Chilling With Elephants in Chiang Mai

1 Jan

One of the activities I was most looking forward to during my time Southeast Asia was the chance to hang out with elephants in Thailand!

Chiang Mai seemed like the perfect place to do this.

After looking into my options, I decided to visit the Elephant Nature Park. If I had to do it again, I would’ve chosen a different company, but I want to emphasize that Elephant Nature Park is a really great organization. It is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre in northern Thailand where the workers and volunteers provide a natural environment for the elephants as well as for some other rescued animals.

I went with the full day tour for 2500 baht, which is about 80 USD. It included the pick-up from my hostel, a huge buffet lunch, time to feed the elephants and time to ‘bathe’ with the elephants. They don’t offer riding the elephants as it is an elephant rescue organization and that seems unfair to the big, beautiful animals. We also got to watch a video about how the organization got started, how it operates, and what it hopes to accomplish.

While this day trip would be ideal for many people, it wasn’t ideal for me because it wasn’t what I hoped for when I envisioned trekking with elephants. There were a lot of families there with young children and I think Elephant Nature Park is perfect for a family vacation.

For me, it was a little underwhelming for the price I was paying. I know 2500 baht doesn’t seem too pricey for a full day trip, but compared to some of the other options I had, it just didn’t quite measure up. My favourite part of the day was definitely feeding the elephants, but that didn’t really last long and you never really had much one-on-one interaction with the elephants as your tour group was quite large. The biggest disappointment, though, was bathing the elephants. I wanted to actually swim with and bathe the elephants, but it was pretty much just fifty or so people filling small buckets with water and splashing them on the elephants, which lasted only about 20 minutes.

I love what the organization is doing. I really do. It just wasn’t what I hoped for.

This taught me one big lesson: stop planning so much.

I booked this tour before I even arrived in Chiang Mai based on Tripadvisor reviews. Then, I met a group of awesome people on the bus to Chiang Mai who all ended up going on an overnight elephant trek through the jungle. That would have been my ideal encounter with elephants. And, I would’ve spent it with some really great people.

On the bright side, I got some really great pictures and I met some truly amazing animals.

Elephant Nature Park wasn’t what I anticipated it would be, but it could be perfect for you. I guess it just depends on what kind of experience you’re looking for. I was looking for an adventure. But, in 20 years when if I have a family, this would likely be the perfect tour for me. It definitely was interesting experience and, besides teaching me a lot about the unfair treatment of elephants (and the insane amount of water they drink a day), this day also taught me that making concrete plans in advance really isn’t for me.

I saw a ton of elephant crap. I held an elephant tooth that was the size of my head. I spent time with a beautiful elephant who had an excruciatingly painful, broken hip. I watched baby elephants getting a ton of love from their proud mamas. It wasn’t the perfect day, but it was a good experience.

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