Thailand; known as the land of smiles and also… ELEPHANTS. If you are an elephant lover Thailand is the place to be, mostly because finding an elephant in Thailand is like finding a McDonalds in the USA... you are bound to see AT LEAST one during your visit. During our time in Thailand, we had the opportunity to spend a day at the Elephant Nature Park just outside Chiang Mai.
Our time spent at the Elephant Nature Park educated us about the haunting past and present of the elephant tourism business in Thailand. We quickly figured out how terribly hard it is to find elephants that are being treated humanely or at the very least not being exploited or tortured.
Most of the abuse elephants endure is unknown to tourists, or even to the elephants’ mahouts (designated elephant handlers/trainers) who are taught from a young age this is simply “what you do.”
Education and advocating is key. Shout it from the top of the mountains and the depth of the sea. Help spread the word to tourists and locals alike that these practices are WRONG! Elephants deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, just like humans.
So what are these terrible things that these elephants are enduring?
The baby elephants are being taken away from their mothers as young as three years old. In their natural habitat, elephants live in herds and often spend their entire lives with their family. The babies are then forced to go through “The Crush” a practice designed entirely to separate an elephant from its spirit or will.
During 'the crush' the elephants are locked in cages, beaten with sticks, have their ears cut and pulled with bull hooks, left in the sun without water while their limbs are tied together and much more. After enduring this torture for weeks, a single mahout is introduced to the elephant as its 'savior'; bringing the elephant water, food, and freedom. This practice makes the elephant view the mahout as its rescuer, and thus the elephant will do whatever the mahout asks.
Elephants are also not anatomically designed for anything to be placed upon their backs. I know, they are ginormous and it seems like they should be able to hold a person’s weight easily. But the reality is they can’t, not without enduring lifelong physical side effects. For more info about the science behind why riding an elephant is not good for it, check out this article about What Happens Inside Elephants Bodies When People Ride Them.
BUT DON’T WORRY, THERE IS HOPE!
Thankfully the word is starting to leak out about the terrible mistreatment of these kind giants. More and more elephant sanctuaries are starting to form all across Southeast Asia and Africa.
After vigorously researching elephant sanctuaries in Thailand that treat their elephants with the kindness and respect they deserve, we decided to spend a day at The Elephant Nature Park (EPN) just outside Chiang Mai.
Pro Voyager Tip: Some parks can look like a good place at first glance. Make sure to do some extra research about any organization before visiting their facility.
The Elephant Nature park is a sanctuary for elephants. Most of the elephants that live there have been either rescued from illegal logging operations, have injuries from stepping on abandoned land mines, or have endured years of being threatened and abused by being ridden and forced to perform tricks at elephant tourist parks.
Sadly, the saying "An Elephant never forgets" is true.
Thankfully, these elephants have found their way to The Elephant Nature Park.
The morning starts with an Elephant Nature Park employee picking you up from your accommodation and playing an educational video on your way to the sanctuary to get you acquainted with their park and elephants.
Once you arrive you have some time to converse with your group and then it’s time to meet the gentle giants!
After you finish helping fill the elephants bellies with all kinds of yummy snacks, you are taken by a guide all around the park and introduced to the different elephants. The guides also tell guests each of the elephants stories. Some elephants stories are encouraging, but most have a dark past; and you can see the physical signs of a lifetime of mistreatment.
Fortunately, these elephants have been saved; destined to live the rest of their lives in watermelon and banana bliss. One can only hope someday all elephants can find their way to a sanctuary much like this one.
The guides introduce you to the elephants one at a time as they take you around the park. You can touch the elephants and take as many pictures as you want.
Lunch is buffet style. It was so delicious and there was so much to choose from, We didn’t even get to try everything! After lunch we went as a group to the river where we helped bath the elephants.
Bathing the Elephants
I think this was my least favorite part of the day. The mahouts gave the elephants numerous treats to get them to stay put long enough for people splash water on them. I guess I just didn’t see the point.
I must admit though it was a great photo opportunity. Us giving them a bath was also not really harming the elephants in any way, other than perhaps annoying them a bit.
After splashing around in the river you can roam around the park and check out everything else The Elephant Nature Park has to offer.
Packages and Costs
Short Park Visit (8:30am-3:30pm)
-$74.83 (2,500 Baht)
-Includes transportation, feeding the elephants, lunch, meeting the different herds, and observing (but not participating in) bathing the elephants in the river
Single Day Visit (8:30am-5:30pm)
-$74.83 (2,500 Baht)
-Includes transportation, feeding the elephants, lunch, meeting the different herds, and helping to bathe the elephants in the river
Overnight Park Visit (2 Days, 1 Night)
-$173.60 (5,800 Baht)
-Meals (one breakfast, two lunches, and one dinner)
-Park fees and a guide
The Elephant Nature Park also has many other projects and volunteering opportunities. Here is the Visit & Volunteer page of their website where you can find out more.
Overall, the Elephant Nature Park has my utmost respect. They try very hard to educate the public about the unknown and devastating effects of the elephant tourism business.
Want more information about the Elephant Nature Park? Check out their website Elephant Nature Park!