One of the most unique and incredible experiences available in Thailand is to interact with elephants.
How you choose to do so hopefully is informed. Long before any of my research about the country I thought for sure that I would ride a mighty elephant. Being a nature lover is a part of my identity, of course I’d want to. What I didn’t realize is how it could affect that very creature I adore. Wild elephants would not go freely into human captivity. They are taken from their homes and their spirits are crushed in a process known as ‘phajaan’. They are tortured, tied up, beaten, not allowed to sleep or eat, until they are broken. Speak to anyone who has rode an elephant, they will tell you about their shackles. I am so thankful I came to this understanding before I could have become another part of the horrific tourism. In Thailand, only 3,000-4,000 Asian elephants remain today, their numbers dwindled from what was 100,000 less than one hundred years ago. Half of them are domesticated. Think long and hard before you choose to ride an elephant, and know that you can still connect with elephants, in a positive way.
One of the main reasons I went Chiang Mai was to visit the Elephant Nature Park. Their mission is to rescue elephants in appalling conditions. Tourism is not the only manner in which elephants are suffering in Thailand. The logging industry, poaching, and killing for sport play despicable roles. The organization has rescued over 200 elephants since its beginning in the 1990s and by visiting you can pamper these creatures who have truly earned their place in blissful retirement.
Good to know:
+Book online in advance to secure your date
+Cost varies depending on your choice of trip, for a full day it is currently 2,500 baht – expensive, but on top of the fun you are aiding a good cause
+What’s included: day of activities from approximately 8-5pm, transfer from hotel, vegetarian lunch
+Bring a hat and sunscreen
+If you’re bathing the elephants, bring a change of clothes and towel in case you get soaked
Our group in the height of tourist season was less than ten, it was intimate and our guide was engaging, personable, and full of knowledge. We started slow, feeding an excited elephant from behind a red line.
Getting the feel of how they would take the food from our hands and overcoming any nerves around these epic animals. I loved all of the interesting facts about elephant biology. One difference between Asian and African elephants is that Asians only have one elephant finger on their trunks, while the African has two.
Down into the park with no barriers we were taught to always be aware of our surroundings. Elephants are surprisingly quiet and a whole group of them actually snuck up on us. They walk on their toes and have a padding of fat on their feet allowing them to be virtually silent. We watched them cross the river, they know where the food is.
Our guide took us walking around to meet the elephants, who all have a story of the harsh conditions they were rescued from. Some from logging injuries and many rescued from tourism in Phuket. This poor lady has an infection on her toe, vets are working to heal her, but it is difficult due to the nature of elephants covering themselves with mud.
Frostbite from laying on a cold concrete floor caused a hole in her ear.
This girl is missing her ear all together.
Tragic tales, but the will to survive is evident. We were taken to see the newest rescue, still in a confined area – definitely not ready to be with the public. It was heartbreaking to see the rage in her eyes, hatred for human kind who had hurt her so. Time heals best, and hopefully this elephant will acclimate quickly into the good life as her neighbors have. The rescues adopt each other and form families as they would in nature. They have best friends
They even have aunties.
In nature as well as at the park, a pseudo-mother will pamper and love a baby elephant, just in case anything should happen to her mother. This munchkin was potentially the cutest thing I have seen in my life. It is so much better to walk with these elephants than to ride them.
It’s really the best to downright spoil them. A walk down to the river is the highlight of the day. Grab a bucket, wade in, and get to work!
Some are keen on taking their own baths.
You can genuinely see the smile on the elephants face with each splash. Afterwards, they love taking mud baths.
I was enamored by this particular elephant because of her fangs. Female Asian elephants do not have tusks, but a few have overgrown teeth making them extra beautiful. Most of the rescues are female, but a few males are kept separate, this is the way it would be in nature as well aside from breeding.
There is no intention of breeding them. As you might guess, the elephants are very expensive to maintain. They can consume over 600lbs of food a day. Volunteers and donations are essential. The park does everything it can, even making fertilizer from the resident buffalo and trading with the local farms for food.
Elephants and buffalo aren’t the only creatures around. There are many cats and dogs which were rescued after the floods in 2011.
You can see many of them roaming the premises, or basking in an afternoon nap session.
They are up for adoption! During free time I went straight to the cat enclosure dubbed ‘Cat Kingdom’ to get my feline fix.For those who truly love and respect nature, there is no better place to visit on your trip to Thailand.