We were hotly aticipating our trip to Chiang Mai, after booking in a day at an Elephant Sancutary. We decided to forgo paragliding in Nepal, to make sure we had the cash for this. Words don’t to justice to the elephant experience, so I’ve included some videos.
There are many elephant experiences available in Thailand, some more ethical than others. We tried our best to find one that didn’t offer riding, or have elephant’s working. We happened upon the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, a sustainable organisation that resucues working elephants and pays for their care by offering encounters with them.
Our day started early, picked up in a ute, with a roof and seats in the back. Most of the taxis in Chiang Mai run on this set up. The journey was a bit longer than expected (around two hours), the upside was we had moved away from the rain covering the city that morning.
The sanctuary is based next to what felt like a pretty remote village. Some serious four wheel driving required to get into the valley.
Once we had arrived at the sanctuary, and settled our tummies after the exciting 4-wheel drive trip, we entered ‘the village’. We were greeted by the friendly team and each given a traditional woven top to wear. Once we were all dressed we got a breif about how to work with elephants to make sure everyone is safe and having fun. We also learnt the most important words of the day: “bon-bon!”
The day was quite incredible. We got to feed the elephants by hand not once but four times. They were treated to some sugar cane for morning tea, before we collected some corn stalks for them to enjoy for lunch. To make sure the elephants knew there was food available for them, we had to call them. “Bon-bon! Bon-bon!” we called. They came running over to us without hestiation knowing that it was food time.
After a delightful home made buffet lunch and a we nap for us, we learnt about making “medicine” balls for the elephants – esentially a list of ingredients they miss out on by not roaming in the wild. We bathed with the elephants in a mud bath, then followed them to the nearby river waterfall for a wash and swim. It is quite surreal getting to play in the river with these majestic creatures, no differently to a pet dog.
After providing the elephants their afternoon tea, we had the chance to pose for our last few photos, before the journey back to our hostel.
Tips for seeing elephants in Thailand:
- Try to research the organisation providing the package – some providers are only out to make money off the elephants and don’t treat them well.
- Don’t ride an elephant – it may look fun, but it’s extremly bad for elephant’s bodies to be ridden.
- Pick the tour that works for you – we went for a full day and were glad we did. However, some guys in our dorm, who were pushed for time, chose the half day experience and returned with smiles as big as ours.