How we Spent an Incredible & Ethical Day with Elephants in Chiang Mai
Elephant Pride is a family-run project part of the ‘Saddle Off’ program introduced by Elephant Nature Park. Saddle Off visits provide a unique experience with elephants, most of which have only been freed recently from trick-shows and back-damaging tourist rides. The owners of Elephant Pride stopped elephant riding in 2018. Thanks to this, we got to spend a day walking with elephants in the jungle, bathing them in a close by river and gave them a mud bath. Read on to find informations about our ethical day & adventure with elephants, which was one of the best days of our lives. And so you do not hesitate to book a similar experience while visiting Chiang Mai!
We chose Elephant Pride ‘Saddle Off’ camp, as we were booking last minute and this camp seemed to have the least occupancy. In the end, we were a group of 5 and had lots of fun together!
↬ TIP : How to plan and book your visit read: Visit the Wonderful (and Ethical) Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai
We were picked up at 8.20 AM at out hotel in Chiang Mai by our guide and a driver. We drove in a comfortable van for about an hour to the north. During that time, we talked to our guide about the program and watch an introduction and safety video. Elephants are wonderful and calm creatures, but they are animals, which react instinctively. We learned that we should never approach animal from behind and never pick up the food if you drop it in front of them.
We arrived at the camp and saw 3 incredible elephants waiting for their breakfast. They gave us the choice of changing to typical Lanna shirt and pants and wear rain boots, not to dirty our clothing.
↬ Note : There are small lockers on the site where you can put your belongings.
We met 3 elephants during this ethical and fun day: 30 and 40 year old females and a 60 yo male named Sembran. He spent most of his life at a logging site, then was used in a riding camp… And finally 2 years ago was brought to Elephant Pride where he can enjoy the rest of his life at his own pace. At his age, he is slower and can’t chew as fast as the other elephants. We gave him more attention and patience ?
We fed elephants bananas, sugare cane and bamboo. It was so much fun and we took soooo many pictures. We packed more snacks in the bags and went for a nice walk in the nearby forest. Elephants just roamed freely and ate a lot of grass as fruits we packed for them were fast gone ?did you know that elephant eats 200-300 kg of food per day?!
↬ Note : There is a photographer on the camp that takes pictures during the whole day. The photos are after uploaded on their Facebook account for everybody to see.
It was then lunch time already so we helped to prepare some of the food: we learned how to make one of the most popular Thai dishes- the spicy green papaya salad. ?Lunch was all vegetarian and the food was amazing. The Pad Thai with tofu was delicious and fruits so fresh!
The most exciting part of this ethical day with elephants was the river bathing and mud bath that followed right after! It didn’t bother us that it started raining, we followed 3 elephants into the river and helped them splash happily. We even got trunk showered a few times and it seemed like elephants did that just to mess with us ?
↬ Note : We packed out Go Pro specially for this occasion, but it turned out we forgot to put a memory card inside…
From the river we jumped straight into a mud pond! Elephants don’t like to stay clean for too long. ?The truth is that mud protects them from insects and sun burns. They put it on their backs with the help of their trunk. A lot of mud showers splashed straight on us but that only increased the fun (well maybe until so much mud got into Martyna’s eye that she couldn’t see through her contact lens anymore…and yet she just laughed through it and continued putting mud on Sembran’s back).
We were dirty but very happy- the same as the elephants; who got hungry again! This time we had to prepare all the food. We mixed sticky rice, bananas, tamarind, corn kernels, oat and salt and made energy balls. Then chopped bamboo and sugar cane. And it seemed like we did a good job and elephants enjoyed their late lunch ?
Our ethical adventure day with elephants came to an end after we washed off the mud and changed back to our clothes.
↬ Note : There are simple toilet facilities on the side and showers. The camp provides towels.
We were back in Chiang Mai around 4PM. Just in time for an evening massage. Did you know that it’s one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai?
Memories we created that day will last a life time. Even now writing about it, there is a big smile on my face and tears in my eyes.
Should I visit?
Absolutely! However, remember that we recommend you to visit only the ethical Elephant Nature Park and the camps from their Saddle Off program! Those places need tourists and their money to provide food and sanctuary for the elephants. They are a perfect example that elephants do not need to suffer for people to enjoy their company.
DO NOT RIDE ELEPHANTS
We passed next to numerous elephant camps on the way to Elephant Pride. We were horrified and sadden to see so many tourists still riding elephants! Watching them from far, we saw how the saddles cuts through elephants skin, how mahouts stick the bullhooks in the most sensitive parts, elephants ears and eyes… It’s simply unbelieve that in 21th century, when internet is accessible to almost everyone and the terrible truth behind those camps is few clicks away, people still ride elephants. How can you smile and take pictures while others suffer because of your ‘pleasure’. We ask all of you always: do your own research. Make sure that the place you go to doesn’t harm the animals in any ways. Thai families view elephants as their family property. But with time and informations, they are more and more willing to make tourist spend an ethical day with their elephants, as they can themselves see the benefits of this more natural and peaceful way of making money. The elephant are not agitated anymore and stop showing signs of destress when they take off saddles for a couple of months.
What to take
- You can take one small bag each. Wear light and comfortable clothing that you won’t be sad if becomes dirty. You can put the traditional Lanna pants and shirt over your outfit to keep it clean. It might be useful to bring just in case clothes for change.
- Wear flip flops, but take socks with you. Like this you will be able to use the rain boots provided by the camp. Alternatively wear water shoes (anti slippery and easy to wash).
- Pack a swimsuit for the river and mud bath. You could keep the Lanna outfit otherwise, but everything underneath will get wet.
- Take a hat, biodegradable sunscreen and natural mosquito repellent.
- Camp provides water, but in plastic bottles. Bring your own reusable bottle and filtrating bottle.
- If you wear contact lenses bring liquid and box to clean them. Martyna wasn’t able to see after mud got into her eye. Luckily, she had a contact lenses box with liquid so she could rinse the lenses.
- Camera with extra batteries and Go Pro. But do not stress about taking pictures. All the pictures from that day taken by the photographer will be uploaded on Elephant’s Pride Facebook Page.
- We find antibacterial wipes to be useful always while traveling. We always use them before eating if we can’t wash our hands.
↬ Read : Speaking of ethical, maybe you’d like to read Why we decided NOT to visit the Long Neck Karen Tribe in Chiang Mai?