Pang La Sanctuary is located in a quiet valley east of Lampang between kilometers 57-58 on Highway 1, the road to Chiang Rai. The valley, faced with beautiful limestone cliffs, is rich in natural food and water. The Sanctuary presently houses 32 'problem elephants', elephants far past any commercial or working usefulness. Pang La is basically a hospice, a place where most of the elephants are privately-owned animals brought to die a quiet and peaceful death - sometimes very slowly - well cared for until the end.
Pang La is not geared to tourists, but it can be visited in the morning when some of the elephants are brought down from the hills for treatment and inspection.
The simplest, and the happiest, cases are a few healthy but old elephants retired by the Forest Industry Organization, the Thai Elephant Conservation Center's parent organization. Most of Pang La's residents are crippled elephants entrusted to FIO to provide care. A few of the cripples suffer from congenital deformities or early malnutrition but many have grotesques injuries caused by accidents, usually long ago logging accidents (a leg smashed by a log sliding downhill, spinal injuries from being toppled over by a runaway log, etc.). Fortunately, such mishaps are exceedingly rare since the Thai government banned all commercial logging in 1989.
A few other elephants are kept at Pang La simply because they are so dangerous that they are virtually useless in a work situation.
Pang La is a sad place, but also one with warm human qualities. Each elephant has a devoted keeper and excellent veterinary care. Elephants that in the West would probably be 'euthanized' are kept kindly with a good quality of life. This care was a huge financial burden for FIO until 2010, when the Thai government decided to fund salaries and other costs.
Pang La Sanctuary once had happier days as the Young Elephant Training School, the TECC's precursor. In logging days, the school's duty was to nurture and train calves during the 20 years before they became big and strong enough to drag and stack logs. In 1992 all of the healthy and good-natured elephants at Pang La were moved to the TECC, which was established to provide work and income lost with the end of logging.