Burm and Emily's Elephant Sanctuary

Top choice in Chiang Mai Province

At this community-based, elephant retirement and small animal rescue sanctuary, humans work for the elephants (not the other way around). Just three elephants reside here, along with plenty of rescued cats, dogs and injured wildlife, which the sanctuary works to rehabilitate and release. Travellers and volunteers report high satisfaction in learning about Asian elephants here, as well as observing them, preparing food for them, cleaning the areas they inhabit and helping care for other rescued animals.

Most visitors stay for a week, though shorter programs with overnight stays on Monday or Thursday or sequences of three nights (Monday to Thursday or Tuesday to Friday) are also possible. Thai-style accommodation is basic, with private or shared rooms containing floor mattresses, mosquito nets and fans. Bathrooms are all shared, with Western toilets. Day visits are also an option, but guests must transport themselves.

There is of course no riding, bathing or interacting with elephants whatsoever, which animal welfare groups consider harmful and dangerous for everyone involved. For those visitors who stay for multiple nights, additional activities include teaching English to school children, tree-planting, cooking classes, temple visits, river tubing and visiting a local weaving village.

The sanctuary is located 2½ hours southwest of Chiang Mai, and offers rides to and from the city.