My first trip to Thailand saw me riding elephants in Khao Sok national park, feeding the animals and screaming like Tarzan from the heavy seat mounted on its back. It seemed legit, and the animals didn’t seem to mind too much. Ignorance was truly bliss.
Our recent trip to the north of Thailand took us to the Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary for rescued animals including over 70 Elephants, cats, dogs, pigs, and buffalo. Located a short drive from Chiang Mai and during the drive I was educated as to why the park existed, and more importantly why it needed our support.
Freedom from chains
Knowledge is power
Thankfully since my first experience with the elephants of Thailand I’d learned a little of their mistreatment, the sad and painful “breaking” of the elephant before it begins its harsh life either working on logging camps, circus performing, or having tourists ride them on “nature trails”. After finding these facts out I was adamant never to put a penny into these kind of activities. We were recommended to visit the Elephant Nature Park, although we didn’t want to stand next to one of these amazing animals feeling helpless and sad for it’s mistreatment, I finally got my chance to see them without their chains.
The park is huge and lush with carefully thought out interaction areas for everyone to observe and interact with the elephants, roaming buffalo and a few resident dogs and cats outside their sanctuary area. We were well briefed before being taken by our guide to meet a few of the residents, some of whom were still suffering from physical and mental injuries of their old life. We met many groups ranging from the oldest who refused to leave the river until she was ready, to the naughty youngsters who threw dirt at their keepers demanding more food. But a high standard of safety and care was always present with staff keeping a watchful eye on tourists and the animals throughout.
My highlight of the day was after wallowing in the mud baths the elephants moved to the nearby river to soak themselves in the cool water, guests were given buckets to throw water over the gigantic animals and of course lots of fruit to keep them interested and happy.
They were amazing hosts for our visit, and we enjoyed every second spent in the park. The last thing to do was pop by the dog and cat rescue centre that they also ran, with an army of volunteers walking, cleaning, taking care of injuries
Your only a stone throw away from real heroes
We’d seen this lady on the orientation video as we drove to the park, speaking and educating us and others with a short orientation movie played in the minibus. Sangdeaun Lek Chailert, founder of the park and all round legend within conservation efforts in Thailand and around the world, and we were lucky enough to bump into her on our day. A lovely lady who kept thanking us for supporting the park by coming, but it was us who were star struck to meet her, a hands on person who is full of positivity. Thanks to the efforts of her and staff at the park the number of animals being rescued is rising, and with that the number of educated tourists will too. Hopefully bring an end to traditional elephant riding camps in not only Thailand but worldwide.
Asia has so many tourist attractions involving animals great and small, so if your planning a trip to Thailands northern town of Chiang Mai please pop in and visit. Your entrance fees go to keeping these animals in food and medicine and ensuring they can live out their days without chains. We loved it and wished we had more time with these guys.