I have been so excited to write this post as it was hands down one of the most memorable travelling experiences I have ever had. I knew I would have to dedicate an entire post to this amazing place as I have so much I could say.
A common experience most backpackers have in Thailand is interacting with or riding elephants. Being vegan I am very cautious with animal encounters or sanctuaries, particularly in Thailand, as there isn’t always a great deal of concern given for the animal’s welfare. Elephant riding in particular has had a lot of bad press about in recent years due to claims about the animals being mistreated by the mahouts (elephant trainers) and the poor living conditions provided for them. There are also a lot of claims that actually riding elephants is detrimental for their health, so I knew I wanted to steer clear of any company that allowed people to ride these amazing creatures.
After doing some research online I came across the Elephant Nature Park, based roughly an hour outside of Chiang Mai. The park is a rescue and rehabilitation centre for elephants, buffaloes, cats and dogs so it’s pretty much my heaven! Each elephant has their own mahout who develops a close relationship with the elephant to help them recover from their often troublesome pasts. I found it so saddening to hear each elephant’s story from where they had been rescued and some of the horrors they have had to endure, it really made me appreciate what an amazing place the park was and what a sanctuary they have created.
For our visit we booked the ‘Sunshine for Elephants’ day visit. We were picked up from our hotel and shown a heart-warming video about the park on our journey there. The day started with feeding the elephants their breakfast which consisted of a whole lot of bananas! It was pretty gross at some points, I won’t lie, but it was so much fun and our first real interaction with the elephants.
The main part of the day was spent walking through the jungle surrounding the park with our elephants and witnessing how they would behave in the wild. We were able to see them barge their way through the trees, stopping practically every second to eat the trees and most amazingly have a mud bath. The mud bath was definitely my favourite part and I think it was the elephant’s too. They seemed so content playing in the mud and scratching themselves on rocks and trees, it was pretty funny to watch at times! Asides from doing trips like safaris I would say this is the closest experience to seeing elephants in the wild and behaving as they would naturally.
All throughout the day we were able to get so close to the elephants, taking hundreds of photos, feeding them the odd snack or even just giving them a quick stroke or pat. I was amazed at how gentle and friendly they were and couldn’t believe how trusting of humans they could be after such traumatic pasts. The visit to the park at the end of the day really highlighted this as each elephant’s stories were described to us, some of them were absolutely heart breaking. It was incredible getting to meet the herd there, especially seeing the baby! The rescued cats and dogs were also allowed to wander the park freely which I absolutely loved, even in the gift shop you could find a sleeping cat tucked up in a pile of t-shirts.
The whole day was just absolutely amazing I can’t see to do it justice or explain just how incredible it was. Hopefully the photos will help to show just how great it was, if any of you were thinking of visiting Thailand I would highly recommend visiting the park. I am hoping to go back in future to volunteer there for a week or two and really get to spend time with these amazing creatures and feel as though I have made a contribution to their rehabilitation.
If you are interested in finding out more about the park or are looking to book a trip you can visit their website here.