If you are ever in Chiang Mai and only do one thing, visiting an ethical elephant sanctuary is that one thing!
Do your research, Thailand has very lax laws concerning animal rights and attractions. It’s sad to say that the majority are abusive and to be honest just terrible.
From big cats being sedated for selfies, to elephants being taunted and abused to perform and be submissive enough for riding.
Carly and I love animals and don’t condone elephant riding and the likes and urge you to do the same.
In the end we chose Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.
Meeting The Elephants
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is an ethical and sustainable eco-tourism project located approximately 60km from the city of Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. Founded in July 2014, it is a joint initiative between members of the Karen hill-tribes and Chiang Mai locals who were concerned about the welfare of elephants in Thailand.
The day started at 8am being picked up from our hostel in the old town. We drove around town, picked up a few more travellers and headed off. The drive took about 2 hours. It was a long windy drive, not ideal if you had a heavy night before. A few people were feeling a little sick towards the end of the drive.
Arriving at the camp we got off the truck and all helped carrying bananas and the food for our lunch down to the camp. At the camp we were all given traditional Karen tribe shirts to wear and sat down for a brief talk about the sanctuary and the elephants themselves, including names and ages. Then off to the first family of elephants!
There are 3 families at the camp we were at. We spent the morning visiting each family feeding them bananas and sugar cane, their favourite!
The star of the show being the baby at the third family.
We spent a good half an hour with each family then all headed back to camp for a lunch they had provided. A small Thai buffet with rice, chicken, veggies and a good selection of fresh fruit.
After lunch we all sat down and made some ‘medicine balls’ for the elephants. these balls were made from brown rice, bananas and local tree bark. I don’t know if it was as all that medicinal, but they sure loved them! Everyone had a go grinding the rice and mashing the bananas before rolling them into balls.
We gave the elephants their nutritious snack and followed them to the ‘mud spa’. This was so much fun, and the elephants seemed to love it. Everyone had a great time getting muddy and giving the elephants and each other a good covering.
Once we were all good and muddy, humans and elephants included it was onwards to the river to wash off.
That concluded our day with the elephants. We dried off and enjoyed tea and coffee provided as the day came to a close.
The day was so much fun, we met a great bunch of people from all ages and backgrounds and absolutely loved spending time with these gentle giants.
The elephants looked happy here and the guides seemed to have a real bond with them. It’s hard to know what happens behind closed doors, and if what we saw was just for show. But on the other hand, compared to being ridden all day and being chained up this was a massive step in the right direction. Thailand still has a long way to go with its animal attractions and just general animal care, but if places like this keep trying to lead the way and set an example then hopefully things will change in the not so distant future.
We had a great time, it’s not something I would do again, once is enough. Yet we thoroughly enjoyed the day.
If you are in Chiang Mai and want to spend time with elephants, please do not ride them.
Look into sanctuaries and ethical choices.