Feeding The Elephants – Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai
I love elephants. These magnificent creatures are smart, emotional beings who form family groups, hold friendships, have great memories, and are as sensitive as they are strong.
Elephants are amazing.
On my trip back to Thailand last month visiting Elephant Nature Park was number 1 on my list of things to do, having visited the sanctuary back in 2015 on our last visit, I was super keen to get back to hang out with the elephants.
Elephant Nature Park
Elephant Nature Park (or ENP as it can be known) is a sanctuary that rescues and takes care of elephants that were forced to work in the tourism or logging industries in Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia. It’s primary mission to is be a permanent home for these elephants so they don’t have to work again. But the Elephant Nature Park is also a campaigning and advocacy organisation helping to raise awareness about the cruelty of using elephants in tourism industry.
Part of their mission is to educate visitors about the plight of working elephants as well as other endangered species. The Elephant Nature Park as a visitor attraction is a great way to do this, by engaging visitors in the truth about elephants in tourism in a way that is educational and inspiring.
The sanctuary is not only home to elephants but also to rescued dogs, cats, water buffalo, and a few other species of animals in need.
At Elephant Nature Park they are strictly a no-riding visitor attraction. Riding elephants can cause them harm, and more importantly the process that tames elephants in order to be ridden is violent and cruel.
You can choose to visit for either a day or even volunteer for a few days or more – they have facilities for overnight stays.
Our Experience Day
On both visits to Elephant Nature Park we were picked up nice and early from our hotel from one of the many minibuses that whizz around Chiang Mai. We were picked up around 8am, made a few more stops to pick up others and then we were off on the 60km drive north out of the city.
During the drive our guide introduces himself, he is to be a guide for the entire day (I think there are about 10 guides a day). There is a screen in the minibus that comes down and plays 2 short films. The first is a safety demonstration and guidance film to make sure we know how to conduct ourselves and be safe around the elephants. The next is a short documentary about the plight of elephants working in the tourist industry in Thailand, how the park got started, and the work they now do there. It’s a great introduction to the day and set the tone for the visit.
As soon as we arrive at Elephant Nature Park we set our bags at our table for the day which is on the main feeding platform and we are straight onto feeding a family of elephants. There are baskets of watermelon and pumpkins placed beside us for the whole group of visitors to pick from. We take it in turns to place the food into the trunks of the hungry elephants.
Raj and I ended up feeding one of the baby’s this time, and it was ridiculously cute! This baby did NOT want anything other that sweet watermelon. Fussy kids, eh?!
After this there is a guided walk around the park with insight into how the elephants live. (Did you know they eat for 20 hours a day????!!!! That’s a lotta food.)
We had an early lunch and it was epic! It’s entirely vegetarian (of course) and a huge buffet of different types of noodles, vegetable curries, stir-fries, and rice. It was so tasty I even when back for seconds.
A new edition to the Elephant Nature Park that we particularly enjoyed was the coffee bar. The ENP now has it’s own brand of coffee which tastes delicious. We treated ourselves to two coffees on our day and ended up buying a pack of the coffee beans they sell. Of course, the ENP coffee is a sustainable community initiative that works to give back to the community and bring much needed employment to local people. From our point of view, it tasted amazing so everyone’s a winner!
During the afternoon session you get a chance to bathe the elephants, or if you’re on a short day trip you observe the bathing. We didn’t do the bathing this time but did find the elephant we had hugs with last time during her bathing session. It was awesome to see the elephant that we had such a connection with last time.
We also had time to wander around the platform area and give strokies to the cats and dogs that hang out there each day. Most of them spend the days sleeping, but some enjoy a bit of fuss.
On our previous visit we walked to the edge of the park where the dog sanctuary is to visit the rescue dogs. A lot of them are strays or they’ve been rescued from cruelty. There is a separate tiled area specifically for the deformed dogs without hind legs. The tiles are smooth enough for them to drag themselves around with their front legs. The sanctuary has a re-homing scheme where they are trying to find forever homes for the dogs all over the world.
We had another feeding time for the elephants the day is suddenly over and we’re hotfooting it back to the minibus.
It’s incredibly how quickly the day flies by. You kind of wander around in this cloud of awe surrounded by these magnificent giants. I can’t even begin to tell you how amazing it feels to be so up close and personal with them.
All in all, it’s money well spent. The revenue generated from visitors helps feed the elephants the several tonnes of food needed to keep them healthy every day. And with the continuous education of tourists maybe one day we’ll see the saddles taken off these elephants so they can live healthy, happy and lives free of pain.
Top Tips for Visiting Elephant Nature Park
This is a popular elephant sanctuary so it is worth booking your spot as soon as possible!
Pack some cash with you to buy coffee, soft drinks, or souvenirs.
Wear comfortable shoes, preferably closed toe ones, that you’re happy to get muddy/sandy.
Pack a change of clothes for bathing the elephants in the river. If you have waterproof shoes/sandals they are best but flip flops will do. I don’t recommend going in the river bare foot.