The Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai

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October 22nd 2016
Published: January 23rd 2017
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We didn’t quite like our accommodation in Chiang Mai but really liked the location, it was pretty central for everything and we managed to find a room two buildings down, it was incredibly small (the double bed touched one wall and there was less than a foot on the other side) but it was clean. A big tip from us, if you are ever moving on but want to stay in an area, go and check out the accommodation first, sometimes it isn’t as it looks in pictures as we all know from previous holidays abroad plus in places such as Thailand they will actually do you a better deal than the online price as it is booking direct with them/discount for staying more than three nights. So for a tidy 500 baht (approx. 11 English pounds) we had our new place.

We had originally wanted to spend a week volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park but when we were in Koh Samui, we tried to book and it was full until about December so our best option was to do the overnight option and spend two full days there.

First of all, for those who haven’t visited Thailand before, Elephant riding is very popular however a lot of the local Thai people we have spoken to (outside of the park) are actually discouraging tourists from riding elephants. We had read about riding Elephants prior to our big trip and we had both decided that this was something we did not want to do so the Elephant Nature Park seemed the kind of place we would to spend our money on and visit.

“Elephant Nature Park is a unique project set in Chiang Mai province, Northern Thailand. Established in the 1990’s our aim has always been to provide a sanctuary and rescue centre for elephants. The park is located some 60km from the city, and has provided a sanctuary for dozens of distressed elephants from all over Thailand.”

We were picked up bright and early by our lovely tour guide and were joined by a few more on our mini bus. We were told that the 6 of us would be our group for the next two days and we watched a short video in the mini bus explaining how the ENP started and its aims as a rescue sanctuary. Some of the footage was truly distressing to watch and a lot to take in so early in the day but I suppose they have to shock you to make you truly understand their purpose. ENP not only cares for elephants as the name indicates, it also hosts cats, dogs, buffaloes and other rescued species. Lek, the lady who started the ENP really feels that we as humans, have a duty of care for those who cannot speak themselves. After the video had finished, we sat back and enjoyed the stunning mountainous views of Chiang Mai as we headed out of the city. One thing that we did notice as drove past, was the amount of people riding elephants. Camp after camp, with so many of them chained up/with huge seats on their back for the tourists to sit on.

We arrived at the park 45 minutes later and each of us in the minibus were so excited when we were surrounded by all the different animals. We were shown to our table, dumped our huge backpacks and we were straight into it. It was almost surreal, there were these huge buckets and these huge elephants. Our group just stood there staring at each other like shy children, you go first, no you go first. Our guide modelled how to hold the vegetables and fruit and left us to it. The elephants came over and their trunks were flying everywhere as they could smell the sugar in the bucket! I think it was fair to say, we were overwhelmed. The size of them, the power of their trunks, how they feel to touch, the way they can grind a pumpkin up so quickly. Just wow! It is messy business feeding elephants, so once the buckets were empty, we cleaned up and headed out on a walk in our small group of six with our guide. He explained how each elephant has a mahout. Each elephant at the park has a mahout, the park introduce each elephant when they arrive to a mahout and if the elephant does not accept the mahout then they search for another man until the find a match. The mahout is responsible for the elephant, he goes everywhere with his elephant and oversees them throughout the day. Once a relationship is established, the elephant respects the mahout and sees them as a brother. Most of the mahouts are employed from the local Karen tribes, another reason to support the ENP. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable as this was his former job. Another thing we found quite interesting is that when an elephant is comfortable with their mahout, the mahout takes the elephant on several walks around the entire park and the elephant will eventually stay with a herd that it feels comfortable with. It was quite interesting how they sense and seek elephants that are similar to them. There are several blind elephants, some with stumps for legs and they all seemed to be in the same group.

We visited several parks, each with their own name and their own story. He knew each and every one. It was fascinating but sad to hear. So many of the elephants had performed in circus’, street shows, parades and many more events. Although Elephants are so large and their trunks are so strong but their backs are not. They cannot take the weight of the people they carry and their backs eventually break, in addition to this some of the elephants are used for logging in the mountains. As you may see from some of our pictures, their backs are almost diagonal and the majority of their back legs have buckled. Some elephants had stepped on landmines when they were logging, causing them to have stumps for feet. These are the long term effects that they endure. Thai people strongly believe that Elephants have a spirit and for those that perform/work the owners aim to break their spirit. To break an elephant's spirit they endure so much pain from being chained up for most of the day to being beaten. This is why the ENP do not force a mahout on any elephant, as they can only imagine how hard it is for them to trust another human and only want a mahout that the elephant is comfortable with.

If you are not a fan of dogs, like a guy in our group, then you may not feel completely comfortable as the ENP. So many dogs have been rescued and the tame ones are allowed to roam free throughout the park. A pack of dogs began fighting with another herd whilst on our walk which was quite a scary moment, even more so for the guy who was screeching in our group! Not all elephants are able to live amongst each other and there were two elephants in particular that just did not mix with any of the others and these are kept away from other elephants. Some have too many mental problems and the ENP cannot recover the spirit that their former owners broke. It was incredibly sad, really.

After a long walk exploring our surroundings, it was time for lunch. The ENP is completely vegan, so this was a first for Alex and I. Two days of being vegans! The food was good and it was nice to sit with our group and discuss what we had seen/heard so far. After lunch, it was time to check into our room. We felt like we were staying in posh tree house in the woods! Quick shower, change and it was time to go and bathe the elephants. After a quick debrief as to how to approach an Elephant without frightening them, we were in the water and the elephants were munching on another bucket of pumpkins as we cooled them down with water from the river. What a phenomenal experience. We threw buckets of water on them and then buckets of water on each other!

