‘Nature’s great masterpiece, the elephant; the only harmless great thing’ – John Donne
Most visitors to Thailand have an experience with elephants high on their list of things to do. In Chiang Mai, located in Northern Thailand, there is an abundance of elephant sanctuaries who allow guests to visit for a day or even overnight. One of the better known elephant sanctuaries working hard to protect and take care of elephants is Elephant Nature Park. Many of the animals there (they have dogs, buffalo, cows, and even a pig as well) have been saved from a life of abuse. On a recent weekend, I ventured to Chiang Mai with one of my good friends for a day with these gentle giants.
Booking a day trip to the Elephant Nature Park was very easy. On their website, they list the various options available at the sanctuary. I went for a full single day tour but there are half days as well as overnight options to choose from. If you prefer to interact with elephants in the natural habitat of the jungle, you can do that too! Prices range form 2,500 baht for a single day (~$72) up to 12,000 baht (~$350) for a 7 day visit and unique volunteering opportunity. Elephant Nature Park did an excellent job of replying promptly to any queries and kept in contact with me leading up to my trip.
The Schedule (Single Day)
A visit to the sanctuary is very organized and follows a schedule (though this is flexible depending on the interests of the group you are with and the elephants) for the Full Single Day tour:
- Pick Up – Your guide for the day will pick you up in a van and transport you to the nature park early in the morning. On the way, expect a short safety video about interacting with the elephants as well as a short documentary about the owner who started the sanctuary. If you’re lucky, you will get to meet a few of the elephants mentioned in the video so pay attention!
- Arrival – Upon arrival, all visitors are shown to the table that will serve as a kind of ‘home base.’ Your table will have the name of your guide for the day. Once you set down your stuff, you will be asked to pay the remaining balance you owe.
- Elephant Feeding – For safety, visitors are required to stand on a feeding platform with a bar for protection. The group receives a large basket full of fruit (in my group’s case watermelon) that you can feed to the elephant! It is the first contact you have with them and gets you excited for the remainder of the day.
- Visiting the Elephants – Finally time to get up close and personal with the elephants! The whole reason for coming! The guide takes you around the park to visit many of the elephants that reside there. You will learn the background of each elephant as well as how the park operates. Fascinating stuff!
- Lunch – So much food to choose from. I was stuffed and fully satisfied.
- Bathing – After lunch, the guide walks you down to the river to bathe an elephant. While I originally thought we would get the chance to swim more in the water with the elephants, it is more of a bath for just the elephant instead. Visitors use buckets to pour water and clean an elephant who is more than happy to get wet in the Thailand heat! Don’t expect to go swimming and you won’t be disappointed. Still a very lovely moment.
- Departure – At the end of the day, it is time to say goodbye. Elephant Nature Park provides complimentary transportation back to the door of your hotel or hostel in the late afternoon. This leaves you plenty of time to pour over your pictures and relive your amazing day!
While getting the opportunity to hang with elephants was absolutely amazing, the lunch spread far exceeded my expectations and was definitely a highlight of the visit. Lunch is served buffet style and there are tons of options. Some of the food served on the day I visited (I am not sure if the menu varies slightly at all from day to day) included: spring rolls, fried rice, pumpkin soup, papaya salad, vegetables…and so much more! Unfortunately I was too hungry to snap any pictures, but take my word for it – you will NOT leave here hungry!
I met so many elephants during my visit that I cannot remember all of their names. What I can tell you is that they were all absolutely beautiful and for anyone who is an elephant lover, or even just an animal lover, a visit to Elephant Nature Park is a must. Getting the chance to meet elephants of all ages was amazing and the guide gave a lot of insight into the life of an elephant and how much the nature park does for each elephant that they rescue.
Why Elephant Nature Park?
Unfortunately, there are still many elephant camps in Thailand that allow visitors to ride the animals and abuse them in other ways. Many of the elephants at Elephant Nature Park have been rescued from a life of abuse and are given the chance to live a happy life. There were elephants that had stepped on land mines and were undergoing treatment (one had a bright green cast); others had gone blind from constant camera flashes from working in the circus. Some elephants had worked their whole lives logging in the jungles and had suffered injuries when trees or logs fell onto them.
While it was sad to see elephants that had been hurt and hard to understand how people could treat them so badly, there were many more happy moments, such as seeing all of the babies had been born there! Super cute! Visiting the park was a unique opportunity to feed, pet, and really see happy elephants in a country where so many people use them just for money and tourism. The park is well known and celebrated for its efforts and absolutely worth a visit if you are ever in Chiang Mai, Thailand!
All of the money you spend on your visit goes toward helping to heal rescued elephants as well as educate the people of Thailand. The park is working to branch out and partner with fellow elephant owners who are committed to running a business geared toward tourists that allows the elephants to live a happy and safe life. They are also saving money to purchase a large section of jungle where they can release elephants that are healthy and able to return to their natural habitat. Give them a visit and support a great cause!
209/2 Sridom Chai Road, Chiang Mai 50100
Office Hours: 07:00-17:00 Mon-Sun. (GMT+7)
Tel: +66 (0) 53 272855, +66 (0) 53 818932
1 Ratmakka Road, Phra Sing,
Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
Trip Planning? Pin this for later!
Looking for accommodation in Chiang Mai? Look on Agoda for great deals!
Have you visited Elephant Nature Park? Share your experiences below!