Looking for the most ethical elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai? Well, look no further. We spent one unforgettable day at the best elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai.
When travelers are heading to Southeast Asia, many things come to mind. A plethora of options on things to see and do. However, one of the experiences that everyone (including us) seems to want is an elephant experience! The idea of spending a day getting up close and personal with beautiful, gentle giants is one that will sure to be cherished and unforgotten.
We’re here to tell you all about the best elephant sanctuary to volunteer at in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
The Best Elephant Sanctuary In Chiang Mai, Thailand
Choosing The Right Elephant Sanctuary In Chiang Mai, Thailand
First things first, when deciding which organization to go with, educate yourself! You want an ethical elephant sanctuary that has the elephants best interest in min.
Why wouldn’t you want to find an organization that not only makes it the best day for YOU but also the elephant. “How can it be a good day for the elephant,” you ask??
Hmm, how about you DON’T RIDE THEM! Riding elephants will never be ethical.
Why You Shouldn’t Ride Elephants
An elephant’s skeleton is designed to carry a lot of weight however, it is designed to carry this weight from underneath, not on top of its back.
In the wild, elephants don’t let humans ride them. It’s literally not in their physical make up or their nature. So why do tourists expect visiting them in a camp would be any different?
Like we talked about in our Responsible Travel post, tourists don’t understand the impact of their footprint. When tourists visit a country, that country will do everything they can to provide experiences the tourists want.
In this example, elephants are illegally captured and taken out of the wild away from their home and family. From here, they are broken. They are beaten, starved and chained for days on end until their spirit is shattered into submission.
This process is called the “Phajaan” which translate to “to crush.”
After the Phajaan has been complete, the mistreatment of the elephant doesn’t stop. The mahout (elephant trainer) uses bull hooks to poke and prod the elephant to ensure the elephant behaves while the tourists are riding it.
The elephant listens to the mahout out of fear of the bull hook and the memories from the Phajaan. Remember, elephants never forget.
We’re not going to continue to belabor the point. Instead, we’ll let you watch this video.
We will warn you the video is graphic but it will give you an idea of what elephants are put through for the sake of the tourism dollar.
The Best Elephant Sanctuary To Visit In Chiang Mai
Three words, Elephant Nature Park.
We really dove into finding an ethical and sustainable program that works to rehabilitate abused elephants. We ended up researching more and more into it and decided Elephant Nature Park is 100% for us and an organization we want to donate our time and money too.
Another consideration, outside of riding the elephants, is to find out where the organization is getting their elephants from and what their cultural sustainability efforts are.
For example the Elephant Nature Park partners with Thai families who in the past have used elephants for logging. We know what you are thinking, “why would they partner with someone who is so cruel?”
Let’s open our minds for a moment and see the bigger picture.
Elephants being used for logging has been in Thai culture for hundreds of years as a means of income to support villages. It is the only thing they have known for generations.
Ripping out someone’s lively-hood does not create a very sustainable economy. So when we say “partner”, this means that Elephant Nature Park “rents” these elephants on a permanent basis from those families who used to use them for logging while also educating them on treatment of these beautiful creatures.
They even go further into employing these families to assist with the park. It’s a win-win, saving elephants and creating a sustainably economy!
What Do You Wear to An Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai?
Comfortable, loose attire and a good pair of sneakers. You’re going to be outside walking around and it’s going to be hot. If you have clothes that are quick dry or moisture wicking, that is ideal. Also, avoid wearing any clothes you don’t want ruined.
NOTE: Most sanctuaries will give you clothes to wear once you arrive. To should put these over the clothes you have on.
In addition, bring a swim suit. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to bath with the elephants which means you’re going to get wet.
It’s also a good idea to bring an extra change of clothes that you can change into at the end of the day. It’ll make for a more comfortable ride back to your Chiang Mai accommodation.
What Should I Bring to The Elephant Sanctuary?
Be sure to bring an action camera, like a GoPro, so you can get video and photos of your magical day with these gentle giants. Also, bug spray and sunscreen, you’re going to outside in the Thai jungle.
