Wise Blue Yonder

I Hugged An Elephant – And You Can Too!  


Trip Review: Wise Blue Yonder Visits an Thailand Elephant Retirement Park & Sanctuary 

What’s your favorite once-in-a-lifetime (OIL) experience? You know, an experience that you never thought you would have, one you will remember always, and that change a little (or maybe big) part of you forever. 

I am blessed beyond measure because during my lifetime, I have had several. My most recent OIL experience involves getting hugs and kisses from some very impressive elephants in Phuket, Thailand.  If I am being honest, I was a little nervous about navigating an elephant sanctuary with my mobility challenges. But, when given the opportunity for a live, hands-on encounter with elephants (my favorite animal besides dolphins), I put on my Big Girl pants and with the help of my friends and niece, we signed up for a half day hands-on experience with these intelligent, enormous, and magnificent creatures.  

We chose the Elephant Retirement Park Phuket Elephant Care Program – it was exceptional! We’ve curated our trip highlights as well as tips and watchouts for navigating this specific elephant sanctuary with mobility challenges.  

  • Program: Elephant Retirement Park Phuket – Half Day Elephant Care Program 
  • Duration: 3.5 hours 
  • Price: 2600 THB (~USD $70 per person) 

Before You Go 

  • The weather is HOT and humid in Phuket, so wear very light clothes! 
  • Bring sunglasses and sunscreen 
  • Bring a water bottle if you like, however, the staff provides water for drinking once you reach the site 
  • You will receive a locker to place your belongings in so you do not need to plan to carry everything with you.  
  • Pack a swim suit and shoes you don’t mind getting wet. 
  • Bring a walking aid if you have stability challenges. The terrain is very uneven and the elephants come right up to you and even lean against you. 
PRO TIP: If you are sensitive to hot weather, book a morning trip to take advantage of the coolest part of the day. 

Getting There

  • The van pickup is very convenient, but there is a high step to get into the van.  
  • Tell the staff you need assistance – they are FANTASTIC! Our guide was Bee and I absolutely love her! (More on Bee later)  

PRO TIP: Consider bringing a portable step stool to help get in and out of vehicles. 

Experiencing the Elephant Encounter 

The agenda on the site is exactly what you will experience, although the order of events may vary somewhat. There were two groups during out encounter, so we swapped events and elephants on occasion, it was well planned and managed. 

Here’s Wise Blue Yonder’s additional insights for navigating the Elephant Sanctuary with limited mobility. 

Welcome & Introduction

When you arrive, you will sign in at the front entrance, which has a high uneven step. (My friends signed me in so I didn’t have to deal with the step.) 

The team will introduce themselves and tell you about the day’s activities and the sanctuary. (You will meet some elephants right away so be on the lookout for an unexpected elephant encounter!).  


Bee was our guide for the day and she spreads pure JOY to those around her! I told Bee that I had mobility issues and she took great care of me. She stayed by my side, she made sure the other guides kept an eye on the elephants and ensured I was balanced and she made accommodations for me along the way that allowed me to enjoy the majority of the day’s activities. Bee comes from Malaysia, works almost every day of the week and is striving to bring her son to her and her daughter in Phuket. I am looking forward to the day she is able to make that a reality.   


Change Clothes

  • There is a locker area where you can store your belongings. The lockers are stacked with one at floor level and one at waist level. You’ll use a manual padlock to lock and unlock your locker. There is a small step into the area and posts you can use for balance if needed.
  • The changing area and bathrooms where you can change into a swim suit do have a fairly large step, so I needed help getting to the area.
  • We changed clothes during the elephant bathing portion of the day.
  • Many people wear their swim suits under their clothes, remove their coverups for the Elephant Bath, and change into dry clothes following the Elephant Bath.

Prepare Food & Healthy Treats

  • You will walk a small distance (500 yards) to tables where you will prepare medicine and turnips, which you will prepare to feed the elephants. The terrain is very uneven, although at the time of our visit (April 2024), they were paving many of the central areas, so this may improve over time.
  • You can pay 300 BAHT to feed a baby elephant a bottle with their vitamins, or you can feed the adult elephants their vitamins for no additional charge. You can use a credit card to pay the fee if needed.
  • Here people stood at tables and chopped up buckets of turnips to feed to the elephants.
  • The staff also made turmeric balls, which elephants love to eat, and we made a turmeric paste for the elephant Spa experience.

Feeding the Elephants

  • Once the bottles and buckets of food were ready, we walked a short distance (1 – 2 minutes) on a relatively flat path to the elephants. There are benches and areas to sit or lean against, and the staff was very good about managing the elephants for me so that I felt safe and didn’t get taken off balance.
  • You will get to feed the elephants bottles (feeding baby elephants is an additional charge) and you will get to feed them turnips.
  • Elephants will give you a “kiss” and “hug” as a thank you!
  • If you have balance issues, stay close to a friend or ask a guide to help you. But DO get a kiss and a hug, they are the best!

Elephant Spa

  • You will apply the turmeric/mud paste to the elephants using a bucket and paintbrush. The elephants love this because it keeps the flies and insets away and cools them down.
  • You get true “hands on” touches with the elephants since you are coating them with the paste.

Elephant Stroll

  • The group takes the elephants on a walk through a forested area. Here, if you are prone to bugs, you will want to ensure you have bug spray on or covered clothing. 
  • You also will need to navigate uneven terrain and walk for about 30-45 minutes
  • About six visitors stayed back from this portion of the day. I met some very nice people but wish the Sanctuary would have provided an educational talk or an additional encounter for those of us who could not do the walk. 

Elephant Bathing

  • After the walk, the elephants and participants walked into a bathing area and got to swim with and bathe the elephants.
  • Warning: there is a steep, sharp drop off and the surface under the water is rocky, slippery and sharp. One of the people in our group cut her foot and my niece scratched her leg up quite a bit. If you do this and you have mobility challenges, be very careful! Once exiting the bath, people can use nearby showers to rinse off

Shower and Lunch

  • There is an area to shower and change, its about as opposite of 5-star as you can get, but it feels good after the sand, dirt, turmeric, elephant kisses and all the muck.
  • Most people changed into a new set of clothes after the bath.
  • Last, we sat down to a lunch of chicken, rice and vegetables. It was good enough after a busy morning of fun activities.

Program Closeout

  • Following the lunch, Bee visited with us, answered questions and closed the session.
  • The group welcomes and shares tips, which go to the staff and to the sanctuary to continue to help care for the elephants.


While a search for “accessible” elephant sanctuaries brings several choices to your fingertips, we caution you to do your research because more often than not, the experiences we had in Phuket did not match the accessibility information shared with us. Team Wise Blue Yonder can endorse the Elephant Retirement Park Phuket Elephant Care Program with confidence, keeping in mind the caveats and experiences shared above.

If you’re not sure, or if you are looking for support booking a trip to Thailand and have any unique needs, get in touch with us and we’ll plan a trip that works for you and your crew!




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