I can definitely say that one of the top things I was most looking forward to while visiting Thailand was riding on an elephant. The only experience I have had with elephants is either at the Zoo or Animal Park in San Diego and the prospect of being able to ride on top of one just seemed so exciting. But, it would remain a prospect because as I began researching elephant riding I became much more educated on the abuse that it often entails. I read horrific account after account after account of people who went for elephant rides only to learn too late that oftentimes the way the elephants are guided is with physical pain.
That is why after a lot of research I decided we would instead go to the Elephant Nature Park, where many elephants have been rescued from past abuse. At ENP you visit as a volunteer and assist in the elephants’ day to day activities…which includes a lot of eating. And more eating. And YES, even more eating. Josh, Natalie and I opted for the day visit and the entire 8 hours we were there, the elephants were either eating, or walking to a destination where they would be eating. It is amazing how much these animals can eat, and at how much upkeep they require!
If you book with ENP make sure to confirm your booking. This is so that the staff at ENP are able to confirm where you are staying so that they can pick you up. The park picks up from most of Chiang Mai hotels in Old Town Chiang Mai, which is pretty handy since the park is quite a bit away from the main tourist area of Chiang Mai. I was stuck in the unfortunate situation of booking only two days ahead and then not being able to confirm until around 2 am of the same day we were scheduled to visit the park and we were still able to attend and got picked up on time!!
We started off the day at ENP with feeding fresh watermelon to an elephant. The amount of work at the park that goes into preparing the food is pretty amazing. From what we saw the elephants are fed bananas, squash, watermelon and grass (fresh and dried). I’m sure this varies depending on season. Some elephants have bad/missing teeth so not only does their food have to be cut but also skinned to make it easier for them to eat!
From what I can tell there are quite a few visitors to ENP each day. All visitors are put in a group and given a tour guide for the day. Our group was about 12 people and our tour guide was Psy, he was awesome! I read some reviews on ENP which complained about tour guides, so I would suggest asking for Psy, his English was awesome and he was really open to answering questions.
ENP is also a dog sanctuary and home to hundreds of dogs. I’m not entirely sure how the dogs are kept as not all of them roam around freely. Quite a few of them do however and they lounge around on the outdoor furniture or even go out into the main field where the elephants live. One of the baby elephants even tried to play with a dog….the dog wasn’t interested. Apparently all of the dogs at ENP are available for adoption.
After feeding the elephants on the feeding platform we had a great vegetarian lunch! To be honest when I signed up for our visit I wasn’t expecting too much from the veggie buffet, neither were Josh or Natalie. I can now tell you that the food was delicious! As our guide for the day Psy explained, it was Thai food but much less spicy than the locals would eat to accommodate foreign palates. Either way there were different “meat” and curry dishes, rice dishes, various noodles and even french fries. I think water and coffee were provided but if you wanted an additional drink (soda, tea, etc.) then you had to pay additionally. From what I remember the drinks were all reasonably priced.
The rest of the day is split between going to observe various elephants within the park and getting to wash an elephant in the river. This was an amazing experience! At first we started off throwing the water on the elephant very gently, afraid we would hurt her or make her too cold. But, with some prodding from our guide for the day (Psy) we were soon throwing the water on the elephant as hard as we could. Not that she minded one bit…as she was too busy eating some squash.
At the park the elephants all seem calm and relaxed, they aren’t being required to carry people or heavy objects and instead of punishment to shape behavior the park uses positive reinforcement…in the form of fresh fruit. So, even though I wasn’t able to ride an elephant I was able to help them and see them in a happy environment which was so much better.
I would definitely recommend the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai to anyone visiting Thailand. Stay away from elephant rides!