Visiting an elephant park has been on my bucket list for the longest time. I did my research on the various different parks located around Chiang Mai, as I was advised that many of the parks were often and unfortunately geared more towards the tourists enjoyment than the safety and wellbeing of the elephants. I knew that many parks trained the elephants with sharp hooked sticks and chains to ‘break them in,’ and wanted to avoid those that openly did. However, I was unaware that riding the elephants was also harmful, as the seats placed on their backs often lead to deformity and an array of other health issues. I was almost convinced out of going altogether as I didn’t feel quite right supporting organizations that pretty much abused the elephants for the sole purpose of tourism. I spoke to the ladies at the hostel for some advice, and they encouraged me to look at an organization called ‘Elephant Nature Park.’
The park, located North of Chiang Mai, is known for its rehabilitation purposes and is home to not only dozens of rescued elephants, but water buffalo, pigs, sheep, dogs, and cats as well. The park dedicates itself to providing a home to previously abused and injured animals, and educating the public about the prevalence of animal abuse in many tourist attractions. Visitors are welcome to stay at the park and volunteer for weeks at a time, but are also given the option of spending the day feeding, bathing, and watching the elephants in their natural habitat.
More info can be found at this link
Now onto the fun stuff! The van from elephant nature Park picked me up from Plearn bright and early. It was about an hour and a half ride to the sanctuary, during which we watched a short documentary on the history behind the park and the situations many of the elephants had been rescued from.
ELEPHANT! Meet Deepa. Deepa was rescued from an illegal trekking/logging business after her front leg was injured due to over-exertion. You can see that her back is flat with several lumps, an indication that she was forced to carry heavy loads that in turn, altered her natural spine curvature.
We were encouraged to feed the elephants some of their favorite snacks. On the menu: watermelon, rice balls, cucumber, and pumpkin!
Getting up close and personal with Deepa. I cant explain the kind of awe I felt standing in front of Deepa. I had never in my life been so close to an elephant, and it was simply a magical experience.
Fanning herself with her ears to keep the mosquitos (or me?!?) away. Deepa’s mahout explained that we could scratch her behind the ears, much like we would a dog or cat. I promise I’m not trying to poke her eye in this picture.
Deepa liked being pat on the trunk, and would encourage us to do so by grabbing our hands and placing them near her forehead. Let me tell you, having your hands held by an elephant surpasses all romantic interactions. Absolutely unreal.
Here we see another elephant and her mahout. (Note the rounded spinal curvature, this elephant was not subject to a heavy seat) Each elephant has its own mahout, and each mahout its own elephant to build and cement trusting relationships. We were not allowed to touch this particular elephant as she was still noted as being ‘dramatic.’ Elephants and their personalities…
..Anotha one! It was really interesting to learn about each individual elephant, where it came from, how old it was, it’s personality etc etc. Din, our guide, also supplemented the tour with fun elephant facts. Did you know that African elephants have five toes on its front feet and four on its back, while an Asian elephant has four toes on its front and three on its back? Now you know! After meeting several more elephants, we stopped for a quick vegan buffet-style lunch.
What a spread! Soup, fried rice, two types of noodles, curry, stir fry, and my favorite, papaya. YUM
After lunch, we spent some time observing the elephants near the river. We even got to see a baby elephant! However, we were not allowed to get too close to the baby out of respect to the momma elephant.
Baby! Not so small..
Coming out of the river, these guys were loud!
The elephants use their trunks to gather dirt/grass and then throw the mixture over their backs as a natural bug repellant/sunscreen. Here we see the baby picking up on the skill!
One of the rescue dogs..one big happy family.
Hooooome home on the range…
The last segment of the trip was dedicated to bathing an elephant. I don’t have any pictures as I was a little worried about dropping my phone into the river. We got about thigh deep into the muddy murky water and proceeded to throw buckets of water on the elephant happily munching away at a basket full of goodies. After she finished her treats, she slowly wandered away, her interest in standing still next to a bunch of humans cut short.
We hopped out of the water and watched as hundreds of water buffalo crossed the river, consistently pooping all the way across. So that’s why the water was murky…
Looking for leftovers
At the end of the tour, I hopped back on the van and was dropped off to my hostel around 6pm. What a day! I decided to treat myself to a massage down the street. The start of yet another Thai-inspired obsession. At 200 baht for a one hour Thai massage, it was easily one of the most rewarding and relaxing six dollars I’ve ever spent.
My buddy at the massage parlor! The lemongrass tea at the end of the massage was the perfect close to an amazing day.