By reputation alone, the Elephant Nature Park seems to be “the place to go” for the discerning and responsible elephant tourist. That is, tourists who would like to see elephants. Not tourists who are in fact elephants. As an example of forward-thinking, the park was one of the first to explicitly disallow riding the elephants. Some parks still think this is acceptable and not harmful to the animals. It’s not really for me to say, but we were happy to just hang out with these lovely giants and forego the ride.
When booking our visit to the park, we had to select a tour package to go with. Things got interesting quickly. There’s the “single day” option for 2500 THB. A bit pricey, but sure. It’s a full day experience and seems to be regarded as a true pioneer in kind animal treatment. But what’s this? There are another three full day visit options: Pamper, Sunshine, and Care. And they’re all... 6000 THB? More than double the price? Yes! Some include a jungle walk with elephants. Others include some rafting down a river (you came to the Elephant Nature Park to go rafting?!). Anyway, we were very happy with the cheap “single day” option. I think you’d have to be a bit nuts to pay more than double for any of the other options!
The Elephant Nature Park was founded by a lady named Lek Chailert who has grown it from a small facility to a burgeoning local attraction. She appears to be an important enough figure that we didn’t actually meet her! Out liaising, I suppose. You watch all these videos about her before showing up. I gotta admit, I was really hoping on seeing the magical lady herself! Oh well. Today, the elephant herd at the park numbers over thirty animals all of whom have been rescued from various unfortunate pasts. Some were used (and often abused) for logging purposes, others have stepped on landmines. The list goes on, and each elephant has a sad story of its own.
After driving out of downtown Chiang Mai for about an hour and a half, you arrive at the park. The first order of business is breakfast. Can’t complain about that! Pretty tasty vegetarian food -- a good start to the day. Then it’s animal feeding time, where an elephant approaches the outer railing and your group feeds it various pieces of fruit. Pretty entertaining! However, our group didn’t want to give away all of our fruit too quickly. You want the experience to last, after all! But this had the unfortunate effect of our elephant wandering away several times, presumably because she was getting frustrated at us just standing and staring at her with a big basket of tasty fruit separating us. Oops.
After feeding we had a walking tour of the facility where we learned some basic elephant anatomy and met a few of the friendlies. Some are calm enough to permit touching, but in general it’s not recommended to approach the elephants too closely because they may have had some pretty rough experiences at the hands of humans in their not-too-distant past.
The afternoon included a trip down to the river to help bathe the elephants. Everybody was given a bucket and free reign to help clean the mud off the backs of the smiling elephants. It was a lot of fun to partake in!
All in all we had a wonderful day at the park. It’s really incredible to witness the power and grace of these awesome animals. We’d highly recommend that you check it out! And if you decide to spend the 6000 THB for one of the “other” full day experiences, let us know how it goes OK?