When I was young I use to have VHS tapes that I would watch over and over again (ask your parents what a VHS is kiddies). One of these was Dumbo. I loved the beginning when all the baby animals were brought by the stalks and would land in their little homes. But, like most children the thing I loved the most about the film was the elephants. I loved Dumbo. His big ears and his little trunk. I am not the only kid that was traumatised when he’s separated from him mum, and has to hug her through the bars. Even hearing the ‘baby mine’ song makes my eyes fill up. Since then I’ve always been fascinated by these huge, gentle creatures, and passionate that they shouldn’t be locked up. I learnt a lot about them as a kid and loved how smart they seemed. It was a huge item on the bucket list to see one.
When we went to Thailand two years ago we both knew that seeing elephants something we wanted to do. But once we started researching how horrible most Elephant excursions were we were heart broken. We didn’t want to give money to anyone who would treat these incredible animals badly. After a hell of a lot of research we found the incredible Elephant Hills in Surat Thani national park and the experience blew us away. As is the way with most travellers bucket lists we crossed off ‘seeing an elephant’ and replaced it with ‘see elephants again’.
When we added Thailand to our itinerary this time around it was the perfect opportunity to have another heffa related experience. Unfortunately with us traveling constantly for 4 months our budget didn’t allow us to fly the length of Thailand to go back to ‘elephant hills’ so we crossed our fingers and hoped we’d find a place in Chiang Mai that we could catch a glimpse of the gentle grey giants.
. We do not want to ride them – they are not made to bare weight and their backs aren’t able to carry humans let alone a huge chair.
. We do not want them to be chained – enough said.
. We do not want them to do tricks – They have to be ‘broken’ when young to be trained and its impossible to achieve this without pain.
. If we can’t touch them but they are happy then we don’t mind – we’d rather see a happy dot in the distance than a sad animal up close.
I would honestly recommend that most people should stick to these rules when booking an elephant experience. Call the place, read reviews on trip advisor and ask around in your hostel or hotel. Just being the word ‘humane’ or ‘eco’ is on the leaflet doesn’t mean they are actually these things.
Our friend Kaleena , wrote a great piece about her time in an elephant home that you should all read. And as she points out, it’s incredible to be near these creatures but we are aware that it is only because of the past abuse they’ve experienced. If tomorrow there was no more elephant attractions but we could see them with binoculars in the wild, we would be happy. Anyway rant over…
We researched and researched, ignoring the many places in Chiang Mai. The only place that seemed reasonable was The Elephant Sanctuary. It was much more expensive than the others but we were happy to pay it. Unfortunately due to our awful planning (mine, not Lee’s. He is a jedi at planning) it was fully booked , but we were sent to another place they recommended , and it was also recommended by some friends of ours. We were pretty confident it would be humane and the elephants were actually being saved from horrible ‘eco-friendly’ excursions.
And we LOVED it.
We spent the entire day at the park. We prepped food and medicine for the animals (also dogs and cats), cleaned out their sheds, travelled to a local sugar cane farm and cut down the food for the elephants, watched them have a mud bath, got muddy ourselves, and watched them bathe in the river. It was a great day from start to finish. The elephants seemed happy and content. Playing with each other and enjoying their food and treats.
Being next to these creatures is very humbling. They tower above you and even though they aren’t aggressive in any way you are aware you are next to a wild animal and we were in awe of their intelligence. The only issue we had with the park was that they had a new baby who was tied to his mum with a rope. We asked about the rope and the onsite mahout who lives with the animals told us that the baby was a few months old (and he was adorable). Unlike most baby elephants who are taken from the mother straight away he was allowed to stay with his mum but since they only have 4 elephants it’s a lot smaller than the natural herd in the wild. The baby would normally be looked after by everyone. The elephants had acres and acres of space and the baby (when it wasn’t tied to mum) tried to see every inch of the grounds. This was upsetting the mum because she couldn’t keep up with him (due to her injuries after years of being abused) so they tied them together to keep the mum calm and to stop the baby getting into trouble or falling into the river when no one was looking. The relationship between the mum and baby was beautiful and it is a shame that they can’t both be free but it’s nice to see how happy they are in this new home. I hope that this place can keep growing and growing.
We felt extremely privileged to be near these incredible animals and as you can see from the photos, it was the happiest day of the holiday.