If you’ve been to, researched, or plan to go to Thailand I am 99% sure you’ve seen photos of tourists, with or on top of elephants.
When planning our trip to Chiang Mai, elephants were a must for me. But we knew that riding the elephants was bad for them and that the elephants are mistreated in most “sanctuaries” or parks. So after some extensive research, we chose to book with the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai and oh my goodness, it was the best decision ever.
I am going to lay out the package that we chose, the experience from getting picked up to dropped off, the education we received while there, plus some tips and tricks for you.
We didn’t want to feel rushed so we went with the two day, one night package where you stay at the actual park.
The rooms were way nicer than I had expected. The beds are no 5 star resort status, but the rooms are very well kept, there was wifi, and even hot water! I was seriously expecting a hut. So in this case, low expectations paid off big time.
For three people we paid just over $500 USD for the entirety of our trip.
The van picked us up at 8am and we arrived at the park by 9:30am. On the way we watched an overdramatized documentary about how mistreated elephants are in Thailand, the abuse they endure, and the natural life they are stripped of when taken into the performing arts, used for riding, logging, and forced breeding. It made me roll my eyes a few times, BUT the information IS valid. I could have lived without the drama.
Upon arriving, we were briefed by out guide, set down our backs and head straight to the main deck where we fed the elephants watermelon and bananas.
Throughout the tour we began to see that this is an everyday schedule for the elephants. They know what happens next, and what is supposed to be happening. They are so intelligent and freaking adorable.
After feeding the elephants, we were taken on a nature walk where the guide explains what they do there, where they rescue elephants from, and we got to meet some of the elephants + learn their stories. Several had broken hips from forced breeding, wrapped, deformed feet from logging accidents, had deformed ribcages from wearing the saddle for 8-12 hours per day everyday or were blind from the circus lights. Most were previously malnourished. On the nature walk they showed us before photos of these elephants well.
Here you can see a newly rescued four year old elephant and her “nanny.” The older female elephants will chose younger ones to take care of. They claim and adopt them for lack of a better term. It’s the most endearing thing ever. Your heart will melt. IT’S FINE.
The park also hosts water buffalos and over 400 dogs among other animals.
After the nature walk, we ate lunch. The buffet was great a well. Much better than expected, AGAIN. Apparently ya girl just had really low expectations.
We got our room assignments and had some free time after lunch.
In the afternoon we met some of the elephants that we’d be interacting with on day two. The park is completely open. This makes it a joy to witness the elephants roam freely. Each elephant as a mahout – thier trusted human that stays with them most of the day.
We happened to be out and about when two siblings were being naughty and crossed the river. The other side of the river does not belong to the Elephant Nature Park, so this is a no-no.
Then it was dinner, and off to bed.
Day two is really where it’s at. So our tour was from Sunday to Monday. This meant that only two teams, 16 people were staying the night. This also meant we go a private tour in the morning before the day tours started arriving. #winning and totally not planned.
7:00am breakfast and straight to the Hurd of nine elephants. We filled up bags with watermelon and bananas, then followed the elephants to a new area. We stayed down wind because if they smelled our food, they’d stop and expect to be fed. Sneaky buggers.
In an open area, our two groups split up to feed two of the elephants (they rotate daily taking turns getting fed). The sound it makes when you hear them crunch the watermelon in one bite is insane! And it’s so cool to feel and see the dexterity they have with their trunks. They are truly gentle giants…until you mess with a baby.
The herd we were with included nice female elephants. This particular herd surrounds and lives for the “baby” who happened to be 8 years old at the time. Where she goes, they go, protecting her at all costs. Which we got to see first hand, and yes, I cried.
I am not even an animal activist, I don’t love dogs more than people. But seeing this WILD and raw instinctual behavior got me good!
The baby wandered off to her favorite plants. Our guide explained that the herd did not follow but is ALWAYS aware of her location. A mischievous dog startled the baby and in the blink of an eye the baby cried out and the 8 other elephants went from gentle giants to terrifying beast mode. It all happened so fast. They ran over, surrounding the baby in two circles going opposite directions while making THE MOST noise you can imagine. Trunks and tails raised, kicking up dust, all to protect the youngster.
Words cannot describe the incident. No one got their phone out fast enough to record. We were rushed to the top of the hill and out of harms way the second our guide heard the baby cry out. All because “smiley” (the dog) startled her.
The elephants were all aggressively pooping and peeing after, I assume from an adrenaline rush. I have no idea, but it was definitely a thing. Paige looked at me and said “oh my gosh I have goose bumps.” I looked at her with welling eyes and said “I’m crying!” It was a lot to take in, okay?!
The elephants were on high alert after that so we kept our distance, only the mahouts remained near the elephants.
Day two could have ended there and I’d have been satisfied. But it just got better.
We met three older elephants that stick together, always with the blind friend in the middle, guiding her along. While one gets her foot wrapped daily, the other two wait for her outside and make known that they are missing their third friend. I don’t know technical terms, but it seemed as though they were calling for her. She hobbled over quickly to them when finished. They are SO relational. Much more than I expected.
When feeding the blind one, we had to touch her trunk so she knew where we were and avoided startling her.
Lunch was somewhere in here…
Our day ended with making food for the elder elephants (70+ years old) whose teeth are all but gone. They might be old, but their trunks are quick! Paige and I had the task of feeding ONE elephant who tosses food into her mouth so fast it took two of us to keep her satisfied. Where other elephants carry the food all the way to their mouth with their trunk, she just tosses it into her mouth with a quick flick. Girlfriend can EAT.
After that, we packed up, and headed home. We were back to our airbnb by 5:30pm.
It’s worth mentioning that there was a skywalk being built where we fed the animals on day two. Our guide explained that in the future, they would limit interaction with the elephants even less. Visitors would be able to observe from the skywalk rather than being in the area directly with the elephants. This was ONLY in regards to a particular area. But I do know that the goals of the Elephant Nature Park are to rehabilitate these animals, and give them the most “elephant” like life as possible.
I have no idea when the skywalk will be done, but I’m sure you can find more info on their site. You can also “meet the Hurd” before you go.
Our experience at the Elephant Nature Park was better than I expected. Learning about the animals, seeing “before” photos of the condition of these elephants when they were rescued, and witnessing them in the rehabilitation process was truly amazing. I am sure riding an elephant is cool, and bathing them is probs a blast, but in the grand scheme, it is not in the best interest of the animal. And if you choose to visit Elephant Nature Park you will learn ALL OF THE THINGS.
Definitely do an overnight trip if you can. Bring a day pack with sunscreen, tennis shoes, a change of clothes, water bottle and that’s about it. You don’t need much. Bring a camera for sure and maybe some ear plugs for night time. Lots of animals = lots of noise.
The Park is VEGAN. So if you want to bring protein bars or snacks, you’re welcome to. The food was great in my opinion. Especially for the location and setting.
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All photos were taken by Paige Major
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