Sakon Nakhon has wild elephants living in its deep forests, such as in the Phu Phan National Park area, where additional wild elephants were introduced a decade ago as part of a Royal initiative. However, these elephant communities are located far away from trails, so as to reduce chance encounters by villagers or tourists. Occasionally, these wild elephants will wander onto farms in the Phu Phan district in search of bananas, such as one which famously got bogged down in a pool of mud a few years back, requiring a large rescue operation. But usually the elephants stick to their home territories.
In some Thai provinces, it was not unusual to see elephants walking city roads (ridden by their mahout), especially in tourist areas, such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai. However, laws have been passed recently banning elephants from living in urban areas, and Bangkok has banned elephants from walking the streets. However, you still will see mahouts with their elephants on the streets in some areas of Thailand, but less so in Sakon Nakhon. When you do see street elephants it will be outside the downtown in neighboring villages. Villagers will offer monetary donations to the mahouts, and feed the elephants bananas which are growing in their backyard.
While there have been many reports of mahouts abusing their “begging elephants” in large tourist areas like Bangkok and Phuket, the mahouts in Sakon Nakhon appear to take very good care of their elephants, and are not in the mahout business to make lots of money by targetting Western tourists, as the donations from villagers are simply bananas and small cash and coin donations.
There are no elephant sanctuaries in Sakon Nakhon, nor places where you can ride an elephant. So, there is no guarantee of seeing an elephant up close when visiting Sakon Nakhon, but you may meet one on a village street if you are lucky.
UPDATE: Sakon Nakhon’s first elephant camp has just opened. Located in beautiful natural surroundings about 15 minutes from the city center, the camp offers both elephant rides and elephant shows. If you buy something at their restaurant or coffeehouse, you can get free access to see the elephants. Learn more at: Chang Puak Elephant Camp.