How exciting would it be to ride an elephant!? I was ecstatic when I started planning out this part of my time in Thailand. While looking up the best place to do this I found that there is no best place.While on the surface trekking parks seem like the way to go, in reality, they are one of the worst places you can support. The elephants enlisted to work at these companies are broken. Harsh training tactics are employed in order to bring about desired actions. If you pay close attention you can see the physical scars endured at the hands of the mahouts. They wield what is essentially a small pick axe to correct undesirable behavior. The equipment strapped on to the elephant, along with the weight of those riding them is a lot to bare; especially everyday from sun up to sun down. Then when the day ends they are chained by the foot all night only to repeat again the burdens from yesterday.
It makes for a great picture, I agree. I wanted so very badly to do this. I searched extensively for a place that was both good for the elephants, and good for me; but I was left wanting. I realize this news is depressing, but although my conscious wouldn’t allow me to ride an elephant I did find a way to interact with them up close that was beneficial for everyone. A small ray of hope for the elephants in Thailand, The Elephant Nature Park, located in Chiang Mai. (Pictured below)
A sanctuary open since the 1990s for the Asian elephant that rescues not only elephants, but essentially any other animal (400 dogs, along with cats, and oxen.) The founder, Lek, has devoted her entire life to rescuing elephants from trekking companies, the circus, poaching, illegal logging, and the like. The park has purchased a nice size piece of land with a river running through it (essential for elephants in the near year round heat of Thailand), and they are looking to one day purchase more land. Lek, and her team, use only positive reinforcement to train their elephants behaviour. The herd consists of about 40 elephants. Each with its own story of abuse and rescue.
For a full days worth of elephants (8am-5pm(ish) it will cost you 2500Bht. This includes pick up from your hotel (as long as you are within the parameters of the town as they lay out), lunch (all vegetarian), and of course, photo ops galore. Your tour guide will take you through the grounds giving various bits of information about each of the elephants and the sanctuary. You can get as close as you, and the elephant, are ok with. If you’re lucky you’ll get to see some of the babies getting into mischief around the grounds. I hear they chase the dogs all the time. (See video below!) There is also a chance to bathe them in the river, which is pretty shallow, but there’s still a chance you can get wet. All in all, this is a great experience, and I would highly recommend it to all animal lovers.
Recommended Items: Bug spray, sunscreen, camera (of course), bottled water, change of clothes, and if you don’t tan well, like me, make sure the clothes cover you pretty well to avoid sunburn. Flip flops are ok, but you do a lot of walking.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article! If you have anything to add, or a story to share, please leave a comment below!