Just about any travel destination in the world will have some type of animal attraction or activity. Some of these activities are great, but far too many of them do not treat the animals humanely. In general, do your research well to make sure it is a practice you truly want to support, no matter how cool the photos would be. In Thailand, the elephant is a national symbol; however, elephants are often mistreated in the midst of animal tourism. I did a lot of research on the best and true “elephant sanctuary,” and landed on the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai.
BOOKING YOUR TOUR
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary has several different packages to choose from, but my group went with the afternoon tour which was about $60. That included round trip transportation from our hotel in Chiang Mai to the sanctuary as well as dinner for us and food to feed the elephants. You can find much more information about each package and book your tour here.
The driver arrived at our hotel, and I was surprised to see a pickup truck with seats lining the bed and a Jeep-like shell on top … no seatbelts in sight. Sorry, Mom! I never told you that part. It was a windy, but pretty drive up to the camp that lasts about 1.5 hours.
ARRIVAL AND FACILITIES
When we arrived, everyone had a chance to use the porta-potties and put on a traditional Karen tribe woven tunic. Keep in mind that the toilets are plastic walls in the jungle of Thailand. My advice for fellow bug-phobics is to do your business and get outta there fast without looking around you!
FEEDING THE ELEPHANTS
The entire tour group got changed and sat down under the pavilion for a mini-orientation. They told us a little bit about the elephants and gave instructions on how to feed them. If you hold the banana out, the elephants will curl their trunk around it. If you say “bon bon,” they will lift up their trunk and you can put the banana right in their mouth! We got a lot of time to interact, feed, and take pictures with the elephants.
This is apparently my, “Oh my gosh! I’m hugging an elephant!” face.
BATHING THE ELEPHANTS
After feeding the elephants, our guides took us down a trail to a river for a mud bath with the elephants! I didn’t wear my swimsuit because I thought I wouldn’t want to get in the water. I’ll admit, slimy mud on the bottom of a jungle river full of elephants was definitely outside of my comfort zone, but I’m so glad I did it! I did bring a change of clothes, but I stubbornly rode home wet because I was NOT going back in that porta-potty.
I did get nervous a couple of times when an elephant would walk toward me in the water, and I was scrambling over rocks to get out of the way. It’s not an aggressive walk, though. It’s more of a slow-motion, “Oh hey human! I want to play with you!” Also, the guides were always there to lend a hand to help me out of the way.
After our fun in the water, our guides led us to another pavilion to rinse off with clean water (bathing clean but not drinking clean), dry off, and have dinner provided by the sanctuary. Once everyone was finished, we made our way back to the trucks and headed home.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOUR VISIT
- You will be riding for an hour and a half in an open bed truck without seatbelts. Mentally prepare accordingly.
- Wear your swimsuit there underneath normal clothes. As you are eating, your swimsuit can dry enough to put your normal clothes back on for the ride home. Bring a jacket if you’re cold natured like me. With wet hair, wet clothes, and an open truck, I had a cold ride home.
- Wear waterproof sandals. If I had some, I wouldn’t have had to feel the slimy mud on the bottom of the river, and I would have had a much easier time navigating the slick rocks.
- Don’t get the river water in your mouth, and wash off really well with the hose at the camp and in the shower at home. I didn’t have any trouble, but my roommate came back with a parasite in her stomach and ringworm on her back. While I feel like that was, unfortunately, one of those worst-case-scenario unlucky situations, it’s much better to be safe than sorry.