How much is Elephant Sanctuary Chiang Mai?
Depending which organization you go with and what your day itinerary entails, prices will vary. For us, we paid 2,500 Thai Baht (about $80 USD) for a full day with the elephants.
What does that cost include you ask? Well, let us tell you.
- Feeding the Elephant family
- Short forest walk with the elephants
- Buffet lunch
- Bath with elephants in the river
- Join in on the elephants mud bath in the mud pit
- Transportation to and from our accommodation in Chiang Mai
About Our Day At Elephant Nature Park
Elephant Nature Park picked us up around 8:30 am from our hostel and off we drove south of Chiang Mai to the Mae Wang area.
We had to change vehicles a few times until we were eventually in the back of a pick-up truck cruising up the bumpiest hill road known to man. Finally, we arrive to a Karen Village where we are greeted with warm welcomes and smiling faces.
We were given clothes to change into as well as a briefing so we knew what to expect for the rest of the day.
All of a sudden one of our guides started yelling into the forest. We all turn and see the trees starting to shake! The guide calls out again and through the shaking trees arrive four BEAUTIFUL elephants who are making their way up the hill towards us.
The guides smile and laugh seeing how happy our group was. They ask “do you want to feed?” DUH! We ran off to meet them as the guides handed us baskets of bananas.
We spend the next 20-30 minutes feeding them all while the elephants are trying to give us sloppy wet trunk kisses.
After a snack of bananas, we set off for our jungle walk. (NOTE: Not a trek, a walk. Trekking is bad and usually means riding).
We walk and walk and walk and the elephants follow and try and rustle through our pockets to see if we have any more bananas hiding somewhere.
They basically use their trunks as a massive way to fruit pick-pocket! The elephants walk around us, find some trees to lean on and get in a few solid butt scratches.
They take a break from scratching their butts to take a little dirt bath. After the dirt bath they come back over to us to give us one final check to make sure we have no bananas stashed away.
Talk about a sweet life these elephants are living. After what they’ve been through, they sure deserve it.
After our jungle walk, we head back to the village where we have a beautiful lunch waiting for us. We eat lunch in a bamboo hut that overlooks a beautiful valley. After lunch, it’s mud bath time!! Yes, mud bath!
We make our way down to the mud pool where a few of the elephants are already waiting for us.
In we go and begin splashing and throwing mud all over the elephants. To say they are happy is an understatement!
They were rolling around in the mud and making, what we call, happy elephants sounds. Ha, of course the elephants had a few bathroom accidents in the mud pit. The guides would just laugh every time the elephants would pee and they would say “Hot Chang Beer! Hot Chang Beer!”
Super gross but we had a good laugh and that’s all that matters.
After the mud bath, we all head to the river for a rinse. We jump in the cool refreshing water and the guide give us bucket and brushes.
We begin to scrub these lovelies down to get them squeaky clean. After the elephants are clean, it’s our turn! The guides hand us soap and shampoo and we hop right in under the waterfall and wash all the mud away.
We can now safely say, we’ve taken a bath with elephants.
The day ends, we say goodbye to these sweet gentle giants and we head back to Chiang Mai. Spending the day with these amazing animals is something we’ll never forget. We could not recommend Elephant Nature Park enough.
A great organization that concentrates on the rehabilitation of abused elephants.
- For The Budget Conscious: Great vibe, fun, friendly and social atmosphere, look no further than Stamps Backpackers. The owners are Thai and Canadian and were great resources for the area and not to mention SUPER friendly. It was clean and a great location so if you’re backpacking this is seriously the spot for you
- The The Luxury Inclined: Phra Singh Village is luxury located in the heart of Chiang Mai. From a killer breakfast buffet to one hell of a pool Phra Singh Village is your luxury oasis.
- For Something In Between: Located in the old city, Pha-Thai House is a short walk from all of Chiang Mai’s highlights. Featuring a pool and gardens, this place will be a nice little break from city site seeing.
For more places to stay in Chiang Mai, Thailand you can check out the latest places and prices here.
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– Lauren & Jesse Stuart (The Stüs)