Much of Thailand, and Asia in general, has an insane amount of wildlife attractions catered to tourists. It’s surprisingly easy to get in a cage with a tiger… if you want to. Like many others, we were eager to get up close with some of these amazing creatures, but it was important to us to go to a place that treats the animals properly. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these attractions are set up for the sole purpose of making money, and some how that seems to translate to animal abuse/neglect. Shannon and I are animal lovers – I don’t mean we’re like those crazy animal lovers, but we appreciate the beauty of life. After searching forever online, I was starting to have my doubts. Almost everything had at least some negative reviews about mistreatment. Finally, I came across the Elephant Nature Park (ENP) in northern Chiang Mai. Sangduen “Lek” Chailert started the park as a true sanctuary to rescue and help Asian elephants. She’s received numerous accolades, and I think their Wikipedia page sums it up pretty well. So, we made a reservation and were off!
You can pretty much break the day into 6 activities:
- Prep work – The first step of the journey is about an hour long ride from Chiang Mai city to the park. Along the way, a documentary video is shown to explain some background on Asian elephants and ENP. I thought this was really good because it made sure everyone was well informed about everything.
- Feeding – Once we got to the park it was BAM! ELEPHANTS! You of course get a few rules and guidelines, then it’s right into the feeding. Guests stand on a platform, about 8 feet above the ground, and hungry elephants come right up. There are large baskets of fruits and veggies to hand the elephants. There are a few different platforms on the grounds that you can feed the elephants from as well. Feeding pretty much occurs all throughout the day; these beasts eat a lot!
- Up close and personal – After the first feeding, your group goes down to the ground to see, pet, and (of course) feed the elephants at their level. We got a ton of amazing photos down there.
- Elephants with special needs – There are a few elephants on the grounds that had been hurt before they arrived at ENP, or are just suffering from old age. One elephant we saw had a bad hip, one had a large cut on it’s side, etc. We were explained how the park takes care of the elephants like this.
- Bathing – After a buffet lunch (it was ok, but eh, not worth mentioning much else about it), a whole lot a elephants march on down to the river. Roll up your pants, pick up a bucket, and get in that freezing cold water, because it’s bath time! This basically means throwing buckets of water on elephants. You may be wondering how the elephants know its bath time, or why they want a bath everyday. Well, the answer of course is more food. It became very obvious that the elephants only came to the bath for food because as soon as we finished, they coated them selves in dirt – see photos below.
- Baby elephants – The park had a little (relative term) baby boy born about 4 months before we arrived. This was kind of the creme de la creme of the day. The baby, and it’s herd, walked over for a special feeding and play time. I have to be honest – I thought the baby was the creepiest looking elephant. To me, they just look better bigger, haha.
A few quick facts and notes:
- The official ENP website is here, so don’t be fooled by imitators!
- The day trip costs 2,500thb ($77) per adult, and lasts from 8:00am to 2:00pm. Try and make a reservation in advance. We tried to make a reservation online a few days before we wanted to go, but the site said they were all booked up. We emailed, and got a response again saying they were all booked. We then went into their office in Chiang Mai (view map) and were able to book in person. I’m guessing they only allow a certain amount of reservations online versus in person.
- You do not ride elephants at ENP. Although it is true elephants can, and have, carried humans on their back, the giant contraptions used today at mosts parks are really hurting the elephants. ENP has a strict no riding policy. Also, the trainers (mahout) at ENP do not use ankus (large metal hooks) to poke and control the animals. These again are used at many parks, but strictly not at ENP.
- I read some reviews on TripAdvisor that said the documentary video was too gruesome, there wasn’t enough actual elephant interaction, and the day trip itself was too long. The video was pretty straight forward about abuse, but we were ok with how graphic it was. I suspect ENP may have changed their schedule around some, because we had pretty much nonstop elephant interaction the entire time we were there. As far as it being too long, it probably could have been an hour shorter, but we were really fine with it. It gave us a chance to relax, sit around, and watch the elephants roam naturally.