I Travel for the Stars
HomeAboutDestinationsMarylandContact
About
Destinations
Maryland
Contact
FacebookInstagramTwitterPinterest

“Care for Elephants” at Elephant Nature Park: an Ethical Encounter in Thailand

Last updated on February 25, 2024

Elephant encounters are popular in Thailand and Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai is one of the most popular, most ethical places to see elephants up close in an environment as close to natural as they can have. I opted to visit and since I wanted a closer encounter, upgraded to the “Care for Elephants” package. It was amazing, and I think of my whole time in Thailand, the best thing I got to experience.

Care for Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

Here’s what to expect when you go on a “Care for Elephants” excursion. If you decide to go, which I HIGHLY recommend, be sure to book tickets at least 2-3 months in advance since availability is limited.

The “Caring for Elephants” Experience at Elephant Nature Park

The day begins at the feeding shack. Here we got to meet our main elephant friends for the day – Tadao, Sitong, and Medo (a different Medo from the one on their website). All three were elderly females that had been rescued from the logging industry. They came in quickly and kept throwing their trunks at us since they knew it was feeding time. It was so funny!

Care for Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

Care for Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

I was surprised that they were so “small.” And by that, I mean they are about 2 feet shorter and a few tons lighter than the African elephants we tend to see in zoos. I thought I would be intimidated by their size but I actually wasn’t.

Their food for the day consisted of watermelon and bananas mashed in with rice. Since they’re older, we had to prepare their meals different ways to accommodate their limitations, like making the food softer. One elephant also couldn’t use her trunk to eat so we had to put the food right in her mouth. I had no idea elephant mouths were, quite frankly, so gross looking!

Care for Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

Care for Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

Care for Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

We got to spend a lot of time feeding the elephants since they each had a whole basket full of food. Even that was a bit of a learning experience since I’d never been so close to an elephant trunk before. They’re kind of weird looking. It was real fun getting to feed the elephants because it’s something they clearly enjoyed. We also got to learn about their personalities. Tadao’s was “no food, no friend” – ha!

Care for Elephants at Elephant Nature Park Care for Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

After feeding was over, we got to go on a hike with the same three ladies. We each grabbed a bag of bananas and headed along the river. That’s how the elephants knew to go with us – instead of prodding them with hooks, they followed us since we had food. They’re allowed to do whatever they want but it was pretty much guaranteed that they’d hike with us after being fed.

Care for Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

Care for Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

This was definitely my favorite part of the day. I forget how long the trail must have been, but it was a while. It was a time to get to know the elephants in a more natural setting. I remember feeling something brush against the back of my arm, and when I looked back, it was an elephant trunk looking for bananas. At that moment, I thought how cool it was to be out here taking a hike with these majestic creatures. Not everyone gets to do that in their lifetime.

Care for Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

Care for Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

Even though the elephants were very food-driven, it was also special because they interacted with us. We weren’t merely observers looking at them from a distance, but they were following us, touching us, asking us for food, and they just wanted to be around us. It was such a heartwarming, memorable time. I love animals and this was my first time being with the elephants. I definitely couldn’t do this anywhere near where I live.

Care for Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

Care for Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

The next stop was lunch. After taking a slightly strenuous climb to the dining area, we were rewarded with sweeping views of the park. Most of the area is covered with trees but we could still see some of the elephants roaming about. The meal is a vegan buffet and I really appreciated it. Not just because I’m vegetarian, but because it doesn’t make sense to me when animal rescues or places that claim to love animals serve animals as food. This was another sign that Elephant Nature Park is a true believer in their mission.

Care for Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

After about an hour of eating and resting, we got back down to the trio we had been hanging out with that day. It was time to give them a bath. I wasn’t expecting this since their website says they no longer let people bathe with the elephants but that may just be for the general visit. For some reason, we weren’t allowed to take off our shoes, but we got in the water and starting pouring buckets of water over the elephants to wash and cool them down.

It warmed my heart to see Sitong having the time of her life in the river. She was rolling around and trumpeting away and I’m just so glad that after a life of hard labor, she finally got to experience freedom and joy.

Care for Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

Care for Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

But all was not super joyful. It was here we learned more about elephant drama. Apparently they’re very picky about their water and don’t like to swim in the same water as dogs. So when the dogs started swimming on the other side of the river, the elephants left. It was like watching Mean Girls but with elephants. “You can’t swim with us!”

Care for Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

Care for Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

After their bath, we got a banana refill and walked back with them to the enclosure we’d met and fed them in. This apparently never happens, but someone in our group actually got his foot stepped on by one of the elephants! Apparently it didn’t hurt much and he was able to move his toes, which means nothing was broken. After learning that it didn’t hurt, I admit I kind of wanted to be stepped on by an elephant too. I mean, wouldn’t that make a great story?

(Disclaimer: if you do visit, don’t actually try to get stepped on by the elephants!)

Care for Elephants at Elephant Nature Park Care for Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

Care for Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

When we got back to the feeding shack, we got in the van for a quick trip across the river. This was our visit to the part of Elephant Nature Park that’s open to the public. It’s the section the general visitors get to see.

