The Elephant Nature Park offers people an opportunity to come face to face with real-life elephants, but also to feed them and to wash them in the river. They do amazing work: it’s a shelter for elephants that have been traumatized, neglected and abused, where can they get pampered and cared for. And how about this? They need your help!
A minivan will pick you up in the morning to take you to the Elephant Nature Park. You come face to face with this mystical creature pretty much as soon as you enter the park. After a short introduction, people are divided into groups of about 10. Then, under the supervision of a professional guide who speaks English, you’ll be put to work.
Feed, wash, scrub, feed some more, wash, pet, take pictures, feed, wash!
Many hands make light work
Many hands are needed to feed all of these elephants, which is why it’s the first thing you’ll do. You’ll be standing at a few meters distance from the elephant and sticking out your hand to feed it a large piece of watermelon.
There are more than enough elephants (60 to 80) so don’t worry about there not being enough “work”.
Elephant Nature Park: heaven for neglected elephants
After feeding the elephants it’s time to watch a documentary, which shows how badly this animal is maltreated by humans. There are scenes of so-called training sessions, in which the elephants are abused. They’re put into cages that are far too small for them and beaten, prodded and hurt with sticks. Not just for a few moments, but for days on end. Until the elephants have, quite literally, been broken.
Every (adult) elephant living in the Elephant Nature Park went through this.
These cruel training exercises are designed to make the elephant obedient enough so that it can perform tricks or entertain tourists who can ride them.
So, please, never go on any elephant rides!
After the documentary finished about half of the people there had tears in their eyes. I had a lump in my throat as well, but mostly, I felt anger for the fact that it’s still happening.
Afterwards, you’ll get back to work with the elephants again and only then will you realize how truly privileged you are to be standing so close to this big, friendly creature. The next stop is the river where the elephants are washed.
You can help with the washing as well. They’ll hand you a bucket before stepping into the river, which you can fill up with water and throw over the elephant. The fact that these elephants, after all of the bad things done to them, are still able to interact with humans like this, is nothing short of miraculous to me. I’m moved by the fact that we’re allowed to stand so close to this remarkable animal and that we can give something back.
Elephant Nature Park
You’ll be in the Elephant Nature Park from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, surrounded by elephants. You’ll be part volunteer part visitor, which makes the day extra special. Everything’s been perfectly arranged, including an extensive buffet breakfast, snacks, water, tea, and coffee.
You can choose to stay here for multiple days or even to work as a volunteer for a couple of weeks.
If you’re in the Chiang Mai area, this park is an absolute MUST!
Where to book for the Elephant Nature Park?
Right now, the Elephant Nature Park has become touristic and there are a lot of people. Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so. Unfortunately, these elephants depend on human beings so any help is appreciated. Also, the entrance fee is relatively high (2,500 baht for adults and 1,259 for children), which allows for more money to be invested into the park.
In addition, the money is used to buy neglected and maltreated elephants and providing them with a home where they will receive the love and attention they deserve.
We highly recommend booking in advance; the Elephant Nature Park is very popular. Click here to make a reservation!
Update July 2016:
The Elephant Nature Park is still doing amazing work, but still, there are more and more animals brought up in captivity. There are a lot of day visitors as well; perhaps a bit too many. The washing and feeding by the visitors of the elephants have become such a daily routine that I almost wonder where the freedom went. Still, we have to think of the possibilities of the Thai tourism industry. It’s still better than riding an elephant.
Reading : Read more about Riding Elephants in Thailand: The Awful Truth