ELEPHANT JUNGLE SANCTUARY CHIANG MAI: HALF DAY TOUR
Elephants have always been a huge tourist attraction in Thailand, with thousands of people riding them, and attending circus-type shows every single day. According to my research, elephants are not to be ridden, and in my personal opinion: should never be kept in a zoo or be forced to perform tricks for tourists. On our recent trip to Thailand, I was determined to meet some elephants, but wanted it to be within an environment where the elephants were happy and healthy. Enter: Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Chiang Mai.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary was started in 2014 by members of the Karen tribe and Chiang Mai locals, who decided to make a stand for elephant welfare. They created an eco-tourism company which not only protects and takes care of the elephants, but educates tourists about the mis-treatment of elephants in Thailand – and how we can stop it. Genius.
I attended a half-day tour in July this year, and wanted to share my experience as I truly think everyone should have the chance to take part in one of these tours, it really was the best day of my life. Not going to lie, I cried a little when I saw the elephants – it seriously is so special.
WHERE IS ELEPHANT JUNGLE SANCTUARY?
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is located in the north of Thailand, an hours drive outside of Chiang Mai. No need to worry about getting yourself here- as part of the tour, your driver will pick you up from your hotel and drive through bush (and bumpy terrain!) and drop you off at one of 8 ‘elephant camps’, each camp with around 20 people. If you decide to do the morning day tour, you better be a morning person: Pick up is at 7am sharp. The driver will also drop you back off at your hotel afterwards.
WHAT TO EXPECT?
BEGINNING OF THE DAY:
Once you get to the camp, you are given traditional Karen clothing to wear whilst feeding the elephants. They have the most perfect pocket for holding your bananas! This is the chance to meet your fellow camp-mates, chat to the volunteers and get EXCITED about the day ahead. The volunteers gather everyone and give a talk about the sanctuary, educating you all about elephants, why are they often mistreated and what we can do to put a stop to it.
FEEDING THE ELEPHANTS:
Now comes the fun bit: Grab a bunch of bananas and wait for the elephants to come down the hill ready to be fed! (This is the bit where you are most likely to cry, ahah). Spend around an hour feeding the elephants, touching them, hugging them (and kissing them if you are a weirdo like me…) Feeding the elephants was probably my favourite part of the day, it was so incredible to be so close and personal with the elephants, an experience I will never forget. I am ashamed to admit I was a stage five clinger and didn’t want to leave.
After the elephants are satisfied and no longer hungry, change into your bikini and prepare yourself to get DIRTAY. Elephants love to be slathered in mud, as it cools them down and protects them from the harsh Thailand sun. Somehow I feel like this is their favourite part… They were so eager to get dirty! They roll around in the mud in delight as everyone smears mud all over their bodies. If you hate getting dirty, this is not the activity for you: no-one gets out clean…. the guides make sure of it! Expect a few playful mud fights to go down – SO. MUCH. FUN.
Time to wash the elephants! These elephants are seriously pampered: getting fed, having a mud massage, and now being cleaned by 20 odd people: no wonder they are so happy! It’s so nice to watch the elephants play in the water, splashing around and jumping on each other while you bathe them clean. Tough life.
Finally, walk back to camp and wash off all the mud and dirt you’ve collected in a fresh, outdoor shower. It’s the best feeling ever! Now you’re sparkling clean, grab some lunch, made for you by members of the Karen tribe and sit and discuss your incredible day. If you’ve fallen head over heels for the elephants ( a la me) this is a good time to talk to some of the other workers about volunteering – yes, you can volunteer here! It’s a dream come true – I would probably pay them to let me look after elephants all day! This is something I am seriously considering, and if you’d like to find out more, please do so here.
PURCHASE A SOUVENIR AT THE STALL:
I’m a sucker for a good souvenir, and when I heard the proceeds go towards food for the elephants and the maintenance of the sanctuary, I was their no.1 customer. I love to get little souvenirs as reminders of special experiences i’ve had throughout my travels, and this was no different. They have everything from scarfs, jewellery, ornaments, books.. if you want to see what I purchased, watch my vlog that I filmed the day I was at the sanctuary: It’s also cool to watch what a half-day tour is like!
What to bring?
- Bug Spray
- Fresh change of clothes
- Swimwear (wear under your outfit)
- Hand wipes
- Walking shoes you don’t mind getting dirty
- Camera, goPro, Phone
I’m telling you now, this is something that I wish everyone could experience one in their lifetime. It is not often I find a tourist activity that makes me feel so emotional, but Elephant Jungle Sanctuary has taken the cake: It’s in the top 5 best travel experiences of my entire life! The world needs more companies like this.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
19/10 Thapae Rd Chang Klan Rd, Chiang Mai Thailand
I also filmed my Elephant Jungle Sanctuary experience! Watch here: