Visit the Wonderful (and Ethical) Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand is one of the best places in the world to see elephants up close. There are numerous camps where you get to touch, walk and spend time with those beautiful creatures. However, there is only one place which has the animals true interest at heart and only one we will recommend: Elephant Nature Park & camps with which they introduced the ethical ‘Saddle Off’ program. If you ever dreamed of meeting those incredible creatures, read on to find out how to do it, making sure that you contribute to the good cause!
Elephant Nature Park
Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary and rescue centre for elephants in Northern Thailand. It’s one of the oldest parks established to protect the animals. It was opened in 1996 by a wonderful woman: Lek Chailert.
A bit of the history…
Lek Chailert started working on elephant conservation in 1996. Tree (teak) logging, for which elephants were used, was banned in Thailand in 1989. However, for the elephants used in those sites this ban didn’t mean better life. They were abandoned or sold for use in the tourist industry or for begging in cities. Lots of them were injured and damaged because of the heavy work or also because of the Phajaan. It’s the traditional, brutal, and terrible process of breaking a young elephant’s spirit so it obeys humans orders… It would take days or even weeks.
Lek Chailert saved 34 elephants and started Elephant Nature Park, 60 km north of Chiang Mai. Throughout the years she was pressured by the government. However, she never gave up on her dream: to give as many elephants as possible a happy home and end animals suffering.
Nowadays the park is a home to over 200 mostly old and injured elephants, where they can live the rest of their life freely and peacefully. Each day the Park receives many visitors. They aim to educate tourists and locals and spread awareness of endangered species and of their preservation. By doing this, they hope to reduce the amount of riding camps, usage of elephants at construction sites and any other hurtful work the animals are forced by humans to do.
Saddle Off Program
Elephant Nature Park has already managed to make a difference in the lives and conditions of many elephants under the care of independent camps in the nearby area. This ongoing process aims to create understanding between elephants and owners and brings direct income to these families.
In other words: visitors pay to spend a wonderful day with the elephants. Tourists enjoy a stunning forest walk with elephants, get to feed the animals, bath them in the river and treat them with a mud spa while observing their behaviour. These Saddle Off visits provide a unique experience with elephants, most of whom have only recently been freed from trick-shows and back-damaging tourist rides. In this circumstances, owners make money and elephants, who till now served in riding camps, get to live happily & peacefully at last.
Plan your visit
Visiting Elephant Nature Park or one of the camps from Saddle Off program is the only ethical way to interact with elephants in Chiang Mai. It’s a way of making some life-lasting memories and support a wonderful cause.
Start preparation for your trip by visiting the Elephant Nature Park website. It holds lot’s of valuable information about their goals and programs as well as facts about elephants. You can book your visit directly on the website here.
Which visit to choose
Elephant Nature Park
You can visit Elephant Nature Park for half a day, full day or over a night trip. However, if you decide to visit the Elephant Nature Park itself, be aware that you will only get to observe elephants bathing from a distance, but you will still be able to feed, touch and be with them the rest of the time.
The price starts at 2500 THB (75 EUR) for half and full day (same price). It includes pick up from your hotel in Chiang Mai, vegetarian lunch, observing and feeding the elephants. Over night stay costs 5800THB (170 EUR) and it includes all meals and accommodation, as well as interaction with elephants (feeding, observing).
Chiang Mai (North) Special
Those are single day trips, where you spend time outside of the Park in the lush northern mountains. In this beautiful scenery, you will bath elephants in the river/pond, give them a mud bath and walk with them in the jungle. Rescued elephants need lots of love and care to be able to assimilate and find themselves in their new environment and you can help them with that.
The price for spending a full day with elephants costs 6000 THB (177 EUR).
Saddle Off is a program that reached the independent camps in the area. Elephants from this camp do not belong to Elephant Nature Park, but their owners let them earn money in the most ethical way. Elephants from this program are free from their trekking seats and their mahouts hooks have been cast aside. Only small groups of tourists enjoy the honour of observing their freedom and happiness; with no riding they can now walk, scratch, swim, eat, dust and bathe all at their own pace. And visitors can participate in all those activities right by their side!
↬ Note : Those trips do not visit the Elephant Nature Park itself.
Each camp has few elephants and the experience is similar. Therefore it doesn’t matter which one you pick, you will spend a memorable day. The price of the experience is 2500 THB (75 EUR). And it’s the best money you will ever spend!
↬ TIP : The maximum amount of people per day is 10. While booking you can see the occupancy for certain days by colours. Red is fully booked, orange half booked, yellow few places booked and green if free.
Is the Elephant Nature Park ethical?
Absolutely! However, remember that we recommend you to visit only 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.
↬ Read : Speaking of ethical, maybe you’d like to read Why we decided NOT to visit the Long Neck Karen Tribe in Chiang Mai
If it’s ethical then why the elephants are not released into the wild?
Elephant Nature Park and nearby camps from Saddle Off program care for elderly and injured elephants. For the animals that were brought here from riding camps, logging sites and city centers. Those elephants are hurt, injured, their spirit is broken and they would not survive in the wild. They need human protection, medication, care and love to be able to live the rest of their lives peacefully.
How can I help?
Visit the park and tell your friends and family about it! Spreading the awareness is the best way to end elephant riding. If more people hear about this wonderful alternative to elephant rides, soon camps providing the rides will be forced out of business. They will need to drop the saddles and join Elephant Nature Park “Saddle Off” program.
You can also sponsor an elephant in the Elephant Nature Park. 12 months of food, medication and shelter for one elephant is only 3500 THB (about 100 EUR). You will receive a certificate acknowledging your contribution. That sounds as a wonderful birthday or celebration gift! And a great first step to plan your trip to Chiang Mai too. You could visit the elephant, who thanks to you, lives happily and freely.
Never go to a park that advertises shows, unnatural behaviour, tricks or painting – and please, never ride an elephant.
If you plan to visit elephants during your travels: in Thailand or any other country, make sure that the place you want to visit is on the Responsible Travel support list. On this list you can also find parks and projects that are not ethical and we advise you not to visit them.