08 Dec Review: Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary + Hill Tribe Homestay
Southeast Asia has its fair share of elephant camps, sanctuaries, and various other elephant attractions. Nature & Wildlife tours, as well as trekking tours to the hill tribe villages, are some of the top things to do in Chiang Mai.
While visiting elephants sounds exciting, visitors should be aware that the thriving travel market in Northern Thailand produces a wide variety of elephant tours – from responsible, ethical tour organizations all the way down to tourist traps that are exploiting and abusing animals in order to turn a profit. (Stay tuned for a future blog post on finding responsible elephant tours and experiences.)
The tour we’re reviewing in this post features interaction with elephants along with a hill tribe homestay, so you get both the animal and conservation experience alongside authentic opportunities for cultural exchange. This is a relatively new elephant sanctuary in a remote village, about a five hour drive from Chiang Mai. It’s probably one of the only places where you’ll encounter Asian elephants actually living in their natural environment. It was co-founded by a passionate zoology graduate from Ireland and a Thai mahout (elephant caretaker) who grew up with elephants in the Karen hill tribe village where they operate.
Learn more about the Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary & Hill Tribe Homestay tour on Visit.org, the largest discovery and booking platform for impactful travel experiences hosted by do-good organizations around the world.
Who should visit Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary and Hill Tribe Homestay?
We include this section because although we loved our visit, we think it’s important to be up front that this tour is not for everyone.
- This is an amazing opportunity if you love animals and want to learn more about Asian elephants in particular!
- You must be fit and prepared to hike, including potentially walking through a river and climbing steep off-trail sections to reach the elephants.
- The cross-cultural exchange and overnight homestay experience should be a high value for you. This is what sets Kindred Spirit apart from many other elephant tours and it will be a large part of your visit. If you simply want to touch and take pictures with elephants, consider trying a different program. We’ve heard good things about Elephant Nature Park
from other travelers.
- Related to the homestay experience, you should be prepared to stay in a remote village with very basic conditions. There is electricity but cell service is limited. If you’re not accustomed to squat toilets and bucket showers, we would encourage you to take this opportunity to stretch yourself! However, if you’re the kind of person who, for example, avoids camping because of the dirt, bugs, lack of fine dining, and other discomforts, perhaps this isn’t the right place for you.
- You should have at least two days free for this tour. Although we made special arrangements and had an incredible one-night trip, the travel time from Chiang Mai is really better suited to a longer stay.
About the Homestays:
- Homestays are with local families in the village who rotate through hosting guests.
- Homes are very basic with squat toilets and bucket showers. There is electricity but cell service is only available in certain corners of the village. Each homestay does have a water filter.
- Homestays have been trained to cook meals using local ingredients that are “Western-friendly.” Our dinner was locally picked rice with a stir fry of vegetables from the garden and eggs. (Our host family then made their own separate meal afterward with lots of chili peppers!)
We found this tour to be very memorable and worthwhile. We learned a ton from co-founder, Kerri, and project assistant, Talia, about elephant behavior and the challenges facing elephant conservation projects in Thailand. Thanks to the immersive experience and all the questions we asked along the way, we walked away with a deeper awareness about elephants, animal welfare, Karen culture, and rural village life that we would have never experienced otherwise.
We were highly impressed by KS Sanctuary’s integration into village life and their commitment to partnering with the community in everything they do. Tour activities like the homestay with a family, teaching English at the school, or basket weaving with a village elder, are great ways to support and empower community members. We love that cultural education and exchange is integral to the visitor’s experience because it really makes this tour unique and memorable.
As we said before: though we enjoyed and recommend this tour, we recognize that it’s not for everyone. If you’ve read our “Who Should Visit” section and it still seems like a good fit, you can learn more and book a 2-3 day tour on Visit.org. Kindred Spirit also has opportunities to host longer-term volunteers, interns, and researchers for anyone interested in a rural village homestay with hiking and elephants.
Special thanks to Visit.org, who partially sponsored our tour, and the staff at Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary for making special arrangements for us!
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