An Elephant Sanctuary: The Elephant Nature Park
This elephant sanctuary, 50 kilometers north of Chiang Mai is deserving of the many awards and acknowledgments its founder, Lek, has won.
Looking around at the other visitors the day I went, I realized I wasn't the only one who knew they were witnessing a truly special place.
The park provides protection from elephant abuse. Currently, 33 elephants roam around freely in a very large area that replicates well a wild elephant habitat. There's a river where they can cool off from the sun. Plenty of trees and places for shade. They form groups, have families. They become happy here.
There's no repetitive back and forward movement that you so often see with elephants in captivity. You hear elephant trumpeting loudly; can see a baby elephant playing in the river with its mother. Elephant rides that you see for sale throughout Thailand and Asia aren't an option here.
What might bring a tear to your eyes are the stories of how they came to be at the elephant sanctuary.
A lot of them have suffered injuries from logging. One was drugged daily with amphetamines so it could pull more logs. One stepped on a landmine in neighboring Myanmar. A circus elephant fell during one of its routines and broke its leg. A 'street' elephant was hit by a vehicle.
Many are rescued from elephant camps and festivals, often because they're too thin. Another was rescued from elephant poaching after it had been shot.
Sadly, some do have to go back to their previous lives. Lek has an 'open arms' policy. Some owners bring their elephants to the park to get free treatment from Prasith, the resident vet. Other elephants come here to safely give birth and then return.
The park is set in a stunning valley surrounded by forested mountains. If you're not marveling at the elephants, you'll be marveling at the scenery! It's easy to forget how beautiful it is here! I nearly forgot to write this!
Aside from just visiting the park, there's the opportunity to work there as a volunteer.
You can also 'adopt' an elephant. There's much more you can do to help. Have a look at their excellent website:
www.elephantnaturepark.org. (opens in new window)
Getting There and Cost
Most leave from the head office, I Ratchamanka Soi 1, Chiang Mai (see map (number 85)) at 8 in the morning for the hour and a half drive. On the journey, you'll watch a video about the nature park and get instruction about how you can best interact with the elephants.
Lek only allows 25 visitors a day. This is admirable as she's putting the needs of the elephants above profit. By keeping the daily number at the park low, she's allowing the elephants to live more naturally. Of course, she does need the finances because without visitors, there would be no park!
The cost is 2,500 Thai Baht (1 US dollar is 30 baht) for the whole day. You can book on their website, linked above. It's possible to stay the night (or longer) there and see the elephants in the early morning (see the website). A lovely chatty Irish lady I met while I was there said her wooden accommodation was great.
You can telephone on +66 (0) 53 272 855. Or you can visit the shop. Advance booking is recommended.
If you're getting to the park by yourself, the cost is 2,000 baht. See this map.
There are lots of holes in the road for the last 10 kilometers...be careful, especially on a motorbike and especially if you're returning at night. The road can be fine for a stretch only to suddenly have a deep hole.
Click here for some more elephant pictures from the park.
Return from Elephant Sanctuary to Chiang Mai Thailand