One of the reasons I wanted to head to Chiang Mai was to visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.
To visit Thailand and not see one of these majestic creatures is unheard of. But I wanted to make sure that I carefully chose an ethical place in which to witness them first hand.
In my past I’ve ridden on elephants, and trekked through forests on them. Naivety is a dangerous game.
And although I can’t right my wrongs from yesteryear, I can hopefully provide a source of valuable information for the future for anyone interested in seeing elephants first hand.
Elephants are not meant to be ridden. Their bodies are not constructed like horses which are able to carry heavy loads. So riding an elephant causes pain and damage to the animal, especially long-term.
And other tourist attracting activities such as painting or trick performing is often due to plenty of strict disciplinary action after the young are poached from their mothers in the wild.
Elephants are highly intelligent, emotional and self-aware. They often mimic human abilities in terms of socialising and playing.
And this was exactly how I wanted to see them.
Just being themselves.
It’s how I wanted my children to view them too.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is an ethical and sustainable eco tourism project and was my choice of place to witness the worlds most majestic creatures.
I couldn’t have been happier with my choice. As the truck pulled up to the sanctuary we could immediately see elephants all around in the valley below. It’s quite a sight to see free elephants standing with no chains on amongst their own herds, all carefully being watched and tended to by their mahouts.
We were walked to our elephant camp for the day over a rickety wooden bridge and met with the other people we would be enjoying our full day experience with.
Another reason why I liked the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is because it provides a work place for the local Karen tribes people. They have a natural affiliation with the elephants, having co existed with them in their natural habitats.
By not being part of mainstream Thailand, the Karen tribes people are an entity of their own. They speak their own language and follow their own cultural beliefs. By providing work, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary allow the local tribes people a lifestyle that allows them to keep hold of their roots.
And we came across many of these tribes people on our day at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, in fact the tops we were given to wear are their traditional garments.
The main information of our day however came from a guide that spoke wonderful English. His humorous explanations of how the day would work and what we should expect kept us all engaged. His personality was warm and friendly, exactly the kind of person you’d happily spend all day with.
We listened carefully as he asked us all to wash our hands thoroughly before meeting the elephants. It came to light recently that the sunscreen and mosquito repellants used by the guests was being ingested by the elephants during feeds, which had caused some stomach issues. And a sick elephant is extremely costly to the sanctuary as it involves lengthy transportation of a 5 tonne animal.
We were also taught how they keep the elephants healthy, and we got to try making medicine balls for the elephants ourselves.
William loved getting stuck in.
With young children we were given the choice to stay in the original camp so we didn’t have to do too much walking in the heat. So we stayed with the elephants that resided there- including four-month-old Lady Gaga.
The other guests were taken to different camps to meet different elephants and different herds. A great chance to explore more of the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and get great pictures.
Later on in the day after we’d had a delicious meal that was prepared for us, we got our hands dirty by covering the elephants in mud. They use mud as a natural sunscreen and insect repellant so they loved having us smother the thick mud onto them.
And of course they all needed a good bath afterwards. I would have loved to have gotten in the river with them, but with Evie attached to me and fast asleep it just wasn’t possible. And William has a perpetual fear of water going near his head, so I sat that one out. Although Jesse jumped right in and splashed around with the elephants.
Over the course of a day we learnt a lot about the care that goes into looking after the elephants. It was wonderful knowing that in our own way we were contributing towards the life long happiness these rescued elephants would have. I’d return again tomorrow given half the chance.
We booked our trip online before arriving in Thailand and paid a deposit through paypal. The rest we gave to the sanctuary on the day. If you have a baby I recommend bringing a carrier.