It’s many people’s dream to ride elephants in Thailand. Just imagine how incredible it would be to sit atop a massive 9 foot tall, 4-ton gorgeous creature while lumbering your way through deep rivers and lush jungle. I once had the same dream too, until I found out from Elephant Retirement Park that elephant riding is very bad for these intelligent creatures. Instead of riding them, there’s actually a better way to get close. In Elephant Retirement Park, you can actually feed, shower and have a mud bath war with your elephants. Isn’t that even more amazing? That’s why in my opinion, it’s the best elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai.
My love for elephants started when…
When I was a kid, I always loved to watch the elephant cartoon Dumbo. That cute little flying elephant captured my heart with its intelligence and mild nature. Dumbo really inspired me to get closer to elephants, to play with them and be friends. So when I got older and saw that I could do elephant riding when I went to Krabi 8 years back, I was so excited. I was just too like everyone else, dying to get close the elephant and snap a picture of me on top.
Never did I realise that ride was very harmful to the elephant. In fact, elephants’ spines cannot support the weight of people. Carrying people on their backs all day can lead to permanent spinal injuries. Imagine carrying a 50 pound backpack for nine hours a day, every day on your back. Even after an hour or so, you can feel the weight of the backpack. It’s the same with elephants.
So when I got the chance to explore Chiang Mai this time, I decided to stop all those riding nonsense. Instead, I opted for an ethical elephant sanctuary that truly cares about the well-being of the animals.
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Best Elephant Sanctuary In Chiang Mai – Elephant Retirement Park
Elephant Retirement Park was established to create a haven for retired elephants. The camps founder Alex, has created a sustainable habitat for the elephants to live in a safe and natural environment, free from profiteering, torture and neglect.
My first impression for Elephant Retirement Park? It’s “FREEDOM”. I was totally surprised to see elephants roaming around the sanctuary freely and happily. Some of them even cunningly came up to us and stole away the herbal food that we were preparing for them. Cheeky guys!
And the best part? No chaining, riding nor beating is allowed in the park. All the elephants are so well-fed everyday. How would you know? You can tell from their massive and well-built size. Also, they are flapping their ears and swaying their bodies throughout the days. When elephants flap their ears, and lift up one of their legs and sway, that means that are happy! You’ll learn that from the guides too. 🙂
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Best Elephant Sanctuary In Chiang Mai – What Tours are Available?
You can opt for Half Day and Full Day tour. Due to time constraint, we only opted for Half Day tour. If you have more time, full day will definitely be a better option as you get to spend more time with all those cuties!
For those who want to fully immerse into the elephant and Thai culture, you can even opt for two days tour or longer duration voluntary programme at the retirement park. I’m sure you’ll get to see elephants from a completely different perspective afterwards. 🙂
Best Elephant Sanctuary In Chiang Mai – What is the Tour Like?
You’ll start your day early at 7am. Have some breakfast while you wait for the guides to pick you up at your hotel. After a 1-1.5 hour drive, you’ll finally reach the wild forest, where the Elephant Retirement Park is located at.
While waiting for the elephants to come, you can change into the clean clothes provided by the park. I highly recommend you to do that as you are going to get yourself really muddy and wet later! And once you put on the clothes, you’ll find yourself looking very Thai! How do you find my Thai look? ;p
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Next, you’ll spend the next 30 mins learning about herbs and making them for elephants to consume. You must be wondering why do elephants needs to eat herbs? Apparently they need certain type of herbs to help with their digestive system. Plus, the herbs are mashed with banana and some other delicious ingredients. They love it so much and even came to ransack our place before we were ready!
After you finish making the herbs, you will learn how to cut sugar canes, which will be used to feed the elephants later. I didn’t know cutting sugar cane can be so fun and challenging! It was a good workout too. 🙂
Once you and your team mates have enough sugar canes, you can now collect them into a big bag for feeding. The bananas are free to take too. The food may look a lot to you right now. But trust me, the elephants can never be satisfied with the little snack! And when you are not feeding them fast enough, they will even try to steal from you. Sneaky boys!
After the elephants had an awesome snack, it’s time for mud bath time! Elephants love mud bath to keep their skin cool from the sun. It’s so hilarious to see them stumble and roll in the mud. And it’s time for you to get dirty too! Pick up the mud and go to war. Smack your friends and elephants with your almighty mud pie!
Mud bath treatment won’t be complete if there’s no sand bath. Yeah, elephants just love different kinds of bath. ;p This is the part you can get really close to them. Coz they literally just lie in the sand and let you rub them! They sure know how to enjoy.
What’s the best way to shake off all the mud and sand? You are right, it’s water! So it’s time for the water war! Splash all you want. Splash the elephants, splash your friends, cause it means war! The water may seem a little cold at first, but you will get used to it in no time.
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The intelligent creatures even know how to use their nose to suck all the water and “attack” you with the “water gun”. Luckily, it’s not painful at all 🙂
And when all the fun is over, it’s time to get some nice clean shower and change back into your own clothes. Sadly, it also means goodbye. Be sure to receive your goodbye kiss!
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Check out the video and watch out for elephants “ATTACK!”
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Best Elephant Sanctuary In Chiang Mai – Be Touched by Elephant Retirement Park
I had so much fun on that day and learnt a lot about these beautiful creatures from the guides and the owner Alex. They really put in heart and soul for the elephants. To them, the elephants are more than just animals. They are their family too.
Keeping elephants safe are time consuming and costly. In certain months, they can barely make any money from running the retirement park, as there aren’t enough tourists coming to the park. Yet, they persist on and never once comprise the quality of life they’ve promised to the elephants. I highly respect them for the spirit and love for the animals.
If you ever go to Chaing Mai and want to have an authentic interactions with elephants, and a real conversation with the Thai locals, you know Elephant Retirement Park is the place to go.