Spending a half day in elephant sanctuary is truly an amazing experience. In Thailand there are many elephant sacturies, the most of them are located in Chiang Mai. My friends and I visited the Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary which I would definitely recommend. Now let me tell you more about it.
What is an elephant sanctuary?
Elephant sanctuary is a rescue centre for the elephants that were used for riding, logging or performing circus tricks. The elephants that are in the sanctuaries were often mistreated, cruelly separated from their mothers, beaten with sticks or bull hooks and left without food. The purpose of these cruel things was to “break them”, to make them obey and do what people want. Nowadays, there are many rescue centres that take care of the elephants with respect, they make their lives happier. The forested land around the sanctuaries gives the elephants a chance to roam around in near natural surroundings. They wear a wooden bell to get easily located and they are never chained up.
The Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary offers different kinds of visit. You can spend a half day up to two days there. Just check their tours here.
Half day in Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary
My friends and I chose the half day visit. The official price is 1500 bahts/person, in the tourist office we got a discount so it cost us just 1300 bahts/person (we were told not to say it to anyone so keep it as a secret please :). We chose the half day morning visit so our day started very early. They picked us up at 7 a.m. from our hostel in Chiang Mai with a covered pickup truck. The drive took around 1 hour and it wasn’t comfortable at all. There was just “natural” air condition so in the morning it was a bit chilly. When we were getting closer to the sanctuary, the way was very bumpy so we were literally jumping on the bench, nearly hitting our head. Fortunately, somehow we survived the journey and we were excited about the following programme.
When we arrived, we had to put our swimming suits on and took a uniform provided. The uniform was actually a colourful T-shirt that helps to the elephants to recognize their caretaker and like that they don’t get agitated. Our tour leader was Alex, it was a funny guy that made our time there really enjoyable. So when everybody was ready, he told us some basic information about the sanctuary and the programme. After that, two of my “bodyguards” (one was sick) and other guy took boxes with bananas and we went to see the elephants.
Feeding the elephants
First we sat on the benches, Alex presented us four of the elephants, explained basic things about these giant creatures and then showed us three ways of feeding them with bananas:
1. Holding banana in the hand or mouth and they take it with their trunk.
2. Saying “BUN” while lifting your arm, they lift the trunk, open the mouth and you throw it directly to their mouth.
3. Saying “BUN” while lifting your arm, they lift the trunk, open the mouth and you put it directly into their mouth.
It was fun to feed the elephants, we got “an elephant hug” as well, we could touch them and take many photos with them. When they ate all bananas, we went to the mud pit.
A mud pit is like an elephant spa. First we took off the uniforms and Alex started to put mud on everyone so everybody got muddy even before the elephants arrived. Then we were covering all the elephants in mud, rubbing their hard skin. The mud is very good for them because it protects their skin from the sun. When the mud treatment came to an end, we headed down the path to the river.
Before entering the river we got plastic containers. First we washed ourselves and when the elephants arrived, we were splashing them with the water using the containers. We had to wash them properly so after splashing, we were pouring the water over their bodies and washing them by our hands. One of the elephants was really happy because she threw herself into water. Anyway, this was our last closer contact with the elephants.
Short walk & lunch time
After the bath in the river, we took a short hike. Following Alex we were walking barefoot along the path in the forest. The way took us to the small waterfall where we had quite relaxing time. We could wash ourselves better from the mud, go near the waterfall and take some photos as well. Then we were just sitting and talking. After some time we had to go back and we had lunch all together. It was a buffet so we could take how much we wanted and the food was very good.
After the lunch, we received a little snack and water for the journey back. As a present from the sanctuary we got a keychain with little elephant. We said goodbye to Alex and the elephants and got on the truck that took us back to our hostel in Chiang Mai.
Visiting the elephant sanctuary was one of the best adventures in Thailand. Getting closer to such a giant yet gentle animal was an unforgettable experience. Feeding the elephants, hugging them, touching them, covering them in mud, washing them, this is something that I will always remember.
If you ever get a chance to go to an elephant sanctuary, just make sure it’s an ethical place where they take care of the elephants well and don’t allow riding them. The Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary seemed pretty good to us, they took care of them well, the elephants were getting all they needed. During the entire tour they also took many photos of us which they shared on their facebook later on so we could download all the photos we liked. The staff was very pleasant too so I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it!