Elephant trunk (Thailand)

I first read about Elephant Nature Park over on the Got Passport blog, but as it turns out, it’s actually pretty well publicized. It’s in the Lonely Planet and there have been features on CNN and other international news organizations. One of the many things tourists come to Thailand for–besides sex, drugs & beaches to name a few–is elephants.

Elephants in Thailand are a curious subject. For a long time, they’ve been a national symbol, but they’re also considered to be work animals and many people’s livelihoods depend upon them. And elephants in the tourism industry are ubiquitous. Any trek arranged from Chiang Mai involves a stopover to ride an elephant, and some are used on city streets for begging (though I’ve never witnessed that in Thailand, I did see it in Delhi, India).

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai

I don’t know much about the elephant-tourism industry in Thailand except what I heard at Elephant Nature Park, but it does seem like a risky game to play with living, breathing animals. I’m not one to get too emotionally attached to animal rights, but I have supported various organizations before. Regardless, when I see an animal chained up, I can only wonder.

So, with all this on my mind, and a desire to do some “responsible” travel while in Thailand (avoiding many of the nasty aspects of Thailand tourism), I opted to visit Elephant Nature Park for the day.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai
Me! Feeding an elephant some watermelon, pumpkin & cucumber. Yumm!

A day trip to the park is actually quite expensive, and definitely not on most budget traveler’s lists. That’s probably why the other people in my 10-person minivan weren’t solo travelers on “big trips” but instead included a British/American family of lawyers and short-term holidaymakers on whirlwind tours of northern Thailand. The park is about an hour and a half drive from Chiang Mai, but on the way there you watch a short, professional video about the park, its goals and the nature of elephants in Thailand in general.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai

Once at the park, you spend most of the day feeding the elephants (they eat A LOT), bathing them once or twice in the nearby river, and enjoying a smorgasbord of a buffet lunch. Again, they show another video specifically about the park and its founder, Lek.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai
Washing the elephants was surprisingly fun. Took some great videos, but unfortunately they didn’t come out.

I’d say that the park is mostly visited by families, but it’s definitely worth the visit. My day was extremely informative and I spoke with some people who were volunteering there for weeks on end, getting to know and recognize the 34 rescued elephants. Just from the day there, I learned a lot about a few of the elephants and some of their stories were truly distressing. But the fact that this place exists and knowing that there are more than a few people who care so much about elephants and dedicate so much time, effort & love to helping them is really inspirational.

Put the Elephant Nature Park on your list to visit if you can. Or at least get to know a little about the elephant-tourism industry before you step on top of one.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai
I think I might have an elephant foot fetish. Took way more photos than I probably needed to.

Are you looking for more photos of elephants in Thailand? Check out my other post featuring really cute elephants :)

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  1. Pingback: Elephant at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand | Adam's Travel Photos

  2. Pingback: One year abroad | Travels of Adam

  3. One of the main reasons why I set off for Asia last year was to volunteer at the Elephant Nature Reserve! Unfortunately, things didn’t work out and I still haven’t made it up to Chiang Mai for this but I have a promise to myself that I won’t leave Asia until I volunteer here! =)

    • Adam

      That’s great that you’re planning to volunteer there! When I spoke to one or two of the volunteers, they were definitely passionate about the park and the elephants. Great to see!

  4. I am planning on going there for the first time in a few weeks. I am looking forward to the trip.

    • Adam

      Enjoy!

  5. Chaing Mai! I hope to visit there this June since my stepmom’s brother lives there. When I think of Chaing Mai a picture of them being bathed in the river (like in your photo) with hollowed out coconuts.
    Those elephants do eat everything! Peel, rhine, everything! They are fascinating creatures to say the least. It was a pleasure to see these ginormous mammals in your photos. Can’t wait to see them in person soon.
    You mention these elephants were rescued. What were they rescued from?
    Out of curiosity, how much did this visit to the elephant refugee cost?

    • Adam

      It was funny actually… the elephant I was feeding didn’t want any cucumbers. He was pretty picky until I ran out of the pumpkin though, then he gobbled up the cucumbers just fine :)

      A full-day trip was 2500 baht and I booked it at their office just inside the old city of Chiang Mai.

  6. I agree with Emily–elephant feet are very cute in a very well, large kind of way! Cool pics.

  7. Emily Groffman

    In your defense, those elephant feet look really cute.

    • Adam

      Hahah thank you Emily :)

  8. Stephen

    Thanks for the post. Will definitely put this on my list for Chiang Mai next month.

    • Adam

      Hey Stephen,
      Definitely do! I heard that there’s one other elephant rescue center also outside of Chiang Mai, but I don’t know the name. Really enjoyed my day trip here, though.

  9. Wow, that’s pretty awesome. I’ve only seen elephants from a distance. Must add this to the list when I’m next in Thailand!

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