In many of our travels, we had the chance to ride elephants, but we considered it a very irresponsible way of enjoying these amazing animals.
There’s a dark side to elephant tourism that many people just don’t seem to be aware of.
Why you shouldn’t ride elephants
There are many reasons why you shouldn’t ride elephants and one of them is, unlike horses, their anatomy is not made for riding. Their spine can easily be damaged or broken from the weight of the rider.
Another one is the cruel “training” program. Elephants are difficult to be “trained”. They are tied down and beaten so they will have to obey their “trainers” to avoid pain.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
We don’t want to encourage this kind of behavior, but at the same time, we wanted to be close to these huge animals.
So, we found out about Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. Their mission is to protect and care for mistreated elephants rescued from the tourism business and logging industries.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is a project that had set up ethical elephant sanctuaries in Thailand. They have subsidiaries in Chaing Mai, Phuket, Pattaya and Samui. With the money raised from visits and donations, they are taking care of the elephant welfare, by rescuing them, feeding them and provide veterinary care as well as land and infrastructure.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai has many visiting options like morning or afternoon visits, full-day visits, and overnight visits, where you can feed, bathe and even play with the elephants.
We choose the Full Day Visit in the company of elephants from 8.00 to 17.00
We loved the idea of feeding, playing, giving mud baths and washing the elephants, without riding them.
So, very early in the morning, we were picked up from our hotel in Chiang Mai, and the truck much like a songthaew took us for about 2 hours on mountain roads through the beautiful agricultural countryside of Northern Thailand.
There were 15 tourists for the full-day visit, arriving in three trucks. We reached the sanctuary at about 10.00 and we were given traditional Karen clothing.
Then we sat on a platform and we were told about the elephants and the work of the sanctuary. Asian elephants are an endangered species. Experts think that now are less than 2000 wild elephants living in Thailand. The population is declining at a rapid rate due to loss of habitat and illegal capture for the tourism industry because foreign visitors all want to ride elephants.
It is important to learn as much as possible about elephants and be responsible for the way tourism is being done.
After that, we were given bunches of small bananas and we went toward the big yard where the elephants were gathered. I have to admit that in the beginning, it was a little intimidating for me, being so close to them.
We were taught to yell “bon bon”.This way they knew we had bananas for them and came quickly with their trucks lifted.
They were so gentle and so calm that it was a pleasure to interact with them.
Mahouts, which are the people taking care of elephants were also there. They stood aside and were always laughing and helping us.
The connection between the mahout and the elephant was quite strong and a happy one. At some point, one elephant went to its mahout to play. I was very happy to see something like this. It was a reassurance that these animals were taking care of.
After meeting and feeding the elephants, we went for a lunch break. We enjoyed an open buffet that included fried chicken, rice, vegetable, and fresh fruit.
The lunch was included in the price of the visit.
After lunch, we gathered and learn how to make herbal medicine balls and then walk to the elephants to feed them this medicine.
Mud Spa with Elephants
It was time for a bath!
The bath starts in the mud where we rubbed down the elephants with mud.
The mud helps protect elephants from bugs and they love rolling around.
The guides had also fun by throwing mud at us, especially to those who tried to avoid getting dirty.
It was impossible to stay clean.
After our muddy play, we walked down a short trail to the river to clean up. The elephants went right in, lying on their sides and having fun.
Once bathing was all done, elephants walked out of the water and move along on their way and we went back to change and prepare for our way back to Chiang Mai.
This was an incredible experience and we highly recommend it. We couldn’t have enough of hugging and loving these beautiful creatures. Yes, this is still using elephants for tourism but at least is being made in a responsible way, by helping these places to carry on taking care of them and giving them a peaceful life.
If you are interested in this experience, you can contact Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
Full-Day visit from 8.00-17.00
Adult: 2,400 Baht/ Person
Includes lunch and transportation
Half-Day visit from 6.30-13.30
Adult: 1,700 Baht/ Person
Includes lunch and transportation
Overnight staying from 8.00- 17.00 next day
Adult : 4,900 Baht/ Person
Includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, accommodation, and transportation