Haven’s Jungle GymHaven’s Jungle Gym



Samui Elephant Haven Founder Maew Suriya

Maew Suriya, the founder of Samui Elephant Haven, gives an insight into his personal journey that led to the creation of this extraordinary reserve for rescued elephants.

“At the age of seven, some 30 years ago, my parents moved from the Surin Province to run a circus. Even from this young age, it was my dream to create a sanctuary for elephants – a real haven for them to live out their lives happily and roaming free.

For many generations, my family has worked with elephants, and it was always my vision to give elephants a happy life. I trained as an accountant but always felt that something was missing. I was fortunate enough to visit Lek Chailert at Elephant Nature Park; this is where I believed that my dream was possible. That visit was the inspiration behind Samui Elephant Haven.

We opened Samui Elephant Haven in August 2018 and since opening, we have achieved so much. To date, we have rescued 14 elephants from across Thailand and from the tourist-trekking industry. The elephants living at Samui Elephant Haven previously endured stressful lives. With that life behind them, these lucky elephants are now free to express their natural instincts without fear – interacting with each other in beautiful natural surroundings, foraging on native plants, and playing together in their custom-built and natural pools and mud pits. Visitors to the sanctuary, experience meaningful encounters with these magnificent animals in an environment where they are respected, and revered.

I chose love over money

Samui Elephant Haven does not offer bathing with elephants; not only is this behaviour cruel, but it doesn’t allow the elephants to play without restrictions, as they would in nature.

A day at the Haven is always busy. Elephants eat for up to 18 hours a day, so a lot of food has to be provided. As herbivores, elephants consume grasses, tree foliage, bark, twigs, and other vegetation daily; not to mention bananas, juicy watermelon and coconuts. An elephant will drink almost 200 litres of water a day – that is like a bathtub full of water! With this amount of food, you can imagine the amount of cleaning that goes with it. The mahouts spend their days with their elephants ensuring that they are safe and cared for. Restaurant staff prepare delicious vegetarian lunches and dinners for our hungry guests. Drivers provide transfers to and from the hotels and other lodging facilities. Rescues are planned, enclosures are built, elephant behaviours are studied, and footage for social media is taken — all of this plus the usual commitments of running a busy office.

At Samui Elephant Haven, we offer two tours a day: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I try to welcome all of the guests personally. We serve refreshments upon arrival, and there is a little talk about the safety aspects that guests need to be aware of, a short educational video which gives an insight into unethical trekking and other practices and the reason why we rescue so many gentle giants. The guides provide detailed explanations to elephant behaviour and chat with the guests; they are always available to answer any questions.

By merely visiting Samui Elephant Haven, guests are helping. Visitors enable us to continue running the sanctuary and rescuing more elephants. We have a gift shop where guests can purchase items that have been ethically sourced and produced on the island. Our local community is an excellent support to us. Beautiful bins were donated by Samui Art Bins; a volunteer group that makes disposing of trash fun and very colourful!

My plan and dream is to buy land so that we have complete security for our ever-growing herds; to continue to educate people about ethical tourism and to say “no” to trekking and bathing and to always continue to rescue poorly treated elephants.

We are motivated by a desire to free elephants from a hard life working in antiquated forms of elephant tourism and provide a caring home where the elephants can recover from the trauma of their past, and live in nature with peace and dignity.

The inspiration for this project comes from the work of renowned elephant rights advocate, Sangduean ‘Lek’ Chailert. Guided by Lek’s ‘Saddle Off’ model, promoted by Save Elephant Foundation and Asian Elephant Projects; we have embraced this evolution in elephant tourism.

Guests visiting Samui Elephant Haven have the opportunity of feeding these gentle giants and observing their spontaneous behaviour. Elephants play together in their pools and mud pit. They communicate with each other using both sounds and their trunks, forage for food and roam through the tropical grounds. Our goal is simple – to provide a happy, loving home for our herd of rescued elephants where visitors can come and experience the majesty of these remarkable animals in nature.”


