One popular thing to do while in Thailand is to visit one of their many elephant rescue parks. The organizations differ to many degrees while some allow riding and close interaction and others are more strict with the interaction between the elephants and human visitors. While I have never been a fan of using animals for entertainment, I certainly have been less tolerant of using animals for pleasure as the years go by. In the times I don’t follow my instincts in this regard I end up feeling extremely guilty and don’t enjoy the experience (example – “humane” elephant ride in India many years ago, and recent camel ride in Egypt recommended as a “humane” operator by my tour company – both experiences had me feeling extremely guilty). I vow to never use an animal in that way again. With that in mind I chose to visit a park that limited the interaction with the elephants. After some research Elephant Nature Park seemed to be a good match for me. I booked one of their full day experiences.
We did get an opportunity to feed the elephants and do a quick touch to feel their skin but that was about it for guest to elephant interaction
The day starts early morning where they pick you up from your hotel in Chiang Mai. On the way you watch videos about the park. When you arrive you are instructed on applying sunscreen and bug spray in a designated area in order to not harm the animals.
First we feed the elephants a snack. The elephants can eat 150-300 kg of food a day. We learn how much it costs to feed the herd and why it is so important to have financial support of donations and visitors like me.
We feed the elephants from the bottom floor of the observation area. The area allows us to observe but not bother the elephants. Many of the elephants are rescues that are being rehabilitated from a life of work, entertainment or some even injured from conflict. We also learn about the founder Lek Saengduean Chailert.
They soon take us around to another area where we are able to give some elephants so snacks again. We learn more about elephants and how they like hanging out with their small family of elephants and hate horses and dogs (but you will find dogs that will hang out with the Mahouts).
We also learn about the life of a Mahout (elephant guide) and how as a woman you cannot become one. Sometimes it is a matter of finding the perfect match between mahout and the elephant.
The park is also a facility that rescues and rehabilitates other animals.
We learn about the different kind volunteers and how they stay on site for intervals. It definitely seems like an enriching opportunity.
Next it is time for bath time where elephants are responsible for bathing themselves with the exception of a mahout helping out a blind elephant.
Statement from the Elephant Nature Park website – “From 16 April 2018 the elephants will bathe themselves with no visitor interaction. This is part of the next phase of Elephant Nature Park to offer elephants a chance to live as natural a life as possible.”
After a busy morning we are treated to a delicious vegan lunch buffet and some relaxation time.
I spend my downtime visiting the rescue kitties. Some are free to roam and others live in the Cat Kingdom.
After lunch we head back out.
We get to watch more bathing elephants; many bathe with their small herd group and many include a baby elephant they nurture. It is nice to quietly watch the elephants play in the water.
And it is time for more food. It takes lots of food to maintain that physique.
As the elephants snack we get more back stories of the elephants in the facilities. Some are very old. From what I can see they are very lucky they get to spend their remaining days in this park.
Our visit is soon to be over. I visit the gift shop to buy a souvenir t-shirt and find the employees to be pretty lazy (see below).
My van arrives shortly to drive us back to our hotels. The day is money well spent.