Elephants are symbolic of Thailand, and Thai people care about their well-being. Elephants, however, are often treated as a tourist attraction, and the quality of their lives can be extremely poor.
Elephant keeper programs aim to rescue as many elephants as possible, giving them a good place to live, where visitors can spend a day while taking care and playing with these beautiful creatures.
We have chosen two programs for you; one near Chiang Mai, the other near Chiang Rai.
Elephant Experience in Thailand
Elephant Nature Park, a rescue and rehabilitation center near Chiang Mai, provides a natural environment for rescued elephants. With a day tour, you will walk with the elephants in the jungle, feed them with fruit, and bathe with them in the river. The park staff will tell you everything you need to know about elephants.
Anantara: Golden Triangle and Elephant Camp & Resort (near Chiang Rai), offers a more luxurious stay, with comfortable rooms and everything you might want from a resort. Every night, you can choose from one of various activities. The main activity is of course playing, walking, or bathing with the elephants.
The main concern of both parks is the well-being of their elephants. They provide an ethical service, and are against any form of maltreatment. You can visit these parks and be sure they are operating only for the well-being of the animals.
4-Day Best of Chiang Mai Tour：
Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai
The program here started in the 90s with the purpose of creating a natural reservation for elephants. The park is only 60 km from Chiang Mai, and deeply values the help provided by volunteers.
Their mission statement can be summarized in five points:
- To provide a home to endangered species.
- To restore the rain forest by planting trees in the area surrounding the park.
- To preserve the culture of the local community and create employment for locals.
- To educate visitors about endangered local species.
- To act independently of groups or political movements contrary to their mission.
To visit the park means to learn more about these amazing, big animals, and contribute to their well-being.
Visiting the park for one day is a great contribution to the project and a great experience for anyone. You can choose from many tours.
A typical one-day tour (from 8 am to 5-6 pm) includes: pick-up from one of the offices in town; a buffet or a picnic lunch; feeding the elephants, walking through the jungle, and bathing with them.
You will be accompanied by a knowledgeable guide who will inform you about the personal stories of the rescued animals, providing a wonderful learning experience for kids and adults alike.
Tour choices include:
- Elephant Wellness: A special small group tour that focuses on the rehabilitation of elephants. Visitors prepare food for the animals and learn how to take care of them with an herbal treatment.
- Care for Elephants: This project is run by local villagers. Visitors spend the day walking with elephants, feeding them and playing with them in the river. It is a wonderful opportunity to spend a whole day with these animals and learn how they live.
- Sunshine for Elephants: This program focuses on newly-rescued elephants, still getting used to living freely. Besides spending time with the animals, you will help by planting trees.
- Elephant Nature Park – Short Visit: This visit is tailored for those who don’t have much time. You will feed the animals and walk with them, and bathe with them in the river. You will leave the park in the early afternoon, right after lunch.
- Elephant Nature Park – Single Day: Similar to the previous tour, but you will have more time to spend in the park (you’ll be back in the late afternoon).
Prices for one-day tours range from 2,500 BHT to 6,000 BHT, depending on the program (children from 2 to 11 years old pay half-price). Programs suit all ages and fitness conditions.
A huge part of the work in the park is done by volunteers. You can choose between two volunteer programs: Journey to Freedom (one week) or Weekly Volunteer (up to two weeks). Both programs start on Monday with a traditional ceremony.
As part of a small group of volunteers working side by side with park staff, you will interact with elephants on a daily basis; preparing food and bathing sites, cleaning their shelters, and helping with the maintenance of the park.
Your day will begin at 7 am with a good breakfast, and you will start work at 8 am. While volunteering, you will have an opportunity to learn more about Thailand and elephants: how they interact with each other, what problems they face nowadays, how the park is trying to help them, and much more.
With the Journey to Freedom program, you will get in touch with people of the Karen hill tribe, and learn more about their culture and traditions.
Programs cost 12,000 to 15,000 baht per week. Only children 15 or over are allowed to serve as volunteers.
