During my recent visit to Chiang Mai, what was without doubt the absolute highlight of the trip was visiting the Elephant Rescue Park. Chiang Mai is famous for its elephant sanctuaries and visiting one was definitely something that I wanted to do whilst out there. Also, I really love elephants and I’d only ever seen them in the flesh once before.
In Thailand, elephants can sometimes be mistreated. It’s popular for people to ride them but many don’t know that it’s very cruel – their backs are shaped very differently to, say, horses. Many elephants are exploited for the circus and are abused. What’s more, Asian elephants are now classified as an endangered species.
This is why I chose to visit the Elephant Rescue Park, because they rehabilitate ex-circus elephants, nursing them back to both health and happiness. There’s no riding and no tying them up. I booked onto a tour the night before and luckily enough they had space for me.
First off, we changed into our maroon ensemble, with a bamboo hat to boot. The guide explained that the reason visitors are asked to wear this getup is that the elephants are familiar with it. They associate it with friends and more importantly food. When they see visitors walking towards them wearing it, they are at ease…and know that they are about to get fed!
The tours are taken in small groups so that the elephants don’t get overwhelmed and you can connect with them. The guides are ultra friendly and their love and passion for the elephants is very apparent.
Elephants are one of the most intelligent creatures on earth and are incredibly friendly and playful, if they are in an environment in which they feel happy and safe. We fed the elephants by hand and they would either take the bananas using their trunks, or if you say something in Thai (forgive me, I’ve forgotten exactly what it was) they will open up their mouths wide and you can pop a banana right in. It just demonstrates the level of trust that the elephants have for humans, despite coming from abusive/exploitative homes. It’s a real testament to the amazing work that they have done at the Elephant Rescue Park.
What I love about the Elephant Rescue Park is that you get hands-on with looking after the elephants, rather than just observing them as a spectator. After their lunch, it was time to take them on their daily walk around the woods. The people at the Elephant Rescue Park own a massive expanse of land which the 5 elephants have to themselves to roam free.
It was quite clear to see that the elephants love their walks. They followed along, eating shrubbery and playing along the way – there’s certainly no coercion involved at all.
Visiting the Elephant Rescue Park really was the standout part of my trip to Thailand. I had such a fantastic experience and so I wouldn’t think twice about recommending it. The visit was well organised, the staff were incredibly friendly and they are doing amazing and important work for the elephants. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s run like a charity and not a business, so your money goes towards helping more elephants – which is good news for all.
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