Back in the early stages of planning my adventure (for it’s not just a trip), I knew that at some point I had to go to an elephant sanctuary in Thailand. This was due to hearing all about it from my good pal Brock of Backpack with Brock fame, but also due to various PBS specials and a love of elephants for as long as I can remember. They’re gentle, they’re vegetarian, and they love snacking – really, my kind of animal.
So I booked myself a visit to the Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand (near Chiang Mai) as a way of finishing my trip to Asia on a high note, and I was not disappointed. I spent an entire day at the park learning about the various elephants in their care, and had the chance to take part in their daily activities.
It was an absolute highlight of my trip, perhaps my favourite thing I’ve done here. The sanctuary has been around for almost a decade and provides a safe and permanent home in the wild for over 30 elephants ranging in age from calves to grandmothers over 80! These elephants, with the exception of the two calves who were born at the park, have all been rescued from lives of abuse and neglect as working elephants throughout the region. Their stories are heartbreaking – working on city streets for tourist dollars, landmine victims, tourist trekking, gruelling work as loggers…the list goes on. But now they’re free, able to roam the park, choose their own family and herd to pal around with, eat lots (up to 250 kg a day!), and leave their past behind.
We started the day with “appetizers”:
Followed by a trip to “the spa”:
A good afternoon scratch (mosquito bites don’t just bother humans, you know):
Some quality time with the baby elephants:
And another round of feeding. We also watched an excellent documentary on the plight of elephants in Thailand, and the work that’s being done to help give them legal protection and better care by their owners.
In addition to the elephants, the park is also home to rescued dogs, cats and cows, and is a pretty magical place to spend a day. It’s dirty (I did slip in elephant poop) but extremely informative and fun all at once, and a much better way to get an elephant experience in Thailand, versus doing a trekking tour or seeing elephants do tricks. You can also do overnight or week-long volunteer placements, but I unfortunately didn’t have the time to do this. Unrelated – the food at lunch was also amazing, since you’re all probably surprised I’ve gone this long in a post and not mentioned something I’ve eaten. Delicious Thai vegetarian buffet, overlooking the jungle and mountains. What a way to wrap up Asia.