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Thailand Vacation With Kids (And Elephants!)

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Planning Our Thailand Vacation

My goal as both a parent and a travel advisor is to create unforgettable travel memories.  My kids certainly probably do not remember what we gave them for their last birthday, and certainly will not remember it in several years.  However, I am certain they will never forget the time they fed and bathed elephants while on our Thailand vacation.

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Before I started my travel business, I thought I knew everything I needed to know about planning vacations.  I have visited over 40 countries, several of those multiple times, and knew how to get around a new destination.  What has really enlightened me since starting my business is how much spending a little more money can affect the entire trip. 

That was my mindset when I made the arrangements for our family to stay at Elephant Hills during our Thailand vacation.  Our family loves beaches, which are all located in southern Thailand. However, I seriously considered adding a leg to our trip to visit northern Thailand, a big reason being to see the elephants. 

After much searching for an ethical elephant camp in southern Thailand that did not involve riding the elephants or the elephants performing tricks, I found Elephant Hills. It is about 3 hours from Phuket and 2 hours from Krabi, which are both beaches we wanted to visit.  So we scheduled a pick up from Phuket and drop off at Krabi, which was the perfect way to bookend the elephant experience during our Thailand vacation.

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Elephant Experience During our Thailand Vacation

I knew going into the elephant experience that it would be the highlight of our trip.  It would be the thing that the boys would mention when forced to answer all of the excited people when we returned and asked, “What was your favorite part of your Thailand vacation?”.  Nothing shuts my boys down like being asked a direct question! Sure enough, the boys have answered those who have asked with the answer I expected “feeding and bathing the elephants”. Honestly, I am really not sure which I liked more.

Bathing The Elephants

Our poor elephant was so covered in dirt that no matter how much water we used or how hard we scrubbed him with a coconut husk, he was not much cleaner after his bath. His dirtiness meant our guy had to participate in his bath, so he nudged us to fill up his trunk which he sprayed all over his body. We could not avoid his spraying, so by the end of the bath, we were almost as wet as the elephant. Lucky us, we would not have it any other way!  How many people can say that they have been hosed down by an elephant?

Some Elephant Facts and History

After bathing the elephants, we returned to the shady spot where fruit had been placed out for us to prepare for the elephants.  These mounds of food were simply snacks for these gigantic animals.   

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Yes, this was just one of many snacks that the elephants devour each day.  Elephants consume 10% of their body weight each day. This is actually why there are so many elephants in camps like Elephant Hills.  For hundreds of years, elephants in Thailand were used for manual labor.

Elephants were domesticated and owned by mahouts, the keeper of the elephant.  The mahouts cared for the elephants but also controlled them as they worked for many years, particularly in the logging industry in Thailand. In 1989, logging was banned in Thailand and mahouts could no longer feed their animals.  This meant they were forced to beg in the streets or used as entertainment for tourists to earn money to feed the elephants.

As tourism in Thailand boomed, ecotourism was a much better alternative for elephants and manhouts than begging and illegal logging.  However, there was little regulation in place, so the industry was a prime target for exploitation. That is why it is of the utmost importance to properly research the type of establishment that you visit for your elephant experience in Thailand.  Click here for more information on the efforts made by Elephant Hills to ensure that elephant welfare is the top priority for the camp.

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Feeding The Elephants

Feeding the elephants was much more challenging than you may think!  Every time we tried to feed one elephant, a rogue elephant trunk would attempt to steal the fruit out of our hands.  I am a very jumpy person, and every time an elephant’s trunk attempted to steal fruit from my hands, I shrieked!

Often times, I would drop the piece of fruit in the process and would naturally bend over to pick it up.  Guess who else tried to pick it up? Yep, the elephant that caused me to drop if in the first place. This naturally shocked me, so I would shriek again. After each shriek was follow up laughing at myself for being so jumpy.  The whole process was very entertaining!

As much as we enjoyed bathing and feeding the elephants, our elephant experience was not just about interacting with the elephants.  It was about being privileged enough to be so close to them and observe them simply being elephants.

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Our first activity after arrival and a quick lunch at Elephant Hills was our time with the elephants. I was worried that everything would be downhill from there.  It could have been a big let down staying two nights at Elephant Hills after interacting with the elephants within the first few hours of arrival, especially since we were in the middle of a national park staying in a tent with no television or air conditioner!  Luckily, Elephant Hills had plenty planned to keep us entertained for the remainder of our stay.

Elephant Hills – Glamping During Our Thailand Vacation

At this point, I should probably backtrack to our arrival at Elephant Hills.  The hub of the camp is a covered meeting and dining area with an attached patio.  As soon as we stepped from the covered area to the patio, we were immediately wowed.  The surrounding area is covered in dramatic limestone karst formations, but we seemed to be adjacent to one and the scene was stunning.  

