Adventure Animal Tourism Asia Backpacking Ecotourism Hiking Thailand Travel

Jungle Trekking in Thailand With an Ethical Elephant Encounter

I landed in Thailand without a plan and quickly found myself up north in the quaint town of Chiang Mai. A place where accommodation is cheap, temples are ubiquitous, and trekking with elephants is the thing everyone is talking about.

So naturally, I ended up on a spontaneous 5 day/4 night jungle trek with three Brits, an Irishman and four Thai guides.

After much deliberation and hunting for ethical and socially responsible elephant encounters, I went with a small family-run tour company called Chiang Mai Trekking with Piroon.

Searching for a tour company that does not allow tourists to ride their elephants (which has been proven to be extremely bad for the elephant’s spine) was difficult, to say the least.  Many companies advertise “no riding,” but when asked if riding the elephants was an option, they said yes.

The few companies I did find in my research that appeared to genuinely be ethical were Western-run operations, and required booking to be done far in advance.

Bottom-line: if you are looking for a flexible jungle trek designed around your interests, that includes an elephant encounter and authentic local cuisine while supporting locally run businesses- then I highly recommend choosing Chiang Mai Trekking with Piroon.

Cost: The total cost of the all inclusive 5 day/4 night trek was 45,000 Thai Bhat or 9,000 Bhat/person (between 5 of us on the trek). In the end, I paid $262 USD for my portion. Piroon the owner was extremely flexible and worked with us to negotiate the type of trek we wanted and the price.

If you are traveling solo, don’t worry. Ask around at your hostel to see if anyone is interested in joining to get the cost of your trek down. It is worth it!

Every moment was an adventure, from the moment of drop off in the jungle to the moment we said goodbye to our bamboo raft.

We cooked, ate, drank, rafted and lived off of bamboo. Literally. The Thai guides hacked down bamboo and widdled utensils, plates, pots, and even a raft for us. They then proceeded to hunt for our food and cooked it all in the bamboo kitchenware they made on the spot. They even made us bamboo shot-glasses for us to enjoy the “happy water” (Thai moonshine) they generously provided.

We bathed with elephants in streams, ate by campfires, bushwhacked up and down hills and passed the time with rhyming and memory games.

The views fell nothing short of picturesque, complete with banana trees, rickety bridges, buffalo grazing and bamboo groves for days.

We discovered the countless nifty tricks that the various Thai plants and insects possess that our guides Ping and Two eagerly pointed out along the way.

Beyond that, I made four new friends and created incredible and unique memories.

I say all this to say, get yourself to the north of Thailand and let the local guides at Chiang Mai Trekking with Piroon take you on the experience of a lifetime!!

If you want to get a better idea of what trekking in Thailand entails, check out my video Trekking through Thailand.


Anna French

Anna is an optimist with pessimistic tendencies who enjoys making a short story long, her coffee black, and watching Friends re-runs. These days you can catch her in her natural habitats wandering through forest roads in her van, hiking to a waterfall or glacial lake, and learning about off-grid living the hard way.

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