Elephant Nature Park
I didn't post about this I realised but, as luck would have it, last night I had to write an article about it, so I thought I'd just c&p it for you to read too:
Wherever you go in Thailand you cannot get away from elephants. Stone elephants outside temples, pictures of elephants, metal elephants, cute baby elephants being paraded around towns with their mahouts (trainers) persuading you to spare a few baht for food for the elephant, posters and travel agents enticing you to visit an elephant camp or go trekking.
Due to necessary restrictions on logging in Burma and Thailand, an increasing number of elephants have found themselves unemployed during the last couple of decades, and many have been sold into the tourist industry as a result. Whilst it can be argued that elephants are physically designed for hauling logs about, the same cannot be said for carrying around tourists on seats that are not designed to work in harmony with the back of the elephant and which has led to many elephants being badly crippled.
Sadly, many working elephants in both industries have been and are being abused in their training and in their daily working lives.
With this in mind, I love elephants and was dying to see some in Thailand over Christmas, but without contributing to their bad treatment.
After a bit of research on the internet, and bulletin boards especially, I discovered The Elephant Nature Park (also known as The Elephant Conservation Park), which rescues abused and badly treated elephants and doesn't work them. The park currently has over 30 elephants, including children and babies.
Without a doubt, visiting the elephants was the highlight of my trip to Thailand.
At US$68 it maybe isn't the cheapest option that most budget travellers seek but it was well worth the money for me.
The day begins early with volunteers being picked up from Chaing Mai hostels and taken to a market to help load up a small part of the elephants daily food onto the backs of trucks.
After that it's a long but pleasant drive through villages and countryside until you arrive at the park and are welcomed in by one of the many enthusiastic staff.
Standing safely on a shady platform you are then distracted by the elephants as you hear stories about the founder and how the park came to be, how the elephants came to be there and how they are now. All the while, the elephants are within touching distance of you as they wait and hover around for the food trucks, which were late, to arrive.
The park is quiet apart from the noises from the elephants and the occasional yelp from one of the many rescued dogs laying around that someone trips over.
As interesting as learning all about the park is, being so close to the elephants as they wander around, play and look after each other is a truly amazing distraction.
Eventually the food arrives and the longer term volunteers disperse it between baskets. We then grab the baskets and the elephants come to us to be fed on bananas, cucumbers and the smallest watermelons I have ever seen. Most of them gently take the food from your hand, curling their strong muscly trunks around the food, some prefered the food to be placed into the nooks they formed with their leathery trunks that were covered in very hard hairs. Yet others, just couldn't be bothered with the effort of maneouvering the food 'all the way' from their trunk to their mouth, and just threw their trunks over their heads, opened their mouths wide, and gazed at you as you had to place the food into their mouth. Incredible.
All of our hard work (!) was rewarded with a massive delicious buffet lunch where, after pushing aside the many lazy cats so you could sit down, we relaxed and chatted with the staff.
After lunch it was bathtime for the elephants. We were handed a bucket and a brush each and walked down with the elephants to the river where we splashed splash and scrubbed them and tried to avoid being trampled on, soaked or hit by a passing turd...
As soon as the elephants had had enough, they wandered out and within minutes had again totally covered themselves in dust in playful displays of sand squirting.
We then watched a video about the elephants and learned some more about them before a final bathtime and a taking a few dozen more photographs and being returned to our hostels.
The park doesn't hide anything from the visitors. We saw them chaining up the elephants for the night but, as they explained, this was to stop the elephants from wandering into neighbouring farms and the elephants now associate their chaining up for the night with their final feed time. The daytime is their own to wander around. Seems like the next best thing to not having been captured in the first place to me.
The day was a truly unforgettable experience and one I couldn't recommend more.
It is possible to book in their offices in Thailand, but you can also book on their website, which is well worth a look anyway: