I was lucky enough at the end of last year to travel around Thailand with my parents and sister. We travelled around Bangkok, Chiang Mai before ending our time on a tiny island off the south coast. Those who have been to Thailand will know how beautiful this country is. It is a never ending sensory overload and I only wish I had more time to explore. This country has the ability to leave a profound effect on a person and I was no different.
Elephants are Thailand’s largest land animal and one of its largest animal exploits. This post will be about my experience in meeting elephants but I wish to speak shortly about the problems that surround elephant tourism. Being people of travel we care about the planet and this care naturally extends to animals.
I think the simplest terms in which to put this is:
DO NOT go to any elephant ‘parks’ which advertise elephant rides or elephant shows.
DO go to elephant ‘Sanctuaries’.
Some in Thailand have seen the interest in elephants from tourists and have capitalised on this interest extensively. Unfortunately in this process the body of the elephant becomes nothing more than a commodity, used only for profit, at the expense of the elephant’s welfare and health. Those in charge are often uneducated in how these creatures need to be cared for, leading to widespread mistreatment. This is an issue across Thailand and Asia. Elephants are trained by having their spirit broken, known as ‘the crush’. This involves weeks of torture and beatings until the elephants submits. They are then used for rides, shows or as street acts where they are over-worked, under-fed and kept in appalling conditions. If you enter somewhere that offers rides or shows, I urge you to leave.
My tip to avoiding such places is researching the place you are going to, read trip advisor reviews. It will quickly become apparent whether the company care about the elephants or money.
My family and I visited the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. This was without a shadow of a doubt one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary has 5 locations around Chiang Mai and look after over 20 elephants. They are dedicated to the welfare and health of these creatures as well as educating the public on how they should be treated.
After a very early start and a bumpy 2-hour car ride up into the valley we arrived at the sanctuary. Upon arrival we were given a multi coloured thread top. I would recommend bringing shorts as otherwise you look half naked like I did. But to be quite honest no cared about the semi-nudity, least of all the elephants. After an introduction to the team we were given a talk about elephant care and a history of all the elephants in that location. The carers were kind and intelligent, stressing the need for improved conditions for these animals.
After this we were lead down to the wide open field where the elephants were. Coming face to face with these creatures in an environment that is entirely their own is indescribable. The elephants were not fearful and would happily walk around us sniffing our hair and eating bananas out of our hands. All the food is provided by the sanctuary so do not worry about bringing any with you. Fun tip: the elephants love the bananas and sugar cane, but aren’t as keen on the cucumbers so grab the former if you want to be popular with them! Be calm and patient with the elephants, they’re naturally curious and playful. But mind your feet!
Everything is done on the elephant’s time; the feeding session can take thirty minutes or an hour. It is completely up to them. After the feeding we went on a short walk with the elephants up the ravine and finally down to the small lake that lay below.
Then it got really fun. We were shown how to help wash and scrub the elephants. Definitely bring a swimming costume or trunks with you because it gets very wet. No matter what age everyone was splashing around in the water. Truly unforgettable.
After this we walked back to main hut and said goodbye to our new friends. This entire experience felt calm and natural, a far cry from the mechanic and capitalist attitude seen at other locations. This piece is by no means meant to sound preachy or condescending. Obviously no one in his or her right mind would wish to see an elephant hurt. My aim is to merely pass on the knowledge I learned from this experience and share the magic I felt from this day.
Thank you and happy travelling x
Follow more of Grace’s adventures here.
Useful links to learn more and the website of the sanctuary I visited: