of Kanchanaburi or 180 km from Bangkok.

Kanchanaburi is very easily accessible since it is so close to Bangkok. You will need to fly to Bangkok first as Kanchanaburi does not have an airport. From there you have some options:

Bus: A bus departs from Sai Dai, the Southern Bus Terminal, every 15, 20, or 30 minutes, and the journey will last about two hours. This is a relatively cheap option, and is the preferred method as it is very easy.

Taxi: Although this is the fastest option, it is the most expensive, unless you are skilled in negotiating. You can find some taxi services at

Minibuses are also a viable option, with frequent departures from Bangkok’s Khao San Road and Victory Monument.

*Kanchanaburi is a town in western Thailand; located where the Khwae Noi and Khwae Yai rivers meet and join the Mae Klong river. It is situated roughly 150 kilometres west of Bangkok.