How you can help
The park survives mostly because of the kind help of visitors. Just going to the park for a day, or spreading the word about it, would be a great start.
You can follow the park on Twitter and share knowledge about elephants and all the park’s activities, and you can also give a donation directly to Save Elephant Foundation.
When travelling in Thailand, avoid supporting elephant poachers. Do not buy products made with ivory or elephant skin. High demand for these products would result in the death of many elephants.
Do not forget there are only 30,000 Asian elephants on the planet. If you wish to buy a souvenir, you can order something from their online shop, for example some ENP Coffee.
The park always needs supplies, and on their website, you can find a wish list. Helping them with the purchase of concrete (to build a fence), or of a large-animal ultrasound machine, for example, would be an inestimable help.
Transport and arrival
You will be picked up at one of the various offices of the program in Chiang Mai. It is advisable to arrive in Chiang Mai the day before the visit.
Punctuality is important: the private vans of the program have to drive around Chiang Mai picking up all visitors. The drive takes around 90 minutes.
6-Day Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai Highlights Tour：
Anantara – Golden Triangle and Elephant Camp & Resort near Chiang Rai
This resort in Chiang Rai offers a different experience, and it is recommended if you love camping and complete packages, especially if you are having an annual holiday with your family.
Located where the Ruak River meets the Mekong (about an hour from the airport), this resort is designed as a traditional mahout village, and it offers you the chance to spend time with elephants while enjoying a comfortable and luxurious stay.
Packages and prices
The Golden Triangle Discovery Package offers three different kinds of accommodation:
- Three Country View Family Suite, starting from 57,000 Baht (about US$ 1,600) per night;
- Three Country View Suite, starting from 42,800 Baht (US$ 1,300);
- Deluxe Three Country View, 30,800 Baht (US$ 940).
The package includes a relaxed breakfast buffet on a terrace with a stunning view and a lunch and a dinner later during the day (beverages included; and it is possible to have in-room dining).
A private limousine with snacks will pick you up at the airport and drive you back once your trip is over. The rooms have Wi-Fi, a mini-bar, and plenty of facilities.
Every night during your stay, you will be able to choose a different activity.
The main activity in the package above is a visit to Camp Dara Elephant Camp. Here you will be able to walk along with the elephants on their daily walk in the jungle, while a veterinarian will instruct you about elephant biology and living conditions.
On arrival, you will be greeted by elephants in the sunset, while you enjoy dinner in a finely decorated room. You will have a chance to feed and watch the animals from an observational platform.
Another fun activity, ideal for the whole family, is a picnic among the elephants, cooked by the chef of the resort. You will be immersed in nature, with elephants moving around you.
The other optional activities are:
- A cooking class where you can learn the secrets of Thai cuisine;
- A cultural excursion in the jungle with a private car, a driver and a guide;
- Body treatments, massages, and facials in the resort’s spa;
- A yoga class in a rice paddy sala, with elephants wandering around outside.
This resort is unique. It combines the luxury of a top-quality resort with the amazing experience of taking care of these wonderful giants.
Elephants in Thailand
The number of Asian elephants is now estimated to be around 30,000 (compared to 500,000 African ones). The parks host only Thai elephants. There are around 3,500 elephants in Thailand. Half are domesticated, the other half live in national parks.
Around 300 elephants live in terrible conditions in Bangkok. They are forced to walk on hot tarmac roads and beg for fruit, and owners often abuse them.
Living in the city, the animals cannot get the necessary nutriment (250 kg of food and 150 liters of water a day), and they live their lives hungry, thirsty, and confused. Baby elephants are often found in hotels, where they suffer from loneliness and boredom. Tourists are completely unaware of this.
These two parks (as well as others all over the country and in the rest of Southeast Asia) provide havens for the animals, giving them a good quality of life and plenty of space where they can roam freely. Supporting the parks is one way of safeguarding these “gentle giants”.
Visit Thailand with Asia Highlights
Asia Highlights believes in responsible and ethical traveling. We strongly believe it is important to give back to local communities and to help the country that is hosting us. Visit the parks and make your contribution to the protection of these amazing animals.
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