Elephant Hills has been on my bucket list since I sent my first clients there, back in 2008.
It took me a while, but I finally managed to tick that dream trip off last summer, in the second of my 2022 adventures in Thailand. [Click here to read about my first].
Having spent a few days in Bangkok, I took the one-hour flight to Phuket with the excellent Thai Smile early on a Monday morning.
Elephant Hills was the country’s first luxury tented elephant camp and is situated in Khao Sok National Park in Southern Thailand, about a two-hour transfer from Phuket Airport.
Although it was raining, it was still very warm and I spent the journey in an excited state of anticipation, aided by the welcome coffee, my driver stopped for en route.
Incredibly tranquil with the sound of wildlife all around, I couldn’t quite believe I had finally made it here.
The check-in was quick and the tented accommodation is impressively big with a proper bed and full-size bathroom with shower. This is glamping at its best.
All meals are communal with a huge choice of locally sourced food from the buffet stations. With big wooden benches and a very reasonably priced bar, it’s a great way to mingle with others, and despite travelling alone, I never felt uncomfortable.
After being split into groups for the activities, lunch was served. A great buffet selection included salads, soups, spring rolls, noodles, rice with various sauces and both meat and veggie options followed by delicious fresh fruits, ice creams and other mouth-watering desserts.
No time for a siesta after all that food. You’re off canoeing - well I was anyway. There are lots of other activities available too including kayaking, lake swimming and a pool on site if you feel the need to cool off.
Next up was the main event: visiting and feeding the elephants.
We hopped into the ranger’s vehicle for the quick journey, and it is a truly magical feeling when these magnificent creatures come into view.
We were shown a short film that explains the history of the elephants here and how they came to be at Elephant Hills.
It is totally forbidden to ride the elephants, a practice which thankfully has become less acceptable globally.
The Elephant Hills Experience is a unique concept that was implemented in 2010 when elephant riding was stopped here and replaced by a far more interactive and respectful option to encounter these phenomenal pachyderms.
Guests can get up close to meet the elephants, stroke them and watch them enjoy an extensive bath in a big mud pool, before preparing and feeding them one of their daily meals.
They really are enormous up close and it’s easy to see their unique personality traits with some mischievous and others shyer. They know that they’re about to be fed, so they try to grab food with their trunks from the containers you are holding.
The Mahouts (elephant trainers) are with them the whole time and provide information about each elephant and it’s impossible not to be in total awe.
Cutting the food for these guys is a fun activity - sugar cane, bananas and pineapple - then learning how to make up the oat-type food placed in a banana leaf, all with very special flavours.
Fun Fact: Asian elephants are vegetarian and can eat up to 200kg of food per day, the equivalent of over eight suitcases weighing 23kg each. Imagine the excess baggage on that!
After our experience with them, the elephants are released back into their large free-roaming pen, where guests can watch them play, interact and graze in their natural environment.
I had booked the two-night Jungle and Lake Safari stay and after an exciting day’s adventure, the evening began with a performance of songs from local school children dressed in traditional costumes, followed by a live cooking demonstration of how to make a Pad Thai, which was thoroughly enjoyed by all.
The buffet dinner for human guests is also plentiful with a good mix of local dishes, fruits, salads and delicious desserts.
After dinner, you are free to grab a drink from the bar and chill, play board games and cards, and mingle with other guests in the beautiful surroundings. With the mixture of early starts and very fresh natural air, most people retired by around 9pm.
After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, we set off with overnight bags to a local viewpoint with stunning scenery extending for miles and a meandering river to gaze at and enjoy the natural world and surroundings. It was serene and beautiful.
The journey to the lake safari is about an hour by long-tailed boat. The scenery is picture postcard spectacular and there is lots of exciting wildlife to look out for en route.
As the camp comes into view, it’s exhilarating to see the floating tents and know that what lies ahead is going to be fantastic.
Lunch is served on arrival with a similar set-up as the rainforest camp; buffet, and plenty of it. Afterwards, an optional guided rainforest hike is provided to experience the wildlife and fauna.
I opted instead to take this rare opportunity to simply sit outside my tent and be - enjoying the unique tranquillity of the surroundings and memorably observing the gibbons swinging in the trees, calling to each other. It was incredible.
There is no connectivity here at all, no Wi-Fi, no phone signal and no interruptions. It was an absolute joy to just stop for 24 hours and absorb the ambience and environment.
There is ample opportunity for a dip in the lake to cool down before an early evening meal, after which the rangers were available to chat with. I enjoyed chatting and playing games with my fellow guests in a lovely relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
The glorious gibbons had me awake at 4:30 am but I didn’t mind in the slightest - it was part of the once-in-a-lifetime experience and I threw myself into listening to the surrounding nature.
After breakfast, the kayaks were out for an escorted trip down the river and a chance to take in the joy of the lush green rainforest’s scenery, sounds and wildlife.
There was time for a final swim in the lake before getting changed, saying farewell to the incredible staff and newfound friends and boarding the return trip back to the pier, where the rest of my luggage and transfer back to the real world awaited.
Elephant Hills is indescribable, though I have done my best to hopefully provide some insight. It exceeded my expectations, and I cannot recommend it highly enough for families, couples or those travelling solo as I did.
It does get booked up well in advance, so it’s advisable to book early and very excitingly, the new Elephant Hills Bush Camp in Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand has recently opened and is also now bookable.
Contact me for further details.