One of the main bucket list items I wanted to check off while in Thailand was to see elephants!
Please be careful when planning anything that involves animals. There are two great elephant sanctuaries that I know of in Chiang Mai: Elephant Nature Park and the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.
To be completely honest, I really was looking forward to going to the Elephant Nature Park. It was the first sanctuary for elephants to open in Thailand. They also do a lot of veterinary care for the elephants and me, being a veterinary technician, was really interested in that aspect of it. Unfortunately, they book up very quickly. We were not able to book too far in advance just because we weren’t entirely sure of our schedule so we waited until we arrived in Chiang Mai to actually book our visit to a sanctuary.
Rule of thumb: do NOT go to a “sanctuary” where you also ride them. Bareback or with a saddle; neither are acceptable!
Riding an elephant is inhumane and is actually very harmful to the animal.
Anyways, here’s my experience with the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary!
We decided to do the “Half Day Afternoon” package. They will pick you up right at your hotel to drive you to the sanctuary since it is way up in the jungle mountains! They picked us up at 11:30 am at our hotel. There was a total of 10 people with us. It was about an hour and a half drive to the sanctuary. Beautiful scenery on the way! You see many fields and little villages.
When we arrived they have you change in to the traditional Karen Tribe clothing. Since the Karen Tribe is who works with these elephants, the elephants are familiar with the clothing therefore they like everyone to wear it so that the elephants feel comfortable. In total, there were about 40 people in our group for the afternoon.
Our guide took us to a covered deck to brief us on the history of the sanctuary, how to approach the elephants, and what to expect during your visit. Thankfully the guides all speak English. He was charismatic and funny so listening to him made it fun and easy! I was surprised when he said that this particular sanctuary first opened in 2014, I didn’t realize how new it was. These elephants were all saved from trekking camps and working farms.
I was so excited when it was time to interact with the elephants! We walked across a shaky bamboo bridge to a platform. Then they released the elephants! Three came running down the hill to us! One of the elephants that we were feeding was 72 years old! She was so mellow and calm. They also had two younger ones – 1 ½ and 4 ½ years old. They were both so much smaller than the adults! I didn’t realize it takes so long for them to reach their adult size. We fed them bananas for a while. It was so fun holding out your hand and the elephant wraps its trunk around the banana and put it in its mouth. You can also hold up your hand and say “bon-bon” and the elephant will open its mouth and you can place it right in! Their tongues are giant and their teeth sit farther back in their mouths so you don’t need to worry about them biting you.
We walked back across the wobbly bridge again and fed more elephants and got to really interact with them!
After feeding and taking pictures for a while, we walked down to the mud pit for a mud bath!
Afterwards, we went in to the river to clean off! It was so fun splashing the elephants and playing with them. They were all so sweet!
They do feed you dinner so while they cook you get a chance to walk to a beautiful waterfall and play in the water for a bit. While everyone else went to the waterfall, I selfishly stayed back to spend more one-on-one time with the elephants.
Once everyone returned we sat down and were served dinner. After eating, we all headed back to the covered trucks that we arrived in and headed back to the city of Chiang Mai.
It was a truly incredible experience that I would love to do again! Plus, I like knowing that the money spent to go on this adventure was going towards a good cause of saving elephants and improving their lives.
Here is the link to learn more about the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary: http://www.elephantjunglesanctuary.com/
It breaks my heart that trekking camps even exist and that people still choose to be blind to how these magnificent creatures are treated. Please don’t be naive and spend your money supporting cruelty and abuse. Do your research before choosing to partake in anything that has to do with animals being used for entertainment.
NO ELEPHANT RIDING/TREKKING! NO TIGER KINGDOM! NO MONKEY SHOWS!