Here, it was more like a huge zoo enclosure that we got to go into. Like when we played Zoo Tycoon as children and deleted the enclosure walls to let the animals roam free with the visitors. Here we got to meet many more elephants, most of which are female because they’re calmer. Apparently they hang out in cliques and don’t really socialise beyond their 1-2 close friends. Another Mean Girls moment for the elephants.

Elephant Nature Park Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Nature Park

At the park, our guide told us a lot about the different elephants and what they’d endured before Elephant Nature Park rescued them. However at this point, we didn’t go up and touch the elephants since we didn’t have a reason to (our reason before is that we were feeding them). You have to imagine that for the elephants, they can find it weird or uncomfortable if people just come up and start touching them. This area was more for observation than interaction, which is why I was glad to have chosen the Care for Elephants package.

Elephant Nature Park Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Nature Park
The elephant above is apparently a big troublemaker and likes breaking into the kitchen.

It was lovely seeing the elephants playing with their toys and walking down to the river to take a bath – enjoying their lives as they didn’t get to before. We also got to see some babies but we weren’t allowed to go anywhere near them since they’re squirmier.

Elephant Nature Park

After going on a tour of the main part of Elephant Nature Park, we had some free time to go to the shop or the cafe, and to observe the elephants from a platform above (it’s a different platform from their SkyTree). Then, after about 5 or 6 hours with the elephants, we headed back to Chiang Mai.

I wasn’t terribly excited to go back. I wanted to spend some more time with the elephants. I liked watching them and seeing each of their personalities. Also, the scenery of the park is absolutely stunning. It was just a fun day and even though we were “working” and excited about the elephants, it was actually quite relaxing. It felt like it was only us and the elephants in a beautiful valley and that was just so calming.

Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Nature Park

The Elephant Nature Park also rescues other animals, so you’ll encounter lots of dogs on your visit. I was surprised they were so good with the elephants – mine would probably try to fight one and die in the process! At their main center they also have the Cat Kingdom you can visit.

I cannot recommend Elephant Nature Park enough, and I highly encourage anyone who visits to get an upgrade to be closer to the elephants. It was a splurge – about $100 extra – but absolutely worth every penny. And not only does it go to having a memorable day, but for funding a fantastic organisation.

Elephant Nature Park Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Nature Park is an elephant rescue. Their inhabitants have had awful lives with lots of physical abuse and of course the mental and emotional torment that goes with it. One elephant we met couldn’t stand up completely because she’d been attacked by a male elephant and had broken her leg while logging. You can read her story here but be warned it’s really, really sad (though of course it does have a happy ending given the circumstances). Another one stepped on a land mine and her foot was destroyed.

The “before” is really depressing but it highlights the importance of places like Elephant Nature Park and other elephant rescues. Many of the elephants we saw at Elephant Nature Park were flapping their ears and their tails, eating well, playing with toys – having a life they deserve. A visit isn’t just a way for you to see elephants up close and interact with them. It’s also showing monetary support for an organisation that is needing and deserving of it.

Be careful when choosing an elephant experience in Thailand

Unfortunately Thailand is horrible when it comes to animal tourism and elephants are popular victims. Many places still allow elephant riding (which hurts the elephant and can permanently damage their backs), they still chain elephants up and use hooks to control them (this also hurts the elephants – many elephants we saw had parts of their ears torn off from hooks). There are also many elephant “sanctuaries” and “rescues” that, when you read the reviews, still use hooks or chains or other things that are harmful.

I chose Elephant Nature Park specifically because they’re thoroughly vetted. They don’t let people ride the elephants, and don’t use chains or hooks. These animals have lost natural instincts and can’t survive in the wild, so the goal of the park is to have a space where they can live as close to naturally as they can. I’ve seen criticism of them because they pen the elephants up for the night but it is for their own safety. It’s also not something they hide because it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You can see the pens yourself when you visit.

If you don’t go with Elephant Nature Park, please, please read reviews on where you’re going to make sure that they actually do treat the animals well and aren’t falsely advertising.

Your Visit to Elephant Nature Park

I obviously couldn’t recommend a trip to Elephant Nature Park more. As I mentioned, I think it was very much worth the upgrade to get a more intimate experience with the elephants. I did the “Care for Elephants” package but there are several packages available to fit your schedule.

Elephant Nature Park

I hope you enjoyed this post, and moreover, that it inspired you to visit and make a difference in elephants’ lives.

Pin This for Later

Elephant Nature Park Elephant Nature Park Elephant Nature Park


Please note that this post may contain affiliate links. These are at no additional cost to you but I receive a commission if you make a purchase through the link, and the commission helps me run my blog. Thanks for your support!

About the Author
My name's Lilly and I'm a Baltimore-based travel blogger with a focus on art and history. I work full time and manage to get in several trips a year. Learn more about me.

Tags:

Sharing is Caring


Want to support me?

Buy me a CoffeeBuy me a Coffee

Leave a Reply

Comment

Sign up for my Postcards!


For every trip I send a "postcard" straight to your inbox! Join my newsletter list for updates every few months.


FacebookInstagramPinterestTwitter
© I Travel for the Stars, 2018-2024
Website design by I Travel for the Stars. Logo design by Ellen Hafer.
Disclaimer | Privacy Policy