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As we peered over the edge of the patio, we got our first peek at the small yet adequate pool for the number of guests at the camp. 

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We were soon assigned our luxury tent so we went to unpack our bags and get organized before a quick lunch and heading off to see the elephants.  

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The beds were very comfy and the linens soft.  

The tent had a full bathroom with a shower and toilet. 

The tents did have electricity, but no television.  When one of my sons told his class about this, the teacher relayed that the children gasped in horror and asked, “but what did you do without tv???” to which he replied “we swam and ate cake” which is pretty accurate! Not only did we eat cake, but we ate copious amounts of food, both western and Thai style.

Thank goodness it was served buffet style because we got second and thirds!  

More Fun At Elephant Hills

River Canoeing

After lunch and our time with the elephants, we took a short walk to a river where we were assigned to inflatable canoes with someone to paddle it so we could sit back and marvel at the towerlike limestone karst formations.  Occasionally, he would point out a snake or a monkey, but mostly, it was a relaxing trip in the shade as the sun descended behind the limestone formations.

Evenings At Elephant Hills

After a dip in the pool and getting ready for dinner, we headed to the communal area before dinner.  Each evening we were treated to a documentary that the boys were surprisingly entertained by.

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After the documentary each night, Thai children from various local schools came in to perform traditional dances.  Elephant Hills works closely with these local schools.

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After the dancers finished, the dinner gong sounded and we could go ahead and join the buffet line or watch a traditional Thai dish be made by one of the chefs.

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Day Two Morning Excursion

After completing our breakfast on Day 2, we were loaded into the safari jeep bus that Elephant Hills uses …

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… and stopped by a local market …

on our way to man-made Cheow Lan Lake at Khao Sok National Park.

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Enjoying The Journey To Elephant Hills Rainforest Camp

We took longtail boats to the floating jungle lodge owned by Elephant Hills which they call the Rainforest Camp.

Some people opt to stay here for a night, but the boys were not old enough to stay.  I also think the elephant camp was a better fit for our family, although we thoroughly enjoyed our two and a half-hour visit to the rainforest camp.

Afternoon At Jungle Camp

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First things first, we ate the lunch that was served.  Despite the remoteness of the location, the food was on point.  We were given reusable water bottles for our entire 3-day stay and enjoyed unlimited “fresh” water as the boys like to call it. 

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Since you can not drink the tap water in Thailand, I was so happy to see these reusable water bottles after every other hotel provided us with single-use plastic water bottles. I also love that they use metal straws.  

After lunch, Rob took the boys on a kayak ride.  Then, we all went swimming with the fishies.  

Literally.  The fish were swarming around the camp, but luckily they did not bite!  Below the boys are feeding the fish their “leftovers” which was actually them going to the buffet just to grab food so they could exclaim they were full, then feed to the fish!

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The time went by quickly, and soon it was time to take the 45-minute trip via longtail boat to the port where our bus was waiting.  It really was a beautiful area, and it reminded me so much of my trip to Halong Bay in Vietnam several years ago.

“Unplugging” At Elephant Hills

Despite the lack of television at the camp, the boys managed to keep themselves entertained by swimming, drawing, and being taught to play thumb war which I felt pretty clever teaching them.  The boys were nearing the breaking point in their technology detox, and we were on one of the longtail boat rides which I found fascinating. They were starting to complain about being bored, but shortly after, we caught a break because our tour guide spotted very active monkeys which put on a very entertaining show for us. 

The monkeys allowed the boys to forget they were “bored” for a bit, but then they started asking for our phones. I was resolute that they would be technology-free on this particular day because I knew we had let them get away with too much screen time on previous days of our Thailand vacation. I had to come up with something and remembered the timeless game of thumb war!  

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We admittedly rely on screens too much in the boring moments of travel, when traveling from point A to point B.  It would be much easier to give the kids my phone and be able to enjoy the last few minutes of that boat ride, but I will never forget those minutes on longtail boat in southern Thailand surrounded by limestone formations playing nonstop thumb war.  This is what I mean in the Explore More tag line, engage with each other, connect with the world.  Travel is not just about what you see, it is about creating memories as you wander the globe.  Thumb war will forever be synonymous with our Thailand vacation.

Our Last Morning At Elephant Hills

On our last morning at Elephant Hills,  we opted to skip the morning activity which was a  jungle trek. We felt like we did not get enough downtime at the camp.  Not only was Elephant Hills our first official glamping experience, but it was also unlike any place we have ever experienced.  Therefore, we wanted to optimize our last few moments there and opted for hammocks, relaxing, and a little extra pool time on our last day prior to departure. 

It was the perfect ending to our perfect stay. Thank you Elephant Hills for helping us create such memorable moments during our Thailand vacation.

Contact me for more information on how I can plan a Thailand vacation for you!

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