Amanda is a travel and food blogger who lives in Marrakesh with her family. When we heard that she was on the lookout for an ethical elephant experience in Chiang Mai, we asked her to pay a visit to our local project, the Elephant Nature Park. Here’s her family experience of our 2-day Elephant Encounters trip in Thailand.
When I was growing up animals were never something that interested me. I didn’t care for pets and was never one to beg my parents to ride an elephant at a zoo or circus. But, my kids are a different story. They love animals and will take every opportunity to spend time near them. This has led to some tricky situations. When we travel there are many locations who sell the opportunity to hold, ride, or handle animals like monkeys, snakes, or tigers. What’s a mom to do?
Doing our research
When my oldest son (11) and I started to plan our trip to Thailand this year he did a lot of research. In Thailand riding elephants and visiting tiger temples are common ways tourists are enticed to have a “local” experience. For me it always felt wrong. I encouraged him to keep researching and to also see what people had to say about these places. I am glad he did and came to his own conclusions rather me making the decision for him.
Choosing an ethical elephant experience
We decided that riding elephants or petting chained tigers wasn’t for us but instead opted to visit the Elephant Nature Park to learn more about these animals and see them treated in a humane way. We were still able to have a very up close and personal experience without harming the elephants. We learned about their lives and how they’re often treated. Elephants have been used for centuries as work animals but often times the working conditions are dire. Today, many are used in the tourism industry, giving rides to visitors.
What can you expect at the Elephant Nature Sanctuary?
Lots of animals – and not just elephants! The sanctuary started out as a means of rescuing abused and mistreated elephants in the early 1990’s but has since grown to become a haven for other animals like cats, dogs, and buffalo. We were able to feed the elephants snacks like bananas and watermelon. It was also possible to get close and touch some of them. In the afternoon everyone went to the river for a bath. What’s more fun than bathing an elephant at a river in Thailand?
Respect and appreciation for these gentle giants
Each elephant has its own story and the volunteers and employees at the sanctuary know them individually. The animals are never tied or chained which is much different than how they’re treated elsewhere. The sanctuary is important because these animals are unable to be returned to the wild. Many have only known life in captivity while others have physical health problems that need continuous care and attention. Expect to walk away with an understanding and a healthy appreciation for these giant animals. Standing next to one can leave you in awe. They are very powerful and strong creatures – not one I would want to anger!
For my son and I this was a wonderful experience to interact not only with local wildlife in a safe way – for both us and the animals – but also learn about elephants. It never crossed our minds after visiting to even consider riding an elephant when we knew what they might experience in the hands of more unscrupulous owners. This is a great experience for older children who can follow directions and there are some age limits on activities so you’ll want to check ahead of time.
If you’d like to visit the Elephant Nature Park as part of your Thailand holiday we offer a two-night trip that includes local accommodation and transfers.