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Elephant Nature Park is one of Chiang Mai’s most popular attractions and had been on our bucket list for many years. This award winning rescue and rehabilitation centre is home to dozens of elephants who have been saved from mistreatment in the entertainment or logging industry. The cruelty these elephants have endured include torture to get them to perform in circus shows, participate in street begging or to accepts tourists on their backs for rides.
The good news is that a lot of tourists are much more savvy travellers these days and stay away from places that exploit animals in this way. Sadly animal cruelty still exists – we visited Ayutthaya a few weeks later and still saw Chinese tourists riding elephants in Thailand, so a lot more work needs to be done in educating the masses.
Elephant Nature Park was established in the 1990s by conservationist Sangduen Chailert (Lek) and one of her mission statements is to provide a home for distressed elephants as well as contributing to their welfare and development. Additionally, ENP are committed to rainforest restoration and plant 25 acres of mountainside every year. They are heavily awarded by institutions like the Smithsonian and National Geographic, and operate with the Save the Elephant foundation
As well as caring for elephants, they also care for other animals – there are over 400 cats, dogs, water buffalo and pigs, and every single dog here is available for adoption!
How to visit Elephant Nature Park
We booked a full day trip to Elephant Nature Park so we could interact with these beautiful creatures, plus learn more about the work they do at the sanctuary. The park offers a variety of different tour options but we opted for the ‘single day visit’ for 3,500 THB, which includes pick up/drop off from your Chiang Mai hotel, plus a vegetarian buffet lunch. You pay a deposit online and then pay the rest once you arrive at the park.
Elephant Nature Park also offers week-long stays for tourists who want a more hands on volunteering experience, head to their website to view the tour options and to book online.
We would recommend booking your day trip here months in advance, especially if you are visiting during peak season or during festivals such as Loi Krathong. There are many elephant sanctuaries in northern Thailand doing similar work to Elephant Nature Park, so if you cannot book with this company, take a look at the experiences on GetYourGuide or Klook.
Warning – there are a few rogue places that call themselves a ‘sanctuary’ but still keep elephants in chains or let people ride them. Make sure you do your research and read the reviews before you book to make sure it is ethical.
Our day trip to Elephant Nature Park
We were picked up by our tour guide in a small minivan from 99 The Heritage hotel at around 7.30am with around 10 other tourists. The 250 acre park is located around 60km outside of Chiang Mai old town and takes around 1 hour to drive there.
During the journey you are shown a short video explaining the park’s missions and an insight into the cruelty the elephants have experienced before they arrived at the park. A process called ‘phajaan’ involves crushing the elephants spirit – they suffer physical and psychological abuse from their owner, subjected to sleep deprivation and starvation, and made to live in extremely poor and cramped conditions.
When we arrived we were wowed at the beautiful setting of the park – so lush and green, and surrounded by mountains. It felt a bit hectic as we left the van as many more groups had also been picked up from Chiang Mai, however the tour guides are very organised and look after you well, plus the grounds are so huge that once you start the tour you are far away from everyone else so it doesn’t feel too busy.
For the first half of the day our guide took us on a short walk to meet a few of the 40+ elephants in the park. He explained each one’s history and personality, and then gave us the chance to help feed them chunks of watermelon, bananas and grass. They are very hungry and we were told they consume an average of 200-300 kg of food every day!
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There are many strict rules explained to us for our own safety, and to protect the elephants. We must stay with the guide at all times and can only touch the elephants when we are told it is safe to do so. Some elephants interact with other elephants, whilst some are so distressed that they prefer to be alone and not be touched. Many of the elephants we saw had visible injuries – poorly feet or damaged ears or walked with a limp. However they did all appear to look happy and were treated in a very gentle way by the staff – it was so heart warming to witness.
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After a couple of hours we had a break for lunch which was an incredibly huge and delicious vegetarian buffet – full of amazing looking colourful veggies! The canteen and dining room was held in a wooden building on stilts so you were able to eat your lunch on the deck with views of the lush green park and roaming elephants. There is also a gift shop where you can buy Elephant Nature Park merchandise and all proceeds go towards the Save the Elephant foundation.
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After lunch it was time to view the elephants bathing in the river. In the past the tour would allow visitors to go in the water and help pour buckets of water over them, but now rules have changed and you are only able to watch the washing from the river banks.
Unfortunately our tour guide was very slow in getting our group over to the river so we missed the washing part entirely which was disappointing – although only a minor criticism of the day though. We did make it in time to see them exit the river and then to cover themselves with sand/dirt/mud which is something they do to dry themselves, cool down and protect themselves from the sun!
To see these magnificent creatures up close was a completely unforgettable experience, and made us feel so happy knowing that they would be able to roam free, be loved and looked after for the rest of their lives. Our only hope is that everyone will become aware of the horror these elephants have gone through and that we will all boycott these atrocious activities by spreading the word.
Have you been to Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!
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Download the Grab app
Grab taxis are widely used by both tourists and locals, and the fares are really cheap! Download the Grab app here and use the code GRABCKTRAVELS to earn a free ride when you sign up.
Sim cards and pocket WIFI
Having data on your phone whilst travelling is almost essential these days – from planning your route around the city, booking a Grab taxi or for staying connected with friends and family back home. SIM cards are pretty cheap in Thailand with generous data allowances and are available to purchase from both of Bangkok’s airports, malls and 7-Elevens (bring your passport along for identification purposes).
You can also prepay online and collect a SIM from Suvarnabhumi Airport, Don Muang Airport or Siam Centre. Just remember to make sure your phone is not locked to your local network provider before purchasing one.
Alternatively if you do not want to change your sim card then renting a pocket WIFI device with unlimited high speed internet access might be for you. We’ve used them multiple times and love that we can both connect our devices to it. Pre-order one online with Klook for collection when you arrive at either Suvarnabhumi or Don Muang Airport.
Chiang Mai accommodation
Family Home Hostel
Highly rated hostel a short walk away from the old town. Check out prices and availability for Family Home Hostel.
The Islander Chiang Mai
Highly rated Thai style hostel with rooftop area. Located 2 minutes away from the famous Saturday Night Market. Check out prices and availability for The Islander.
Hostel with rooftop lounge, reading nooks, computer working areas and greenhouse lounge. Check out prices and availability for Haus Hostel.
Highly rated hotel a 10-minute walk from Chiang Mai Night Bazaar with outdoor pool. Check out prices and availability for Rimping Village.
Amata Lanna Village
Beautiful 4-star resort located a short drive from Chiang Mai old town. Check out prices and availability for Amata Lanna Village
3-star hotel with pool, restaurant, garden and buffet breakfast. Check out prices and availability for Villa Sanpakoi.
99 The Heritage Hotel
Gorgeous boutique hotel set in a colonial building with outdoor pool. Check out prices and availability for 99 The Heritage
X2 Chiang Mai Riverside Resort
Luxurious hotel set on the banks of the majestic Ping River with rooftop gym, spa, pool and bar that overlooks the river. Check out prices and availability for X2 Chiang Mai Riverside Resort
Anantara Chiang Mai Resort
Hotel with minimalist Asian design, located along the banks of the Ping River with a spa, cocktail bar and pool. Check out prices and availability for Anantara Chiang Mai Resort
Ping Nakara Boutique Hotel & Spa
Hotel set in a colonial-style building with outdoor pool, a restaurant and lobby bar. Just a 5-minute walk to the Night Bazaar. Check out prices and availability for Ping Nakara Boutique Hotel & Spa
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