As someone who once rode an elephant many years ago in South Africa before I knew better, I can attest that visiting an elephant sanctuary is far more fulfilling than riding on an elephants backs.
PRIOR TO VISITING AN ELEPHANT SANCTUARY IN CHIANG MAI
Many organizations and tourists are now standing up and putting their foot down against the cruelty of riding elephants. The movement is leading towards caring for the elephants, feeding, bathing and hugging them.
Planning a trip to Southeast Asia takes time because I wanted to visit every city. When I sit down and list out my non-negotiable cities Chiang Mai is near the top of my list.
THE BEST ELEPHANT SANCTUARY IN CHIANG MAI
There are a number of Elephant Sanctuaries in Thailand. Some sanctuaries unfortunately still allow tourists to ride the elephants, but my plan is to only visit an ethical sanctuary.
After spending a few hours searching online I decide on the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai. I booked a half-day tour. The tour truck arrives to my hotel at 7:00am and drives about 50 km outside of Chiang Mai.
The morning of my half-day tour I was very excited to see the elephants roam in their natural environment. I was the last pick up stop before heading to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary so the truck was full. Once I arrived, guided down through the mountain and over a stream before getting to the camp. At camp we were instructed to put on a special shirt. This shirt is not only protect our clothing when we interact with the elephants, but to also make the elephants more comfortable. By wearing the colorful shirts the elephants recognize us and they are more relaxed.
Before meeting the elephants, our guide explained the operation and how the flow of the day will go.
We were told that a lot of riding tours don’t take good care of the elephants. They abuse them with hooks, chain them down and limit their food supply. The elephants at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary eat 500 kg of food per day, but a lot of camps would often only feed them 200kg. I love animals and very sad to hear about this treatment by some camps. But I love that The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. They have been slowly buying back the elephants that were mistreated and giving them a better life. The guides at The Elephant Sanctuary are awesome. It is clear that they have the elephant’s best interest at heart. With the money the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary raises from tour visits, they contribute to the elephant welfare, by rescuing them, feeding them and providing veterinary care.
Each sanctuary has their own tour packages. The packages vary by half-a-day up to 7 days. With only a few days in Chiang Mai I opted for the half-day package.
THE VISIT TO THE ELEPHANT SANCTUARY IN CHIANG MAI
Once the briefing by the guide was done, the elephants came strutting into the camp. I quickly grabbed a few bananas and started feeding them. To see these gentle giants up close is amazing. The elephants ate up everything I had in hand and my guide would refill my stash so I could feed more.
After about an hour of interacting with about seven adult elephants plus a baby, the guides lead us down to the stream to give the elephants a bath.
After bathing the elephants it was time for lunch. I followed the group and made my way back to the lodge where a buffet was laid out for us. we all grabbed a cushion in the lodge and ate on the floor. The views from the top are absolutely stunning!
Visiting the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. and I highly recommend this camp. I thank the elephants for sharing their space with me and creating this incredible experience. Before you visit Chiang Mai please do your research about ethical treatment of Elephants and go to a sanctuary that values these gentle giants – please don’t ride the elephants!
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