Once the Elephants have had enough, off they go back to their herd. We had some down time together, they have the most amazing walkway and it was empty so we relaxed there. We changed and then it was time for our vegan tea. We met our new guide at our allocated table, De-sigh.

We were informed that upstairs, some girls from the local tribes were performing traditional dances and we were invited to watch. It was a fab performance and then afterwards, we relaxed with others and I had a massage. Many ladies from the local villages work at the ENP whilst their husbands are ‘mahouting’. The massages were incredibly cheap. I’m sure my hour’s massage cost about two pounds. Even cheaper than we had had elsewhere! Massage over and it was time for bed. We walked through our forest flashing our torches at everything with mainly me screeching this time at all the different bugs and the random dog running past us. We found our tree house and a cat just at the bottom of the stairs, it appeared to be playing with something…yes it was playing with a centipede the size of our hands. Fair to say we both freaked out. We did the ole wavethetorchinfrontofyoutobreakanyspider’swebs and we were nearly in our accommodation, problem being the cat also wanted to be in our room too. I do not mind cats, Alex doesn’t mind them either as long as they sit quite still. This cat was on something, jumping everywhere, up and down the mosquito nets, ripping it with it’s claws as it got caught, on the sofa,off the sofa, in and out of the bathroom and the final straw was the cat sat on top of the lamp. I tried to help but couldn’t as I witnessed Alex telling a cat off and trying to reason with the cat to leave…it was like a comedy sketch as he chased it back and forth. I managed to get the cat out on to the balcony at the back, phew! Or so we thought, it seemed this cat did not like heights and was not willing to jump off our balcony so it meowed constantly, getting louder and louder. We let it back in, we chased it some more and then eventually managed to get it out of the front door.

It was an early rise the next morning, vegan breakfast and time for our special overnight early morning vip tour walk. If you stay overnight, before the park opens to day visitors you are able to take a walk around the park to see the herds that you have not yet been able to visit. De-sigh is a fantastic guide with a great sense of humour. The walk was incredibly peaceful as there are less than 20 visitors around the entire park. You can ask as many questions as you like and with such a small group we felt we were getting almost a VIP tour compared to the larger group that had 10-12. One of the elephants that stood out for us had an embroided flower in her hair to which we all asked why? When rode, a lot of the elephants are controlled with a hook. An owner will sit behind the elephants ears whilst the tourists sit on the back. They have a hook which they use to control the elephants with, unfortunately this elephant was ‘hooked’ so many times she had a huge hole in her ear when she was disowned. Once the vets were able to clear up her infected ear, one of the ladies from the local tribes made her a flower to cover up her huge hole. When elephants are no longer wanted by their owners, they know sanctuaries such as ENP want to rescue them, we also discovered they are not donated the majority of the time and are offered for a price, one elephant we saw cost the ENP 15,000 pounds. We were walking back to the veranda when we saw a wild snake, Alex was so pleased, he had finally seen a snake! When we asked about visitors, De-sigh informed us that the majority of visitors are from England/Europe. She said they once had a Chinese couple, who wanted to ride the elephants but when they were told this was not allowed they left. In Thailand, research has been conducted and a staggering amount of people from China visit Thailand to ride the elephants and so the ENP and similar likeminded companies are trying to reach out and educate children and young adults in China to hopefully prevent the riding of elephants in Thailand, one day we hope! We saw two elephants that we locked in huge enclosures that are off limits to visitors. These male elephants were too mentally disturbed to be let out with visitors, their behaviour being unpredictable so had escorted walks daily when visitors were not in the grounds.

Vegan dinner time…ok I’m having withdrawl from my daily dose of yogurt and Alex with his daily dose of cheese.

Two swiss ladies from our group had decided to leave, they did not seem impressed with the park. So now our group was down to four. How lucky we were! We were excited to bathe the elephants again, the experience was just as amazing as the first time and even more so with our little group. We cleaned up and De-sigh laughed at us and informed us it was time to get messy again. We had a tour of the elephant kitchen and we were fortunate enough to make up some mushy food balls for a blind, toothless elephant that lives alone. This poor elephant seemed happy to be alone, they believed she was depressed and it was a huge achievement that she had trusted her mahout but she was not willing to trust any elephants. We carried the huge buckets of food and climbed inside this small cage to protect ourselves. She approached us and we were all nervous to feed her, but she was lovely, she was calm and she seemed happy to be in our company. Until you become so close and hear their stories you cannot fathom how amazing it is be in their presence. All four of us agreed we felt honoured. We went onto the platform to watch the herd with the babies being fed. We watched others bathe some of the other elephants as the ENP works on a rota system as you can imagine so that each elephant gets fed/watered each day. De-sigh told us to watch one particular effort who was naughty, it was funny to see, he did not listen to his mahout, into the water, out of the water, stealing other elephants food. We shouldn’t have laughed but we all couldn’t help watching this poor man chase the naughty baby. They do not encourage breeding at ENP as they do not wish to breed them in captivity however this Elephant was rescued and unbeknown to its former owner she was pregnant!

We looked around at the other groups, the majority there for the day and we noticed how small our group was. This was definitly something that added to our experience.

Sadly it was time to clean up, grab our bags and head back to the city.

That night we had a non vegan tea and discussed the past two days. It was an out of this world experience and one we would both repeat in a heartbeat. We would make a special trip to the ENP again just to visit here. It was worth every penny and if you are ever thinking of visiting please consider the ENP.

From the ENP, with love x

Additional photos below
Photos: 43, Displayed: 32


23rd January 2017
Elephant Nature Park

Cath I love it that you have elephant pants on at the elephant nature park :)
23rd January 2017
Happy elephant!

Really does look like its smiling ... cute :)
23rd January 2017
Bathing time

Love this photo
Looks like you both had a really amazing time here. So lucky xxx

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