Our Guide to Elephant Nature Park (Chiang Mai)

Thailand is famous for its elephant related tourist attractions. However many of these involve cruel training methods or cruel elephant rides. "Elephant Nature Park" in Chiang Mai is an elephant sanctuary that seems to really care about their elephants. Read on to find out about our trip to the Elephant Nature Park, and find out what we think of it and how they treat their animals

What are elephant sanctuaries?

Elephant sanctuaries are common in Thailand. They all claim to rescue elephants (from cruel conditions), and allow tourists to feed them.

They often give tourists a very fun day, experiencing first hand what it is like to be close to elephants.

However, some do have a darker side...

Why you should avoid most elephant tourist attractions, including other 'sanctuaries'

Even just a few years ago, there were many companies offering 'elephant rides' and 'elephant circus shows'. A lot of these companies still exist, and advertise these cruel activities. But a lot of these companies realised that they can actually make more money by pretending to be an elephant sanctuary. Tourists will pay more for rescue centers, believing that the money goes towards helping elephants.

In Thailand there are lots of elephant rescue / sanctuary companies. However, if you do much research on them you will quickly find the odd few review saying things like "I stayed overnight, and saw that overnight they chain up the elephants" or "I saw the elephant handlers using sticks to control the elephants".

I did a lot of research (hours and hours and hours worth) and could not find anything bad about the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. This isn't a paid review or anything like that. There were a few other elephant companies in Chiang Mai which had very good reviews, but after reading everything I could (and all YouTube reviews) I often found a few negative comments about most of them. But the Elephant Nature Park had only 100% positive reviews.

So, we decided to book some tickets for Elephant Nature Park.

The only negative reports I found were this from 2011, from Elephant Aid International, however I only found this after I visited. It does include the phrase "They believe that an elephant must be afraid of the mahout in order to be controlled. The idea of positive reinforcement is foreign and was rejected by the majority of them. They do not use elephant hooks but employ other less obvious means to inflict pain to control the elephants. " so bear that in mind. We didn't see any cruelty when we visited..

What makes Elephant Nature Park so special?

Elephant Nature Park was founded by Lek Chailert. In 1989 Thailand banned the use of Elephants for logging, so suddenly there were a huge amount of Elephants that had been abandoned by their owners, or sold to tourist companies (for people to ride on their backs... a very cruel activity that seriously harms the animals).

Lek Chailert was a long time elephant campaigner, fighting for their rights. The park opened years ago, and is a popular tourist attraction now. It is recommended that you buy tickets a couple weeks in advance, as they often completely sell out.

What did our full day at the Elephant Nature Park look like?

  • We were picked up outside our hotel in Chian Mai at 8am by a small mini van. An English speaking guide was in the van, he explained what was going on and was our guide for the entire day. He was chatty, spoke good English.
  • The minibus ride took us on the 60 km / 37 mile trip from Chiang Mai. During this time you are shown a video (maybe 20 minutes long?) explaining the history of the park, how to behave around elephants, and how elephants are treated by cruel companies (including how they were used for logging). I don't think this video is suitable for children, as it shows quite bad cruelty.
  • Once we arrived at the Elephant Nature Park, we paid our remaining balance (we had paid a deposit beforehand).
  • The whole day was spent with the same tour guide and all of the people in the mini van. I think there was around 10-15 people in our group.
  • One of the first activities included feeding an elephant. Two elephants are brought to a raised platform that we were standing on, and we were given a big selection of watermelons to feed to the elephants. There was enough for everyone to feed the elephants.
  • Then we were taken on a long walk around the grounds. The whole area of the Elephant Nature Park is huge (much much larger that we thought it would be). Our guide took us to several elephants, and told us their backstory. None of the stories were nice - and quite a few apparently had bad legs from landmine injuries.
Our guide told us that he used to work for companies that offered rides on the back of elephants. He said for those companies he would have to make up fake backstories for the elephants, to give a more entertaining guide. He said that in Elephant Nature Park he didn't need to make anything up, because the stories are sad enough. The guide seemed genuine, but of course we had no way to verify what he was saying!
  • Along the way (during the whole day) we also saw a lot of dogs and water buffalo. They walk around the park, and all appear to be quite tame.
  • After around 1 or 2 hours, it was lunch time. There must have been over 100 (maybe more) people visiting Elephant Nature Park on the day we were there. The food is buffet style, and there was a lot of it. The food was tasty, and the cooks that were walking around seemed to take food hygiene seriously. None of us got ill after visiting!
  • After the free lunch, we were taken to the river to bathe the elephants. However we were told that within the following 2 months they were going to stop this activity. It wasn't too clear why they are going to stop doing this, but the guide did mention it isn't 100% safe. Maybe they've had accidents, or worried about future accidents. I did wonder why though, if they were going to stop it in the future, why not stop it right now?
  • The bathing in the water was fun (and I hope the elephant was ok!). We were taken to an elephant in the river (water was ankle deep). It had a big crate of food, which it was eating. We were given small buckets, and told to throw water over the elephant. This was also the time for lots of photos.
We were told that we could leave bags at the lunch tables (each guide group had their own table) when going to the river. But there is a river bank that you can easily keep an eye on your belongings. There are also toilets for changing clothes (but everyone was wearing shorts, so as long as you wear shorts and have flip flops you don't really need to change clothes. It wasn't like we were swimming!
  • After a few photos with the elephant in the river, we continued to see more elephants, standing close to them and hearing their stories.
  • There were many elephants dotted around the camp, and it start to get a little bit repetitive (especially in the boiling hot heat) however it was nice to be so close to them

Would I recommend Elephant Nature Park?

I was a bit aprehensive about visiting a place like this, as I don't think animals should be used for entertainment. However these animals do seem to be living a comfortable life. If no tourists came here, there would be no money to look after the elephants, and they would live miserable lives.


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Fri 11th May, 2018
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Elephant Nature Park - Ethically See Elephants in Chiang Mai (And What Really Goes On There)

By: Patrick

Patrick loves travelling, and has been travelling most of the year for over 10 years now. Now he shares his trips, tricks and advice here on CompleteCityGuides.com.

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