Chiang Mai: Meet the Elephants

We booked our flights to Chiang Mai very last minute, and to be honest I knew nothing about the place except that mba Aggy likes it there. After a failed attempt to see the elephants in Luang Prabang, I told the husband that while in Chiang Mai… let’s go find elephants.

From our hotel in Chiang Mai Old City, we were picked up in a song thaew (like a mini truck) at 11:30 AM and drove for about 90 minutes to the camp, then trekked the village for about 15 minutes. I was hoping for a van but realized towards the end of my journey that a van won’t handle some of the road nearer the camp. 

Our mahout, Chai, explained that there were many families owning elephants as a means of transportation in the past. Elephants were used for logging and transportation when the road were not ready for cars. Later on when riding camp was introduced as a form of tourism, a lot of people sold or rented their elephants to the riding camp because keeping the elephants themselves just bring harm not only for the elephants, but for their village. Elephants ate neighbor’s crop, causing conflict between villagers and cost them a lot of money that they don’t have.

Also despite their large size, elephants are not designed for carrying people on their backs since it could lead to injuries. However, people know that elephants are one of the attraction for people to come to Thailand. So instead of abusing these large mammals to work for hours carrying people, at the very least in the sanctuary, elephants are allowed to have free time to roam around to get food at their own phase. It was considered as a better alternative.

As we arrived, we were given a woven poncho — I assumed it was for the elephant to recognize us as their feeders. We were allowed to take photos with the elephant, but Chai said, “Some of you may come here just for pictures, but I hope some will come here for the experience.” 

We were guided on how to feed the elephants with bananas. If you say BON BON! they should open their mouth right away, instead of picking the food with their trunk and eat.

After an hour or so, we were told to walk towards the mud river. Only one elephant actually went into the mud for a mud bath. We were told to pick up the mud and scrub the elephant skin, to my surprise, their skin felt a lot softer than I imagined it would be.  Also beware of the elephant dung haha, they defecated as we scrubbed in the mud.

After the mud bath, we moved towards the river and jumped in with a plastic bowl as our ladle. The water was cold and my husband decided to throw the water on me instead of the elephants! Ideally you should wear your bathing suit but I forgot to pack ours so ah well. 

For me it was an experience I will never forget, and it instantly became the (second) highlight of my trip (first one would be the spa I had the next day :)!)

  • A couple of tips from me if you want to visit the elephant sanctuary
    • Wear sunscreen! SPF… SPF!
    • Bring or wear a bathing suit underneath if you plan to go into the water
    • Leave your precious items at the hotel, only bring necessary items like cash and mobile phone
    • Bring insect repellent
    • Wear comfortable sandals (shoes are better but don’t forget you’ll get wet). I wore flip flop and it was a mistake since we had to go up/down the village to go to the camp. 

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