I was desperate to see some elephants in Thailand and the arrival of my friend Emily from home was the perfect excuse to finally do it, at the Elephant Nature Park, a few hours away from Chiang Mai.
The Elephant Nature Park for me was the only choice of elephant parks in Chiang Mai to consider visiting. This is because after doing some much needed research, it is the only park fully equipped to treat the animals, taking in all abandoned, mistreated animals and giving them a new happy life. The park contains 40 elephants, and also has a dog shelter which houses around 400 dogs, plus a few cats, buffalo and cows.
We paid around £40 each for a day trip, which may seem a lot, but this isn’t a government run business and most of the money goes towards the animals (elephants eat a lot of fruit!) and the upkeep of the park.
We were picked up from our apartment early in the morning and shown a safety video and documentary during the drive up to the park, it was a bit of an eye opener for both of us, who hadn’t realised the harsh reality of tamed/working elephants. Bear in mind these animal are not wild and can never be released into the wild due to their past and such close contact with humans.
When we arrived we saw how big the park really was, as we passed the dog sanctuary on the way, I realised how basic and small the one I was working was. We got shown around by our guide Aeh, for the day, there are huge platforms all the way around the base camp where elephants can come and go as they like. You suddenly realise the sheer size of these animals, being Asian elephants, they are half the size of their African cousins, but trust me they do not disappoint.
We were first introduced to a blind elephant who had to feel her way over swinging around her trunk and knocking into passers by, which was pretty funny. We feed her a bucket of bananas and watermelon and got told her story, just like most of the elephants here she used to work in the logging industry, by refusing to work her owner threw stones damaging her eyes, until she was blind. Its a sad story but by bringing her to the park she was saved! The work done here was clear to see, so we really saw where our money was going.
We met a handful of elephants as we walked around the park, from old ones without any teeth, elephants with broken hips, elephants with damaged feet due to land mines to cheeky little baby elephants, all their stories were heartbreaking.
Lunch was a spectacular feast there was so much choice! The sanctuary caters to vegetarians, and the food was amazingly tasty.
Afterwards we watched an optional video and saw the Thai ritual of “crushing” elephants which breaks their spirit to prepare them to become work elephants. It really is horrific to watch, some people had to leave understandably. The animal is physically abused, deprived of food and sleep until their spirit has completely broken and they become submissive to humans. This abusive ritual is several hundreds of years old, and still goes on today.
After the depressing video it was time to wash to elephants, you realise how far they have come from their days/years of slavery. We picked ourselves up and were given buckets and taken over to the river to throw water on the elephants as they continued to eat. It was so much fun! After a while the elephants submerged themselves into the river to cool down. As they came back out they immediately threw mud back all over themselves to shield from the hot sun!
We met the founder of the park, Lek, and see first hand the bond she shares with the animals. They all love her and really care for her as if she was their family member. It was truly an amazing bond to have.
Emily and I had such a great time spending the whole day with the elephants and learning their stories, but seeing the animals there so happy, assertive and having fun really made it worthwhile. I was already an animal person but this day really sealed that in stone.