Thoughts of Thailand often conjure up images of lush jungles, dazzling beachfronts, and succulent noodles for daaaaays. Not to mention, those legendary purveyors of good luck and prosperity: elephants!
Indeed, elephants are among the most incredible creatures on earth: with their playful nature, they’re really just gentle giants, and having the opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with them is a bucket list experience – and an absolute must when traveling to Southeast Asia!
One of the best places to have elephant encounters in Thailand is up north in Chiang Mai. There are dozens of companies that offer elephant experiences there, but the one my friend and I chose to explore was Elephant Jungle Sanctuary – and it was without a doubt one of the highlights of our trip.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary consists of multiple camps spread out across the jungle, where visitors can explore ravines, muddy hillsides, and riverbanks, all while learning about and interacting with the sanctuary’s resident elephants! They offer Full-Day, Half-Day, and Overnight visits; since we were pressed for time, we opted for the Half-Day Afternoon tour, which lasted about 4 hours. For 1,700 baht a person (~$50USD), we were picked up from our hotel and taken via tuk-tuk into the heart of the jungle, right into elephant territory!
Here’s the thing: many tourists go to Thailand and visit elephant riding camps, completely unaware of the abuse and inhumane treatment that those elephants receive as “training”. Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and similar sanctuaries are becoming more and more prominent, and they work to combat precisely what riding camps do. All of the elephants found at the sanctuary are rescues, and the mission is to rehabilitate them while educating the public on the dangers and mistreatment of riding camps.
The experience we had at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary was truly phenomenal. Not only did we get to learn all about the physicality and personalities of Asian elephants, but we were able to interact with the elephants in more natural, ethical ways – feeding, bathing, and playing, but no riding. I never imagined I’d get the chance to touch an elephant, let alone have it scoop banana after banana out of my palm, or splash around before me in a muddy river – and in Thailand at that, where elephants are a national symbol!
They were the most playful, gentle creatures, and though their size was definitely intimidating at first, the chance to interact with them for a solid four hours was unforgettable.
Bottom line is, elephants weren’t born to carry people around on their backs, and doing so is a harmful practice to them. If you’re planning to visit Southeast Asia and want to get up-close-and-personal with these amazing creatures, I urge you to choose an elephant sanctuary (such as Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, or Elephant Nature Park) versus a riding camp. Apart from being an ethical, eco-tourism experience, it is truly so special.
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Interested in learning more about Elephant Jungle Sanctuary? Check them out on the web here, and feel free to send any questions my way in the comments below!