When traveling to Thailand, a visit to see elephants is often on the itinerary. We’ve seen the pictures – majestic elephants mounted with chairs and a happy tourist or two smiling. What a lot of travellers are unaware of is that this just isn’t natural for elephants. Here’s a little history for ya – back in the day, elephants were used for logging in Thailand, but when that was banned in the late 80’s, thousands of elephants and their handlers found themselves out of work. As a result and in response to the growing tourist industry, elephants camps where created for tourists to interact with the elephants by riding them and watching them do really weird, un-elephant-like activities such as painting and soccer. Elephants are intelligent so as graceful and effortless as it may appear for them to do such, they’re just not meant to. You have to careful about the camps you engage with during your visit!
Passport Heavy paid a visit to Into The Wild Elephant Camp (keep an eye out for our Chiang Mai video on another elephant sanctuary!) which is an hour and a half drive south of Chiang Mai. Here, you can simply observe the elephants naturally and freely roam the vast and natural forest. Currently, there are 3 adult females and 2 babies. The females were bought directly from other camps where they were being forced to work. This isn’t always the case though. Some handlers may genuinely care about the welfare of their elephants but have to work them in order to afford their care.
With Into The Wild Elephant Camp, you can simply give them a call through their Facebook page and request for a full or half day with the elephants. They will book your space, get your address and pick you up from wherever you are in the morning! (We did the half-day which cost us 1,600 Thai Baht per person).
Lunch is included on this trip which is good because it’s a bit of a steep hike to the camp. Be sure to pack suitable shoes/sandals, sunscreen, a swimsuit, insect repellent and any other items you might need for some time out in a forest.
It’s a bit intimidating to be around elephants for the first time! They are large and will relentlessly follow you for bananas (which the camp gives you) until they are all eaten up. Don’t be afraid, they are truly gentle giants. Just watch out for the younger ones as they tend to be a bit playful and unaware of their size and strength!
You’ll walk with the elephants as they go foraging in the forest then you will get to give them a mud-bath. The mud helps protect their skin from bugs so feel free to help rub in some for them! Then it will be time for a water bath which the elephants LOVE. It was simply adorable to watch the younger ones play in the water, you can literally see them smile!
Over all, it will be a humbling experience to interact with these graceful (not all the time!) creatures. They have been through a lot and can now live out the reminder of their long years in peace. It is an activity that will remain with you for life, especially when done in the most ethical manner. Remember to keep an eye out for our Chiang Mai Youtube video for a peek into another elephant sanctuary and adventures in Chiang Mai – coming soon!
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Photography by Yagazie Emezi