As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the highlights in Thailand was visiting the Elephant Nature Park which is about an hour outside of Chiang Mai. We chose the two day one night trip which cost us 5,800 baht each (just over £100). There are lots of ways to see elephants in Thailand but as you can imagine a lot of these are really unethical and the cheaper they are, it's likely the worse the animals are treated. We didn't want to put money into funding these kinds of places which is why we chose the park.
All of the elephants here have been rescued, some were street elephants, others were used in illegal logging and some of them were involved in forced breeding. The injuries some of these elephants sustained are heartbreaking to see but watching them roam, be fed and spoilt here is so great to see.
All of the elephants are assigned a mahout when they arrive and these people live and breathe alongside their elephant. The elephants learn how to trust and have very obvious bonds with their mahout's. Elephants are extremely intelligent and really are gentle giants. Of course, there were some moments where we found ourselves hastily getting out of the way because they are, after all, (HUGE) wild animals but there was never a point where we felt unsafe.
Our group of nine were led by a guide who had been in the bus picking us all up from our individual hotels. He knew loads about the park and was great about answering questions. The first activity was feeding the elephants which we did from the covered veranda where all our meals were served. It's all open air and the animals roam about just feet away. Once the buckets of watermelon and bananas came out lots of sneaky trunks appeared, tapping about the air for the fruit.
For most of the day we simply trailed around the park, following the footsteps of giants. You get to interact with them, stroking and admiring them, feeding them and washing them in the river. For an elephant lover it was seriously dreamy, they're incredible.
At lunch and dinner time there's a huge vegetarian buffet to tuck into. Now this isn't usually my cup of tea but it actually wasn't bad and there was heaps of different things to try. We were told 'It's all vegetarian because here we look after animals, we don't eat them.' Fair enough.
In the evening, our group sat chatting about travelling, great box sets and horrendous travel toilet tales. We laughed a lot and then went to our stilted houses for lights out. The elephants slept just metres away in their barns and the sounds of the occasional trumpet would pass through every so often.
It was an early start for breakfast which was fine as we wanted to get the most out of our final day. Day two was much of the same but we ventured further around the park, crossing through the river and tracking the various herds. We had a different guide and he told us to fill up our water bottles for something cool. After crossing the river to visit three females, he showed us how to offer our water to them by putting our bottles near their trunk. As they turned them upright we poured the water into their expectant trunks and seconds later it reappeared shooting out in a big spray.
If you're looking to ride elephants, this isn't the place to come. As we were told, elephants backs are actually quite weak and shouldn't carry heavy loads. The Elephant Nature Park is solely about observing these beautiful beasts, interacting with them and enjoying them in as much of a natural environment as it can be.
We loved our trip and it was well worth the money. All our food and water was included, as was the transfer to and from our hostel. If you're planning a trip to Chiang Mai and want to see elephants I would highly recommend it. Watching the babies playing, feeding and chucking buckets of water over these gorgeous animals is something I will never forget.
All the information about the park can be found here > Elephant Nature Park including information about volunteering, prices and FAQs.