Samui Elephant Haven is located on the northernmost coastline of Koh Samui and spans over 60 rai (just over 23 acres) and nestles in rolling hills and verdant jungle interspersed with natural lakes and manmade pools.

The park has perimeter fencing to ensure that the elephants don’t roam or come to any harm: there are various enclosures for them to nurture their young, recover from illness or rest from a busy day of play.

A large viewing platform forms the heart of the sanctuary and is where guests can peacefully watch the herds of elephants play without caution, interact with each other as they would in nature and bathe together. This large, open space is home to the vegetarian restaurant and the ethical shop.


Beautiful Beach of Koh Samui, Thailand

Koh Samui is the second-largest island in Thailand and lies on the eastern coast of the Kra Isthmus; the narrowest part of the Malay Peninsula, in southern Thailand and is bordered to the west by the Andaman Sea and in the east, the Gulf of Thailand.

It is thought that the island was first inhabited by fishermen from the Malay Peninsula some 15 centuries ago.

The meaning of the name ‘Koh Samui’ is not entirely known but Koh is the Thai word for island. Samui may have come from a Sanskrit-Tamil word meaning ‘sea-weather’. It is also home to a tree called ต้นสมุย which translates into ’Samui Tree’. Another possibility is that it came from Hainanese traders who used the island as their first port of call, or the Malay word ‘saboey’, which means ‘safe haven’.

Koh Samui extends 228.7 km2 (88.3 sq mi) and is mostly covered tropical jungle. In the centre of the island Khao Pom Mountain majestically rises 635 metres above sea level. Nathon, on the west coast, was the original capital of the island and still houses many government offices and two major piers for transportation to the mainland and the port for fisheries. It remains an important business hub for Thais.  Since the opening of the airport, much of the commercial activity takes place in Chaweng and Bophut in the north.

Koh Samui’s economy is based on the export of coconut and rubber and the flourishing tourism industry. Economic growth has brought not only prosperity but also significant changes to the island’s environment and culture.

The 51-kilometre 4169 ring road encircles the entire island with a multitude of secondary roads and lanes that branch off and service other areas. Many of the mountain roads are still tracks and only accessible by serious 4×4 vehicles.

Samui Elephant Haven is ideally located for some of the most sought after locations in Koh Samui.

Chaweng is thought to have the island’s best beaches and is central to some of the most exceptional nightlife, restaurants and bars and lies only 20 minutes from Samui Elephant Haven.

A 12 metre-tall golden Big Buddha, locally known as Wat Phra Yai, sits contemplatively on a small, rocky island in the north and offers spectacular views. It lies15 minutes from Samui Elephant Haven.

Various piers offer transportation to other local islands and exciting day trips in the Gulf of Thailand. From the haven, Nathon Pier 30 minutes; Bang Rak Pier 15 minutes; Lipa Noi 40 minutes.

On the east coast lies Lamai beach and town, only 30 minutes away from Samui Elephant Haven, the little sister to Chaweng. It has a great evening market on Sundays and boasts Hin Ta Hin Yai!


The shop has collections of products from artists and ethical suppliers, the majority of which, are sourced from Koh Samui. There are gifts and souvenirs for children and adults and are light-weight with travel in mind. Digital items are in our online store, we do not ship internationally so that we do not leave a carbon footprint. All of the proceeds are invested directly back into the Haven. Many of the items in both shops have been gifted to Samui Elephant Haven by local and international artists or are handmade products by the mahouts.


Heather Anderson is a passionate supporter of Samui Elephant Haven and an artist, jewellery designer and published children’s book author with almost 30 years of experience in the design and advertising industry. She is passionate about the Haven’s elephants and not only does she appear in ‘The Painted Elephant’ colouring book, but has also produced multi-coloured elephant stickers which are added to the forever ‘Wall of Elephants’.


Together with artists from around the world, we created a magical elephant colouring book for adults and children. Samui Elephant Haven invites guests to share their completed pictures so that they can display them on ‘The Painted Elephant’ wall, which is also in the restaurant. The book has been printed on jungle friendly paper and is sold in the shop or is sold digitally online.