Today was one of the only days we had planned ahead of time, and it was so worth it. We had known from the time we booked our flights that we wanted to see elephants. Our choice of outfit could not have been more perfect!
Apparently (sadly), its a misconception in the world that it’s perfectly ok to ride elephants. IT’S NOT! DON’T DO IT! Elephants in SE Asia are used and abused in a myriad of ways, from the timber industry to exploitation in the tourist industry. Also, not all not all elephant parks are created equal, and many in this same area don’t have the animals best interests in mind. If you are ever coming to the area to see the elephants, please choose wisely.
Elephant Nature Park, where we visited today is a shining light in animal rescue. Not only do they rescue abused elephants, but also water buffalo, dogs and cats. The park shelters over 80 elephants, 200 dogs, 100 cats and 20 buffaloes.
The park is also not a breeding ground, they have only had 6 births since the park opened in 1995. They let the elephants breed naturally and don’t force them. Most of the elephants will not be able to return to the wild because they have mental issues from the abuse that they have faced.
To learn more about the park, please watch this video:
We booked the full day package, which left Chiang Mai at 8am, included a wonderful (and massive) Thai buffet lunch, and returned at 5:30pm.
Our time at the park included feeding the elephants, two separate guided walks through the park, the aforementioned lunch, and a couple of self guided walks around the grounds.
Our guide for the day, Ten, was wonderful. Knowledgeable, funny, kind and approachable with questions. Ten knew all the animals by name and helped everyone get to know these gentle giants.
Of course, Christine had to visit the “Cat Kingdom” several times, where we were greeted by a gaggle of cats at all times.
All the elephants were calm, gentle, powerful and beautiful creatures. Smaller than African elephants, but still giants in their own right. Being able to get so close to them was indescribable. Each of the elephants is paired with a mahout, or human partner. They are trained from a young age to know their elephant and be a friend for life.
The hour long ride back to the city was a perfect way to both see the vast northern countryside, but also to reflect on how we as people live our lives, and how our decisions have larger impacts than we typically think about. There are so many good people, doing good work in this world, and we should all aspire to be more like them.
Today’s experience will live long in our minds and our hearts, and hopefully push us to be better every day.