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NORTHERN THAILAND'S HIGHLIGHTS

thai romanization
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Elephant is the national animal of Thailand. Elephants have been revered in Thailand for many centuries. They are an important part of Thai culture and way of life. From 1855-1916, the national flag of Thailand was a white elephant on a red background and today the white elephant still displays on the Thai Naval Ensign. Nowadays elephants play an important part in Thailand tourism.

In the past, they were used as a useful means of transportation in carrying agricultural produce and dragging logs and timber. In ancient Thailand, elephants occupied a very prominent role in battles. The ancient kings used elephants to ride into battle, and a king’s status was evaluated by the number of white elephants in his possession.

Almost all the famous Thai kings in history were great warriors on elephant-back. King Ramkhamhaeng, King Naresuan and King Narai were the most outstanding examples. Murals depicting battles on elephant-back still exist in several places today. One of them is in the ordination hall of Wat Suwandaram in Ayutthaya, showing the brave King Naresuan defeating the Burmese Crown Prince in 1592.

The use of elephants as shock weapons gradually became obsolete after the advent of firearms. Later, they were used as working animals. In some mountainous areas in the North, they were mostly trained for hauling logs. With the rapid disappearance of forest, this has also become out of date.

In 1989, the government logging ban to preserve the existing forest areas - which amounted to only about 25 percent of the country - caused 70 percent of domesticated elephants to become unemployed. Because of the logging ban, and as a result of increasing interest in ecotourism, elephants and their mahouts have turned to work in the elephant camps which have sprung up in all regions of the country.

According to the latest estimation, there are some 5,000 elephants existing in Thailand today, of this total number, about 2,700 are domesticated and the rest in the wild. Most of domesticated elephants are at various elephant camps around the country where they learn to work in the forests and mountains. And their most significant role is to entertain the hundreds of thousands of visitors who go to see them each year.




There are many elephant camps and villages around Thailand offering elephant tours, but the most popular place is the north of Thailand, which is surrounded by mountains and dense forests. And the largest number is in Chiang Mai, the major destination in the north. For many visitors, elephant riding is their main purpose to visit Chiang Mai.

Most elephant camps usually offer elephant shows where the elephants show off their various skills and abilities, such as playing football, racing, dancing, painting, etc. At all the camps, after the shows visitors can enjoy a ride of various durations through the jungle surrounding the camps. 

Some camps even offer mahout training courses for those who want to get close to and interact with the jumbo animal. The program includes meals, accommodation and mahout clothing which consists of blue cotton shirt and baggy trousers.

The basic courses, lasting from one day to three days, usually include:

  • Introduction of Thai elephants, lifestyle and behavior of elephants
  • Feeding elephants with banana and sugar cane
  • Learning the basic commands for elephants
  • Learning to ride elephant bareback and
  • control elephant through the jungle
  • Washing and brushing elephant in the river
Since the climate in Thailand is generally hot and humid, we recommend that if you take an elephant ride, you should wear lightweight, comfortable clothing such as cotton short-sleeved shirts and shorts. If you visit during the rainy season, between July and October, you should pack a rain jacket and a change of clothes in case of rain. It is a good idea to bring sunscreen and insect repellent along too.

Here are the names of some recommended elephant camps in major tourist cities around Thailand. (Based on the information presented by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.)

Chiang Mai – Maesa Elephant Camp, Chiang Dao Elephant Camp, Maetaman Elephant Camp, Maetaeng Elephant Camp
Lampang – Thai Elephant Conservation Center
Surin – Ban Ta Klang Elephant Village

Ayutthaya – Ayutthaya Elephant Camp, Wang Chang Ayutthaya
Kanchanaburi – Muang Sing Elephant Village, Saiyok Elephant Park, Taweechai Elephant Camp, Wangpo Elephant Camp
Chonburi – Nong Nooch Tropical Garden Pattaya
Nakhon Pathom – Samphran Elephant Ground & Zoo

The Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC), founded in 1993 under Royal Patronage, cares for more than 50 elephants in a beautiful forest conveniently located in Lampang near the famous city of Chiang Mai. Beyond being an exciting tourist experience, the TECC is also known for its pioneering work in conservation and science. The TECC also proudly houses six of HM King Bhumibol’s ten white elephants in the Royal Elephant Stables.

As Thailand’s only government-owned elephant camp, the TECC promotes affordability and accessibility. The TECC offers many enjoyable activities. Day trip includes watching elephant bathing, the elephant show and a visit to see baby elephants. Most guests take an elephant-back ride and tour its hospital. Overnight activities include the popular homestay program and trekking in the forest.


Samphran Elephant Ground & Zoo is located in Nakhon Pathom province, only about 40 km. west of Bangkok. This popular sightseeing destination for both adults and children alike has a park-like landscape with a great number of large shady trees. It is famous for its elephant theme show which includes the re-enacting “Yutha Hatthi”, an ancient battle scene on elephant back with surround sound system. 

The show runs for 30 minutes and
consists of 6 parts as follows:

  • Elephants welcoming and greeting the audience by sitting and raising the front legs in “wai” position Wild elephants round-up
  • Parade of elephants with flags
  • Elephants hauling logs
  • Elephants blowing the mouth organ, picking bottles, dancing, sitting, beating drums, playing hula hoops, and kicking balls
  • Yutha Hatthi, the mock-up battle between King Naresuan the Great and the crown prince of Burma

It is no doubt that the last section, the highlight, is great and exciting. Yet, many people are also very impressed with the fifth show, which is mostly performed by young elephants. After the show finishes, the visitors will have a chance to buy sugar canes and bananas to be given to elephants. They can also take photos with them. Besides, the visitors can enjoy riding on an elephant’s back to explore the tropical garden and waterfalls.
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For package tours to Samphran Elephant Ground & Zoo or other elephant camps, contact Alex Holiday Co., Ltd., Tel: +66 (0) 2880 7388 to 9 Website: www.alexholiday.com


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