Have you ever wondered what it would be like to swim with elephants, or to even stay overnight at an Elephant Sanctuary? At the Chiang Mai Elephant Jungle Sanctuary packages range from a half day trip to an overnight stay and come inclusive of pick up and drop off at your hostel or hotel accommodation.
High on my list of things to do in Thailand was visiting elephants at one of the sanctuaries set up to protect these magnificent creatures. After doing extensive research I decided to go with Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, whose information you’ll find in pretty much any hostel or guesthouse in Chiang Mai. I opted for the half day experience of spending the morning feeding the elephants, bathing them and finding out more about the work that went on at the conservation sanctuary.
Getting There: pick up from your hostel will be arranged for 7.30 am.
Costs: packages start from ฿1,700 for the ½ day all the way up for ฿4,900 for an overnight stay.
Additional Information: take a spare pair of clothes and wear your swimsuit as you’ll be swimming with the elephants!
One of the main reasons for choosing Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is the fact they don’t allow elephant riding. I’ve seen so many tourists riding elephants and it’s always been an issue for me, Elephants are not designed to be ridden and most of the work that these type of sanctuaries do is saving these beautiful animals from a life of being ridden for 12 hours a day by unwitting tourists.
So what’s wrong with elephant riding?
Many things have been found to be wrong with elephant riding that is conducted for tourists. Elephants are not designed to be ridden, and over time their spines are acutely damaged by carrying the weight. Secondly in order to train the Elephants they are beaten into submission, quite literally, so that they do as their trainer asks for fear of pain. Finally there are less than 2000 Asian Elephants left in the wild due to a decline in habitat and the illegal capture and trade in the tourism industry, by riding Elephants people are supporting this illegal industry unknowingly.
That’s why the work of places like the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary (website link) are so important. Don’t get me wrong they are a tourist attraction but they are dedicated to rescuing elephants and providing a better home for them than they would otherwise have.
Pickup is arranged for 7:30 or 8 am there will be about ten of you bundled into the back of a Songthaew for the 2 hour ride to the sanctuary. In my opinion this was the most uncomfortable part of the day, the ride is not that much fun, it’s cramped and the roads can get pretty rough but it is all worth it once you arrive at the sanctuary and meet the elephants.
Arriving at the camp we jumped off the Songthaew, and within seconds we saw a herd of six elephants meandering by a river at the base of the forest floor. You could hear distant trumpeting as the Elephants spoke to each other and the excitement grew. We wandered down to the camp entrance totally in awe of the size of the creatures in the distance.
Once at the camp we changed into traditional ‘Karen’ tribes clothing and heard all about the background of the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. Founded in 2014 they have quickly expanded to caring for over 40 Elephants across 5 different camps. We were at Camp 2 where there were a total of six elephants: 4 female adults and 2 adolescents.
After our introduction it was time to interact with the elephants. We were each handed a bucket of food and guided down to an open area where the elephants were roaming. Standing in a circle the Mahouts (elephant trainers) lead the herd over to us. I’d never experience anything quite like the feeling of a 3 ton animal ambling towards me while I stood between them and their food! These giant creatures meandered over slowly and waited for us to start feeding them, this part was magical. We spent more than an hour feeding the Elephants their favorite concoction of bananas and sugarcane. What astonished me is how much these guys eat, somewhere between 100-250 KG per day as well as at least 50 liters of water!
After spending an hour or so feeding them literally tons of food it was time for them to have a bath. The Mahouts led us over to a small waterfall about a 10 minute walk through the forest and all six of the elephants dived straight into the water. We swiftly followed and spent the next hour bathing with the elephants. The noises they made while bathing were those of sheer enjoyment! The little trumpeting calls the adolescents would make were adorable and you could clearly tell this was their favorite part of the day.
Time seemed to move so quickly and before I knew it 3 hours had passed and it was time to head back to the camp where a delicious lunch had been prepared. Following lunch we were taken back to our hostel in Chiang Mai. The whole experience was incredible, spending this much time up close with the elephants, seeing with my own eyes the enjoyment they had while bathing and learning more about these magnificent creatures is something I will remember for the rest of my life.