When foreigners visit Thailand, the most common form of tourism that is sought after is ecotourism – specifically elephant tourism. Circuses, trekking, and elephant rides are in high demand in Thailand. However, many foreigners are often unaware or oblivious to the harm that these types of attractions cause these beautiful creatures. They are beaten, chained, and tortured, yet nobody is aware because it is all kept hidden from the general public. Because of this, elephant sanctuaries have become more prevalent in recent years. But how many of them genuinely live up to their names? Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai does not disappoint.
Opening in the 1990s, Elephant Nature Park was the first elephant sanctuary in Thailand. Sangduen “Lek” Chailert worked in elephant tourism and saw firsthand what these elephants had to endure – so she decided to take action. She opened Elephant Nature Park (ENP) with the intention of rescuing elephants from these horrible situations. Since its opening, Lek and ENP have rescued hundreds of elephants on and offsite. Additionally, they have saved about 100 buffaloes, 300 cats, and 500 dogs.
But what does visiting Elephant Nature Park really look like? Does it cause harm or discomfort to the elephants? Does seeing them in their new habitat actually help? Here’s a quick rundown of the itinerary.
(PLEASE NOTE: Depending on the weather and the temperament of the elephants at Elephant Nature Park, the schedule can change in an instant – so each visit can be slightly different from the next.)
- The Drive: It all starts with the hotel pickup. A park van will pick you up from your Chiang Mai hotel between 08:00 and 08:30 and bring you to the park.
- Introductions: Upon arrival at the park, introductions are made. You get to meet your tour guide as well as the other people in the group you will be with during your stay.
- First Feeding: After introductions are complete, you get to have your first interaction with the elephants – feeding time.
- Walkabout: When the elephants finish eating, that’s when you finally get to walk around the park. Some of the elephants at Elephant Nature Park have been rescued from illegal logging or tourist riding camps, while others were saved from trekking or circuses.
- Lunch: Eat like the elephants! This, of course, means vegetarian food only – but it’s so delicious, you won’t even miss the meat.
- Fun in the Mud: After lunch, you get to watch the elephants have fun.
- Switch It Up: When early afternoon comes around, say goodbye to your tour guide and hello to your accommodations. The day visitors will start to leave, and your night guide will arrive.
- Chill: Revel in the beauty of where you are. You’ll be taken to where you’ll be staying the night. Every inch of Elephant Nature Park is beautiful, so take some time to just enjoy your surroundings.
- Dinner and a Show: Once again, you get to eat delicious vegetarian food – but this time, it’s followed by a very unique and fantastic sight, should you choose to attend.
- Sleep: Ok, so you don’t HAVE to sleep – but you do have to go back to your accommodations.
- Time for a New Day: Don’t bother setting any alarm on your phone or watch, as the elephants will be your alarm clock for this trip. When you wake, make your way down to the main hall where you will enjoy more vegetarian food for breakfast.
- Private Tour: Get a closer look at the elephants during their morning feeding time. Because there are less people than the day before, you will get a chance to get closer to these beautiful creatures in their new home. You’ll even see a few of them that day guests don’t get to see. This will take all morning, but it’ll fly by faster that you think.
- Field Trip: Today’s lunch will be at a different site up the hill. It’s still on property, and there’s still delicious veg food – but it’s separate from the day visitors, and it gives you another part of the park to admire – and more beautiful elephants.
- Say Goodbye: Grab the souvenirs you want, take all the selfies you’ve been missing, and say your goodbyes. You will be taken back to your hotels in the same vans that dropped you off.
Do They Really Help?
You may be thinking: “How do the elephants benefit from my visit to Elephant Nature Park?” This place brings safety and security to each animal that enters, ensuring that none of them are ever tortured or abused again. You can tell by the way they talk that every person who works here truly cares for the wildlife and the environment. For its human visitors, ENP offers truth and awareness. It forces people to open their eyes and see what humans are really doing to nature and its creatures.
Elephant Nature Park provides many opportunities to visit or volunteer in several Thailand and Cambodia locations. Visits range from just a few hours to a week long stay, and some visits include interactions with the park dogs, as well. I had the opportunity to experience their overnight visit, and I am so glad that I did. I recommend this place to anyone and everyone who visits Thailand. It should be at the top of your list!