Part of what makes Thailand, and Phuket, such an incredible place to visit is the abundance and variety of wildlife that calls the region home. Of course, the best way to see any animal is in the wild or on a proper reserve, but that isn’t always possible or safe. Moreover, many animals have been horribly exploited for both labour and tourism, so can no longer survive without human help either: that’s where sanctuaries come in.
The wonderful people who work and volunteer in these sanctuaries dedicate their lives to making sure that animals can live a happy and fulfilling life, even if they’ve been born into the worst of circumstances. However, when you are choosing which sanctuary to visit you have to be careful, as there are a number of unscrupulous and even downright abusive businesspeople masquerading as sanctuaries.
How to choose an ethical Phuket animal sanctuary
We’ve compiled a list of some of the most ethical animal sanctuaries in Phuket below, but if you want to explore further there are a few simple tips you can follow to make sure you’re avoiding contributing to an exploitative business.
If you stick to these three simple rules then you should be able to revel in the majesty of Phuket’s wildlife without accidentally contributing to abuse and the destruction of their habitats.
(1) Check the reviews for anything that seems suspicious.
(2) Try to find places that involve minimal touching of normally wild animals. In some cases, this is impossible, especially with regards to elephants, as the animals have been so traumatised they need help and are used to the contact. However, you should never, ever ride an elephant. Dog and cat sanctuaries are obviously different, as they can be easily domesticated.
(3) There is no such thing as an ethical tiger sanctuary in Phuket that allows you to pose with them. If you are offered the chance to take any pictures, even with harmless cubs, then you are somewhere which drugs and exploits animals, and you should leave immediately. If they let you watch the animals from a distance as they roam, then you are probably fine.
With all of that being said, here are some sanctuaries that we at Orbzii love, not just for their strong ethics but for everything else they do too.
Phuket’s animal sanctuaries
Green Elephant Sanctuary Park
Elephants are smart, sensitive, and some of the most majestic creatures in the animal kingdom. Thailand (and most of this region of the world) have used domesticated elephants in trade and industry for centuries, but luckily nowadays attitudes are changing, and the barbaric practices of whipping and cutting elephants to control them are becoming less and less popular.
However, this abuse does still exist, and many elephants need to be rescued. Green Elephant Sanctuary Park is at the forefront of this fight.
The park uses the much more stringent European animal protection laws in their charter, and they have over 40,000 square metres of land in which to let the freed elephants roam. They also have a focus on sustainability and renewable resources, which only adds to their excellent reputation.
Green Elephant Sanctuary Park’s most popular tour is the half day visit, and it’s one of the best ways to see an elephant in Phuket. You can either do the morning or afternoon, and each session is six hours. You get the opportunity to feed the elephants, before learning more about this glorious animal and the park instead.
You’re then allowed to have a mudbath with the elephants and wash them off with a hose, which they seem to really enjoy; sometimes the elephants even frolic about!
The day is capped off with an authentic Thai buffet. You will need a change of clothes, a swimsuit, a towel, insect repellent, and sunscreen. The half day tour costs 2,500 Baht (GBP 62) for over ten’s, 1.900 Baht (GBP 47) for children aged five to ten, and free for children four and under.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket is one of the biggest in Phuket and encompasses jungle and beach views in the grounds. The tour option is incredibly similar to Green Elephant Sanctuary Park, offering the same pick up and drop off service, and the same general tour.
Much like its compatriot, you can do a morning or afternoon tour, and this includes meeting the elephants, feeding them, having a mud bath with them, and then swimming with them. You then get to jump in the “elephant shower” with them, before having some traditional Thai food and saying goodbye one last time. They also offer a free photo service, so you can get some great snaps without worrying about accidentally clogging your camera or phone with mud.
The costs are exactly the same as Green Elephant Sanctuary, although instead of five to ten-year old’s costing 1,900 Baht, the age range is four to ten. Kids under four go free.
Orbzii tip: if you want a truly special memory for your Thai trip and you’re willing to part with a little more money, you can opt for the all day, overnight programme. This is much more hands on, involving making soap and other useful items out of elephant excrement, and becoming much more knowledgeable about elephants and the work the sanctuary does. You also get the chance to sleep on the reserve in special glamping units, so you can really take in the experience.
This costs 8,500 Baht (GBP 210) for adults, and 7,500 Baht (GBP 187) for kids aged seven to ten. Children under seven are not allowed on the overnight tour.
Not quite a sanctuary, but definitely worth a couple of hours if you’re keen to see wildlife in Phuket, Monkey Hill is just what it says on the tin.
To climb the hill should only take an hour or so at most, and you will see plenty of macaque monkeys on the way up, and many more at the top. It’s not recommended to feed the monkeys, but a dedicated local older gentleman will usually drive up and give them fruit around midday, at which point they’ll all congregate and you can get a few snaps.
The monkeys a curious bunch but will mostly leave you alone, unless you have some food, at which point you may get accosted by our furry friends. Delightful and just the right amount of excitement, it’s definitely worth the short drive from Old Town.
Although obviously focused on rescuing gibbons, the Gibbon Project sanctuary takes a holistic approach to how we look after our planet and how that messes with our wild friends and their habitats, so is incredibly big on green initiatives.
The focus here is rehabilitation and release back into the wild instead of long-term care, but this doesn’t always go to plan as reintroduction is by no means an exact science. They also focus on raising awareness about how the tourism industry, specifically rich Westerners posing with baby animals, fuels the exploitation of these wonderful creatures.
There is no fee to enter the sanctuary but there is a 200 Baht (GBP 5) fee for adults and 100 Baht (GBP 2.50) for children to enter Khao Phra Thaeo National Park, where the centre is located.
Soi Dog Sanctuary
Cats and dogs may not be as elusive or exotic as elephants and monkeys, but they still deserve a chance at a decent life, and Soi Dog Sanctuary believes this too. They take in many strays, rescuing them from all over Thailand but mostly Phuket. Then, they sterilise, vaccinate, nurse, home, and then rehome the animals, making sure they can live out the rest of their lives happily.
They’re always looking for volunteers and donations, but if you just want to visit for a day that’s possible too. Entry is free, and you get a forty-minute tour around the shelter, as well as learning about their great work changing attitudes about cats and dogs in Thailand, and trying to stop the dog meat trade.
There are over 1,300 animals in their care at any given time, so it’s quite hectic, but you will also get the chance to spend some time in the puppy enclosure, which is predictably adorable. Donations are much appreciated, and they have a store where you can buy merchandise.
If you’re excited to see wildlife ethically in Thailand, then download the Orbzii app today to Dream, Plan, and Book your next adventure.