Thailand is home to many elephant camps. The first time I came to Chiang Mai I went to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center with my workaway team. I was saddened by how the elephants were made to paint pictures as it didn’t seem like they were painting them on their own will. I had heard about Elephant Nature Park while I was there but didn’t have a chance to get there my first time around. I came back to Chiang Mai for Yi Peng, lantern festival, and made it my priority to get there. Such an amazing experience and day. Highly recommend anyone who goes to Chiang Mai to spend a day with them and see how they’re loved and free from abuse.
ABOUT ELEPHANT NATURE PARK
The Elephant Nature Park is run by Lek (which means little one). She’s a small Thai lady with a huge heart. She rescued her first elephant in 1992 (purchased for $2000) and opened the sanctuary in 1993. Lek opened the rescue center to save as many elephants as possible from logging camps and street performing. She advocates against animal riding and painting. The elephants go through a cruel breaking process, Phajaan, which only after the elephants are broken can humans ride them. Lek uses a reinforcement and reward program to help the elephants understand they no longer need to be afraid and are in a safe place. The park is run by 70 staff members and allows up to 300 visitors a day. With many volunteer programs to choose from, you can go from 1 day to 1 week and donate your time with them.
MY DAY WITH THE ELEPHANTS
I went for the single day visit that was 2500 Baht ($70). All the money received from the ticket goes back into the park. I was picked up from my guesthouse at 8:30AM in a minivan. There were 12 of us in our group lead by the awesome ‘Goy’. The ride over to the park is about an hour long and watched a movie on the elephants and safety tips that made the ride go by quick. Once at the park we were given a tour of the surroundings dropped our bags at our table and headed out to see the elephants.
We walked over to feed them from a platform for about 15-20 minutes then went out to walk around the park the rest of the morning. The park is huge with a river running along side it. The elephants spend their days hanging out with their mahout, unchained, and just eat and play all day.
We met most of the elephants and fed and loved on them. It was sad to see the damage done to some of them. I noticed a couple of elephants with purple streaks running down their face and asked Goy what it was. She said those elephants are blind, and sometimes they accidentally run into things, so the purple is wounds from that happening. There are three blind elephants at the camp. The one in the picture had her eyes shot out with pellets by her owner when she refused to work after losing her baby after delivery at the hands of the loggers.
One had a chunk missing out of its foot, which was due to being caught in a land mine crossing the border from Myanmar into Thailand.
Another one’s leg was deformed from breaking it during logging and being forced to continue to work without allowing it to heal. The staff vets tried to fix it, but the damage was too severe and already healed in a way that the bone couldn’t be fixed without doing more damage. Even with all these horrible things that have happened to them you can tell the elephants are happy to be here now.
WATCHING ELEPHANTS PLAY IN THE RIVER
After our morning, we were fed a huge vegetarian buffet lunch then we went back out for my favorite part of the day. Watching them play in the river. We watched two different families play in the river, and it was just so beautiful to see them rolling around in the water, climbing on each other and pushing each other underwater. I couldn’t stop laughing and smiling the whole time. It was just so magical. Baby Bindi (male) was just so ridiculous climbing on his mother’s back and just popping his head up at random times and using his trunk as a snorkel. I could have watched them for hours. I took so many pictures of them playing!
The final part of the day was allowing us to bathe the elephants by throwing buckets of river water on them from a few feet away. After witnessing them playing in the river on their own, I just watched as some of my group participated. I was busy looking at the pictures I captured, and the elephants look like they cared less that they were throwing water on them, especially since they can bathe themselves.
I had such an amazing time, and if I’m back in Chiang Mai again, I may sign up for the overnight package so I can be there and watch them at night when the day tourists aren’t around. Even with 300 people there, it didn’t feel too crowded as the groups all scattered to different parts of the grounds and with 30 elephants there were plenty to go around.