Heading to Chiang Mai, we knew from research and conversation that one of the most interesting things to do there was have an up close experience with elephants. That was the general plan upon arriving in Chiang Mai, but now we dug a little deeper and found three basic offerings for elephant experiences. Rescue parks were one option, but we didn’t find any that offered riding, and these were run more like reserves in that sense. You gained knowledge through lecture primarily it seemed. Secondly, there were parks that seemed to be more like circuses, advertising incredible shows and amazing tricks. We’re not vegans, but we certainly still have hearts, and this wasn’t our cup of tea either. So lastly, and being our subsequent choice, we found some parks offered up close experiences that put you in the shoes of a Mahout (elephant trainer/caretaker). You learned how to feed the elephants, issue commands through practice, take a ride through the jungle, and finally bath the elephant after a long day.
Some packages can get a bit pricey, for a backpackers budget in Thailand anyway, and we found a great value with Baan Chang Elephant Park. For 2,400 baht per person, we spent an entire day with the elephants, which included a two hour ride through the jungle. Trust me, this will be enough, as elephants certainly are not the easiest animals to ride given their girth. Also included was transportation to and from your hotel (park is a 50 minute ride outside of Chiang Mai), and finally an AMAZING thai lunch. One of these Mahouts learned how to cook from their momma, no doubt.
The staff and Mahouts were incredibly nice, easy going and accommodating to all, even the children who were part of our small group. One gentleman was even kind enough to take our video camera and get some shots for us that we would have never been able to capture, which is priceless. I can’t say enough good things about this outfit.
The experience with the elephants themselves was just wonderful. I personally felt like I was 10 years old again, and marveled at their intelligence and striking personalities. It is a rare treat to be able to lay a bunch of ripe bananas on the tongue of a beast that although gentle in nature could crush you with his foot. A small baby elephant was also in our pack, and its young nature was evident through all his actions, as he never left his mother’s side, ripped at foliage without obedience and threw cool dirt on his sunned back.
Apart from the feeding, the second big highlight for me was the bathing in the river. It is likely the only time in my life I will get to swim in a river with an elephant. For further enjoyment it was really touching to see how each elephant was overcome with satisfaction when in the water. All around us elephants waded, or rolled over sideways or flopped about through the current. Obedient to their Mahout’s playful instigation and to the laughter and enjoyment of all, each elephant would suck up great gulps of water through their trunk, only to blow out a big gust of water on any that dared to be dry.
Name: Baan Chang Elephant Park