Going to Elephant Nature Park was a priority for my trip to Thailand. I wanted to see the majestic creatures roaming about freely- without ropes or chains.
I reserved my visit about a month before I arrived; it was very easy to do. There are a few options for single day visits that you can choose from and there is also an option to spend a night at the park. If my budget had allowed, I probably would have stayed overnight. In the end I chose the Single Day Visit for 2,500 Thai Baht (just under $70).
When reserving my visit on ENP’s website, I had to pay a deposit of 1,000 Thai Baht. The remaining 1,500 I paid in cash at the park. ENP will also pick you up from your hotel/hostel in Chiang Mai, so make sure you already know where you will be staying when you go to make your reservation as that is part of the information ENP asks for.
I was picked up from my hostel around 8:15am. After a few more pick-ups, we were on our way to the park. Along the way, our guide gave us some background history on the park and its many residents. We also saw a short video with some tips on what we could and couldn’t do around the elephants. The ride was about an hour long, but the van was comfortable and we did stop along the way to get some snacks and to use the restroom.
When we finally got there, you could feel the excitement. Everyone, including myself, was turning their heads every which way trying to figure out where the elephants were. Then, as we walked up to the main building, there they were. Walking around, some already being fed by visitors. Our guide took us to a table that would be our group’s table for the day. We quickly put down our bags and headed over to the rail where a big basket of fruit was waiting for us. Over the next few minutes, we each took turns feeding fruit to the elephants. Eek! It was so much fun!
Next, we went for a walk around the grounds. We learned that ENP is not only home to 66 elephants, but also to hundreds of cats and dogs, some horses, and even some water buffalo. We were told that many local farmers in the area often donate food for the animals and we were shown where new elephants are kept until they have been rehabilitated and can be introduced to the rest of the elephants and to people. We were also given multiple chances to interact with the elephants and to feed them plenty of bananas.
Then we took a bit of a break to have lunch back at the main building. It was buffet style, with both Asian and International dishes. It was all fresh and delicious. Everyone in the group was pretty hungry by that point, with almost everyone going back for seconds.
After lunch we were taken to the river where some elephants were already bathing in the water. We each had a small bucket and we took turns getting close and splashing water on them. It was a little difficult to walk in the muddy water since my flip flops kept getting sucked into the mud. A couple of times I thought I was going to fall over since it felt like my feet were stuck in concrete. But either way, it was really cool to spend that time splashing around with the elephants.
The best part about the whole experience at ENP was knowing that the elephants were living a much better life than they’d previously had. They were no longer being beaten, they weren’t being forced to work for logging companies, and they were no longer in danger of stepping on landmines. While we were at ENP, we heard so many sad stories about the hardships these beautiful creatures had endured. It brought tears to my eyes knowing that they had suffered so much. But it was a consolation knowing that they had been rescued and were being taken care of now. They are fed properly, live in clean quarters, wander freely, and can be admired and appreciated without having to give rides or do tricks. They are in a sanctuary that is devoted to their protection.
I know a lot of people want to ride elephants, but there is no elephant riding at ENP. I will admit, I rode an elephant in Bali a few years ago. I clapped and cheered when I saw them painting pictures and kicking soccer balls into a net. I thought it was all part of the experience. What I didn’t realize at the time were the things the elephants had to go through at the hands of their mahouts (trainers) in order to perform those stunts. They were tied up, beaten, scarred, and their spirits were broken.
At ENP, there are no ropes. There are no hooks. There are no 200-pound benches strapped to an elephant’s back. There are only elephants that are free to roam in their natural habitat. So if you really want to experience elephants the right way, I suggest visiting Elephant Nature Park. It’s a fun, educational, and eye-opening experience.
A few tips:
Also, if you want to learn more about responsible elephant tourism, I recommend reading this post written by Diana of D Travels ‘Round. She spent 3 years in Thailand and lives and breathes responsible elephant tourism.
Have you been to Elephant Nature Park or any other animal sanctuaries? We’d love to read your comments below! 🙂
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