Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Day Trip to the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai

If you’re considering going to the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, I am here to tell you that it was a bucket list moment I’ll never forget. There are plenty of elephant sanctuaries in Thailand, but this one offers a unique opportunity to connect with these majestic creatures in a cruelty-free environment. 

Curious what it’s like? We’ll be diving deep into ENP’s history, what a typical day visit involves (spoiler alert: it might involve mud!), meeting the amazing elephant herd, and some top tips for planning your visit.

Spending a Day at Chiang Mai's Elephant Park

The Story of Elephant Nature Park

The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation camp founded in the late 1990s by Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, a lifelong elephant advocate, and Adam Flinn, who ran an ecotourism company. This ethical sanctuary prioritizes the elephants’ well-being, focusing on observation and avoiding riding or shows.

Note: You will not be able to ride the elephants and they won’t be performing any “tricks”. There are too many horror stories about the training techniques for these. Did you see Water for Elephants? I’m not saying that all trekking or ellie show companies are bad, but the Elephant Nature Park is a place where the elephants are rewarded for good behavior, not punished for bad.

These animals have often endured harsh conditions, and here they get to live freely in social groups, bathe in mud wallows, and basically be elephants! Plus, the park isn’t just about elephants. They care for all sorts of rescued animals, like dogs, cats, and even buffalos, and your visit helps support their incredible work.

Elephant Nature Park

What to Expect From a Day Visit

The day starts with an hour-long ride from the city center. The park even picked me up right from my hotel – major points for convenience! Along the way, though, several trekking companies have some of their elephants tied while awaiting for their next expedition.

And then, the fields open up with endless stretches of green and there is the gorgeous sight of ellies roaming free. That’s when I knew I had arrived to Elephant Nature Park.

Elephant Nature Park Annette

We started the day with an informative tour of the grounds and an introduction to its animal residents. They are an eclectic bunch; some old, some young, some blind, some injured from working in the logging industry, some abused and some rescued from the circus. All beautiful.

It was fascinating (and sad) to learn about their individual stories and the park’s mission to provide them with a safe and healthy sanctuary.

Afterward, it’s time to refuel for lunch. The elephants got to enjoy baskets full of fruits (fed to them by the visitors!) while we enjoyed a delicious and diverse vegan buffet lunch (think yummy Asian and international flavors!).

Walking Elephant Herd

Back when we visited, Pete and I were able to experience bathing the elephants ourselves. But since then, they let the elephants bathe themselves without any visitor interaction so they can live their lives as naturally as possible (watching them frolic in the mud is still a pretty special sight to see, to be honest.)

The park then took us back to Chiang Mai and dropped me off right at my hotel. It was the perfect way to spend a day, learning about these incredible creatures and supporting their well-being.

Elephant Nature Park

Meet the Herd

There’s nothing quite like coming face-to-trunk with a rescued elephant at the park. These gentle giants, over 100 strong, roam freely here, forming deep bonds with each other in family herds. It’s incredible to see! The Kham La herd, the park’s biggest bunch (consisting of around 9+ elephants), is quite a sight.

Elephant Nature Park Peter Annette

Watching them interact – from playful nudges to shared mud baths – is a heartwarming reminder of their intelligence and social nature. Knowing these elephants are finally safe from abuse makes the experience even more special. Trust me, this isn’t your average elephant encounter – it’s a bucket list moment you won’t forget!

Tips for Visiting

Elephants splashing in mud? Check. Feeding a ellie some yummy treats? Check and check! This park is a dream come true for anyone who’s ever wanted to connect with these amazing creatures. Here are some things I learned to make your visit even better:

  • Best Time: The dry season (November – April) offers pleasant weather for outdoor activities. However, the park welcomes visitors year-round.
  • Dress comfortably: Pack comfy clothes and shoes with good tread – you might be walking through some light mud to meet the elephants. Don’t forget a hat, sunscreen, bug spray, and a refillable water bottle to stay cool.
  • Respect the animals: Elephant Nature Park places a high value on the welfare of elephants. Remind yourself that these are wild creatures and that you should always abide by the park’s rules when engaging with them.
  • Show your appreciation: The guides at Elephant Nature Park are incredibly knowledgeable and passionate (plus they take lots of good pictures and videos!) You can express your gratitude to them for making your stay so memorable by leaving them a tip.
  • Pricing: Elephant Nature Park offers various programs with different pricing structures, like half-day, single day, and even overnight. A single day visit typically costs around 3,500 THB ($90 USD), with a 50% discount for children.

Visiting the Elephant Nature Park was one adventurous day, and a memory will last a lifetime. No riding. No shows. Just rescued elephants doing things they should have been doing ever since: being elephants.

You’ll get to witness their gentle nature firsthand, learn about their past, and even lend a hand (or should I say, a bucket?) with their daily care. It’s a bucket list experience that goes beyond the fun – it’s a heartwarming experience that’s equal parts educational and unforgettable.

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