Visiting the Conservation and Elephant Sanctuary in Pai, Thailand
Getting There: pick up is arranged 75 meters down the street from El Cafecito (A Mexican restaurant in town)
Costs: ฿1000 Donation
Suggested Times: the eco-tour picks up at 1pm and drops back around 5.30/6pm
What to Bring: wear a swimsuit as you’ll be bathing the Elephants, and make sure you’ve got sunscreen and mosquito repellent as well.
While I was in Pai I really wanted to see some of the conservation projects that I’d read about, and what I particularly liked about this one was that it’s primary goal was to slow deforestation of Northern Thailand by planting vast numbers of trees every year, their secondary goal is to provide a safe haven for elephants.
To arrange to be on one of the eco-tours you just have to go to their website, and register for the tour. They’ll arrange pick up from the center of town at around 1pm and take you on the 30 minute drive down to the conservation area.
Most people come to see the elephants, myself included as this is a much cheaper way to interact with elephants than a lot of the sanctuaries outside of Chiang Mai. When I visited in January 2017 the suggested donation was only ฿500, but at that time both of the female elephants were pregnant and due to give birth, which is why the donation has now increased as there are 2 new baby elephants and two more mouths to feed and animals to care for.
When you arrive at the conservation site you are given a brief background on their philanthropy and background, with a brief introduction to how they came to have 2 elephants… essentially they were rescued from an elephant camp that was used by tourists to ride elephants. If you do you’re research you’ll find that elephant riding is wrong has a lot of negative impact on the animals and the environment, so whenever looking for conservation sites or sanctuaries ensure that there is no elephant riding involved. During this introduction you’ll also learn about their reforestation aims of planting over half a million trees in the next 12 months, to slow the impact that deforestation is having on the ecosystem.
After this brief introduction it’s time to meet the elephants, following one of the Mahouts (Elephant handlers) across a shallow river to an area where the elephants were grazing we met with the two enormous creatures. The pair we saw were mother and daughter, both pregnant and while I was there they were both expecting and ready to give birth; the Mahouts thought it would be a matter of days until one of the new arrivals came.
After feeding the elephants for an hour or so and marveling at their natural beauty it was time to take them to the river to bathe them. Because both were pregnant they were massive, waddling down to the riverside as soon as they got in the water you could see how happy they were! Laying on their sides they were all too happy to have water poured all over them as the Mahout’s gave them a scrub down and cleaned them off.
After a few hours of feeding and bathing the elephants it was back to the area just by the riverside where we had our introduction, at this point you could grab some home cooked food for ฿50 or for the same price you could also order a Passion Fruit Gin and Tonic, the project creators own concoction. Clearly I opted for the G&T and sat there in the blazing sunshine with my delicious drink watching the Elephants graze in the shallow river bank.
The entire day was an awesome experience: watching the elephants in their natural environment and getting up close and personal. This tour had a much less organized feel to it than the elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai. The guys that run this organization were very informative and I could see that the animals were really well treated and had plenty of space to roam. The added bonus for me was the amount of work they were doing for reforestation and although that is the primary purpose of the project the elephants are what really draw you here.