Chiang Mai is home to many elephant sanctuaries that rehabilitate victims of abuse and circus life. Unfortunately only a few are very ethical and are not just seeking money from tourists. I researched into the deepest pits of Google until I found one that met my expectations – no riding, plenty of land to roam, freedom, and dedicated staff. I give you – Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Chiang Mai. The elephants have acres upon acres to roam free, grazing as they please and are well loved and cared for by their mahouts (designated caretaker).
The biggest reason I chose this sanctuary is because they don’t allow elephant rides.
Because contrary to belief, riding takes a physical and emotional toll on them. Masters and circus ring leaders steal the elephants from their herds. They chain them to the ground and confine them to small cages. A process called “breaking the spirit” of the elephant involves violent abuse, starvation and complete surrender to the master. Elephants endure this for the entirety of captivity. This process forces the elephant to submit and obey orders the rest of their life.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I’m an honest person and don’t hide the facts – you shouldn’t be riding elephants or participate in any event that is meant to entertain humans. Phew, we got the hard part over, now here’s all the stuff you can expect from a wonderful day (or two if you choose that program) at EJS!
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Chiang Mai Elephant Jungle Sanctuary has a home office in the center of Old Town, and they will pick you up at your accommodation, or you can meet them at the office. There are half day, full day, and overnight excursions to choose from! Once they pick you up, it takes about an hour and a half to get there. You might be riding in a “songthaew”, which is basically a trailer without the gate to keep its passengers in so hang on tight!
When you arrive on site, you will have time to use the restroom and grab your stuff, which you will put in a private room in the hut on top of the hill. This is also where they will serve you food! The tours include lunch, and don’t be afraid to try it! The food was delicious, and safe to eat!
Book your tour online, and you will receive a free woven shirt (like the one pictured below) at the end of the tour!
Elephants graze all day, but who says no to more food?
To start off the day, we met in a line on the field where the elephants hang out at dinner time. The caretakers informed us that shouting “bon bon” is basically like ringing a dinner bell. Elephants love bananas and sugar cane, which our pockets were shoved full of.
As we all shouted “bon bon!” the elephants came running towards us, eyes locked on our pockets. They know the drill and they don’t waste time. One big guy dove trunk first into my pocket and almost picked me clean (I was loving it, so it’s not like I tried to get away to save the snacks for the others). At one point, I had 3 trunks digging through my pockets for bananas and canes! You can’t call it greedy when it’s that cute.
Even when you’re out of goods, they will still play with you and let you love on them! Be prepared to accept kisses on the cheek from their muddy trunks.
Since they sadly aren’t wild anymore, their skin now needs our help to stay properly cleaned and protected from the sun, and the mud is their number one source for just that.
Click the following link to find out more on why elephants need pampered too!
Bathing with the elephants also improves and rebuilds their trust and bond with humans.
Later you will hand mix grains, herbs and mashed bananas to mold into herbal medicine balls!
After feeding those to the elephants, we walked through a section of the jungle, over a creek. to a large flat of land. It was next to a river with gorgeous views of the jungle and fields; allowing us to watch the elephants roam freely!
Keep in mind that Elephant Jungle Sanctuary takes pictures at no extra cost. Just follow them on Facebook and you will have access to your photos within a few days!
We followed the elephants into the river to wash off, and of course I was downstream when one of the elephants decided to relieve himself…yay me.
Almost time to leave Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
After spending an entire day with them, I think these big guys just cared about the food on the ground and not so much the bonding with strangers…They didn’t seem phased as we were all saying our goodbyes. We had about 45 minutes, then were led back over the creek to gather our belongings and leave the camp.
The staff did a wonderful job at giving us a deeper understanding of the entertainment industry in Thailand, which 10 times out of 10 involve elephants. Most noteworthy, what they do to the elephants to get to that point is emotionally wrecking and physically challenging, damaging their bodies in the long run. They can’t be released into the wild after living in and being raised in such a life, and that’s why parks and sanctuaries are necessary and essential to these elephants’ survival.
Chiang Mai Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is full of amazing people wanting to show their own country and the rest of the world that elephants are being used for entertainment and domesticated. These big friendly giants need help bringing awareness to the situation. The first step is showing everyone the measures that are being taken to save elephants!
Convinced you need to go to Thailand? Plan your trip with my 10 day itinerary here!
Other things to see and do in Chiang Mai: