There are quite a few elephant ‘attractions’ in the Chiang Mai area, but most of them have tourist entertainment as a priority: painting, rides and other similar activities.
The Elephant Nature Park is different in that its primary aim is the housing and welfare of injured or rescued elephants; which may or may not be of use in some of these other activities.
They do not provide rides and the like, but if you want to know more about elephants and their welfare, then there is probably no better place in the area.
They will also show you a video of the more traditional methods of ‘training’, one of the main aims of the park and its founder is to eliminate the traditional (and quite barbaric) old methods.
Places like this deserve support, and this is an expensive operation (running costs over $250k pa) so if you are in the area please visit: Elephant Nature Park. Some photos, video and further details below.
On my visit the park was home to about 35 elephants, but also over 100 dogs and 100 cats. Most of the dogs have been rescued from the floods further south, and another 50 were due in the next day. The woman who runs this place is quite clearly either a lunatic or a saint.
There are a few different packages for visiting available; from one day to a few weeks. I opted for the 2 day with an overnight, as this seemed to offer the best chance to spend some time without having to race off at the end of the day. There are opportunities for feeding and bathing the elephants (twice daily), and with the overnight stay you have the chance for an early morning walk around the park – this lets you get close to the elephants out in the field.
Safety is a big consideration and I would say that this is well briefed and managed, you are not allowed near the elephants without a mahout or other staff in near vicinity; this is a serious matter as not only are these animals huge and potentially unpredictable, these ones in particular have chequered backgrounds. One resident elephant had killed two mahouts before coming to the park…
The overnight accommodation is basic, but better than I expected. The bathrooms are outside at the back of the huts – and you can see the elephants a few feet away as you have your shower. They can be quite noisy during the night – I was woken by very loud trumpeting about 4.00 am – but lets face it; how many times in a lifetime do you get the chance to be woken by elephants?
Video of Hope, the elephant rescued at a few months old after his mother had been shot. He’s about 5 now and everyone is cleared out of the way when he turns up. The staff call him a ‘naughty boy’ – which I think is a euphemism for ‘potentially lethal’…