The first time I ever saw an elephant outside of a zoo was a mere two weeks ago during our short stay in the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya, sadly these elephants were being ridden by their owners and tourists, this is something I don’t agree with and something I would never condone, although I believe for the most part that the tourists who ride the elephants aren’t cruel natured they are simply ignorant to the damage it does to the elephant and the cruelty they have had to endure to perform such unnatural tasks.
We knew we would be in Chiang Mai in a week or so and we promised ourselves that we would visit one of the few elephant sanctuaries that do not allow riding and genuinely care for the elephants.
We arrived in Chiang Mai a little over a week ago and have since moved on via motorcycle along the Mae Hong Son loop but three days ago we visited the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary which is located around two hours outside of Chiang Mai. You can visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary website here. You can never be 100% sure but from what I saw this seemed like an ethical place. They told us that the elephants are bought from riding camps either to retire the elephants or to get them before they are even ridden by humans.
We opted for the half day package which seemed a very good deal at around 1,700 baht per person which is roughly £35, we booked the tour from their office in central Chiang Mai the day before. On the day we were picked up from our hostel doorstep at around 11:30 and after picking up a few more people we were taken to the location which is around an hour and a half away on mostly twisty jungle roads.
When we arrived at the sanctuary we were introduced to the elephants, one baby which was around three years old, a teenager, a middle aged one and an old elephant who they referred to as the grandma who was an impressive 65 years old. Unfortunately you could see the damage riding had inflicted on the middle aged elephant whose spine was clearly visible, but fortunately he/she no longer has to endure that life. After meeting this group of elephants we went on to see a couple of young elephants, one was seven and the other was eight years old.
After spending maybe an hour feeding the elephants with what must have been over a hundred kilograms of bananas which was an absolute first for me and I the experience of having an elephant take a banana off me with its trunk was incredibly rewarding, the baby has to have bananas peeled for him which I found to be really cute.
After feeding the elephants we led them down to a big ditch filled with wet sludgy mud (and probably a lot of their poop), the elephants lapped up the experience rolling in the mud while a few of us got in with them and smeared them in the mud after first being coated in mud ourselves by the guys at the sanctuary, I got a more than adequate coating whilst Becky looked on at me in horror.
From the mud pool we took the elephants down to a small lagoon down a slope, this was by far my favourite experience in the day, the elephants seemed at their happiest rolling around in the water, dunking their heads under, spraying water on themselves and us with their trunks, kicking their feet all while we stroked them, poured water over them and generally had a really special experience. You can see the whole experience in the video below. Due to how muddy and wet things got I don’t have many photographs from the mud or water but you can see all of it in the video below which I took on our GoPro Hero 5.
We have done a fair bit on our travels up to now but I have to say this experience really blew me away, I never realised just how majestic these animals are up close, it is certainly an experience that will stick with me and if you want to experience the same then I can totally recommend the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. If you look on their Trip Advisor page you can see they receive mostly excellent reviews, there are the odd few who state that they thought it was unethical and while I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion I think they have likely just been written by people who outright disagree with humans having any contact with animals. Perhaps it would be better if all animals were left in the wild but it’s my opinion that the world isn’t the place it was a hundred years ago – habitats have been destroyed, poaching has decimated numbers and wild animals have been taken from their natural habitats only to be maltreated so in the current world I believe eco-tourism projects like this one and others where the animals are treated well is the best case scenario and from what I saw the elephants at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary seemed really happy.
I hope you’ve liked this post, I have much more to write about our current travels around northern Thailand, so please stay tuned and if you like what you’ve read please like and follow 🙂