There’s few more fulfilling experiences to be had in Thailand than caring for an endangered species, the Asian elephant. Spending time with elephants has always been a popular tourist attraction in Thailand, but tourists are just now starting to wake up to the fact that riding elephants is harmful. That’s why we sought out an ethical company who is strictly “saddle off” to book a tour with during our trip to Chiang Mai. Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary, taking in animals who are elderly or orphaned, have spent years toiling in the teak logging industry, and who have suffered injuries in circus acts. ENP has greatly enriched the quality of life for these animals, and now cares for a thriving herd that is helping to increase the population of this endangered species.
Elephant Nature Parkelephantnaturepark.org | Follow them on facebook to keep up with their news!
At Elephant Nature Park, you’re able to interact with these gentle giants without exploiting them. Here you spend your time preparing food for the elephants, feeding and bathing them, and walking alongside them, just hanging out with the herd in the jungle. The numbers of visitors per day is limited, so it never feels like a huge crowd. In fact, there were many moments that we experienced one-on-one time with the elephants.
We booked the Elephant Freedom Single Day Tour at one of ENP’s satellite camps at the Mae Wang river just southwest of Chiang Mai. The cost is 2500 baht per adult and 1250 baht per child. We were picked up from our hotel around 8:30am and dropped back off around 4:30pm. The drive was about 45 minutes to get to the camp, and a vegetarian lunch buffet was provided. Our group was small, 16 people (including 4 children), with 7 elephants to care for. This is definitely a kid friendly experience! Though it may seem scary to have your child running around loose elephants, they were well looked after by the guides and mahouts (elephant herders).
Each elephant is assigned a mahout, who was present at all times. Once when a dog started bothering one of the adolescent elephants, he started throwing a tantrum and thrashing around trying to charge the dog, which was kind of scary for us because we were in an open field with no where to flee, but his mahout was able to quickly calm him down simply by speaking to him and making the right body gestures to make sure he didn’t harm us. Additionally, there were 2 guides who spoke English and answered all of our questions about elephants. For example, we found out that elephants life span in the wild is only 60ish years, but they have 100+ year old elephants at ENP! Since they are able to give the elephants soft foods as they grow older, they are able to extend their lifespans.
After lunch, we walked the elephants down to the river for a bath! With buckets and brushes, we splashed them and scrubbed them, and they in turn enjoyed spraying water on us! Then we gathered seed pods that were falling from a nearby tree as a special snack for them. You will definitely get soaking wet, but that’s why ENP provided us all with these green tops as well as drawstring pants so that we wouldn’t have to get our own clothing wet.
I don’t like to use the term “once in a lifetime experience” but I feel it’s an accurate term to describe bathing elephants in a river in Chiang Mai. I’m sure I’ll be back to Thailand, but I probably won’t spend a day with elephants again, so I’m glad that we were able to have such a unique and fulfilling experience with Elephant Nature Park.
If you’d like to book a day with Elephant Nature Park, here’s what you need to know:
· They have their main park near Chiang Mai, but they also have satellite camps all around Chiang Mai like the one we visited. They also have camps in Kanchanaburi near Bangkok, Surin in Southeast Thailand, and Siem Reap in Cambodia.
· You can spend a day there like we did, you can do an overnight trip, or you can volunteer with them for up to 7 days! Prices range from 2500 baht (about $73USD) up to 15,000 baht (about $440USD). They also have a dog rescue program you can volunteer with!
· If this is something you know for sure you want to do, you NEED to book in advance! We started looking about 2 months prior to our trip and our first couple of choices were fully booked already. If this is a must for your trip to Thailand, I would book this excursion first and then build your trip around it.
Follow this link to find out all the ways you can help Elephant Nature Park in their mission to care for these special creatures. (Do it, there’s coffee involved!)
Ready to start planning your trip? Start here:
How We Booked Our Business Class Flight for This Trip for Only $57