Many people dream of riding an elephant when they think of Thailand. When researching our trip we read more and more stories about how you shouldn’t ride elephants. They are wild animals and the process of taming them for humans to ride involves the elephant being beaten and kept in a really tiny cage (You can read more about it here).
There are plenty of other alternative activities you can do to put your money to better use and still get to see these amazing creatures up close.
One of the places that stood out to us was the ELEPHANT NATURE PARK in Chiang Mai. The Park is a home for Asian elephants that have all been rescued and rehabilitated. You can pay to visit for the day or volunteer for a few days or longer. The elephant nature park is a great place to see these incredible animals roaming free in their natural environment and learn all about them.
We were picked up from our hotel Lai-Thai Guesthouse and started the day learning about the sanctuary and how it all started. There was a short video on the ride to the sanctuary explaining where some of the elephants had come from and what they have been through. The park, created by Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, is home to over 60 elephants, most of which have been saved from the tourist industry or illegal logging.
Feeding the Elephants
Once we arrived at the park, we were shown around and then given a big bucket of watermelons and bananas to feed the elephants. We were stood on a raised platform where the elephants could reach up and grab the snacks from our hands. It was incredible to get this close to them! The elephants were eating throughout most of our trip; on average an elephant eats 150-300 kg food per day!
Getting to know the Elephants
We then went on a walk with our guide who introduced us to some of the elephants and told us their stories. It was shocking to hear what some of the elephants have been through. Some of the elephants had been used for illegal logging, some were beaten to become tame for tourist’s to ride them and we even met a baby who had been injured in a land mine. Our guide told us how some of the female elephants in the herd adopt and take care of the babies. We got to watch them protect the little one by gathering around him while he ate.
After wandering around the park and watching the elephants we were given a delicious vegetarian lunch and then had time to relax in the peace and quiet of the sanctuary. The views were spectacular – a great home for the elephants.
After lunch we got to bath the elephants in the river. This was really fun! We were given buckets and stepped into the river with the elephants. We splashed them with the cool river water while they enjoyed some snacks. The elephant we were washing reached down with his trunk into the river, sucked up loads of water and squirted it up into the air. We got soaked! – it was a great way to cool down in the baking midday sun.
The park is not just home to elephants – they also care for buffalo, cats and dogs. By visiting Elephant Nature Park you are supporting the care and rehabilitation of all these animals and get to observe them in a more natural environment were they can enjoy their lives. This was one of the best experiences we had on our whole trip.
The Elephant Nature Park is about an hour out of Chiang Mai, we were picked up by a mini bus that leaves at 8am.
A visit to the Elephant Nature Park is 2,500 bhat (£50) for a full day of feeding, bathing and learning about the elephants.
Chiang Mai Cooking School