Chiang Mai · International Getaways · Thailand

The Elephant Park – Chiang Mai

This post could alternatively be called the greatest day of my existence, or maybe, the day my mouth formed a permanent grin, or even God, take my soul now, I’ve lived a full life.

And yet, none of those titles would suffice what was one of, if not the greatest, day of my little 22 years of living.

It is a well-known fact among my circle that I LOVE elephants. They are smart, sweet, beautiful, and family-loving animals, and so full of curiosity! When I read that there were multiple elephant sanctuaries in northern Thailand, I knew I’d have to suck up the $70 day fee, and venture into one. We were not disappointed! Now, I feel as though I have to preface this with a little statement: many of these “elephant sanctuaries” hold formally abused, elderly, and / or elephants stolen from their families. Thorough research is essential in order to make sure you’re not giving money to people who won’t even use it for good. We trusted our guesthouse’s advice and went with one that seemed nice enough. They picked us up at our guesthouse, and we drove an hour into the mountains, where our grand adventure was to begin.


After a pit stop for fresh bananas, we arrived in time to herd a few elephants to the main area of the sanctuary, where we fed six or so elephants a morning treat. I liken the initial interaction to how it would feel to meet Ellen DeGeneres or Mindy Kaling, my two favorite celebs. While I wanted to appear confident and like it was no big deal we were feeding elephants in the lush mountains of Thailand, I knew that it I appeared as giddy as a school girl, and that I had tears forming in the corner of my eyeball sockets. Those who know me know that I’m not an emotonal human, but in this moment, this is what it must feel like to be on ecstacy. I was overwhelmed with happiness! (Note: I do not advocate drugs. Drugs are for slugs. Stay in school, kids.)

Playing line leader in my natural element.
Playing line leader in my natural element.
Getting cozy!
Getting cozy!
Look at that background!
Look at that background!

After feeding them their morning snack, we learned commands in Thai, and took turns practicing the commands on the elephants. We rode them without harnesses, and right on their necks, which is supposed to be a lot better for them than the alternatives. After the practice, we rode them to the river, and then bathed them! I remember thinking in that moment, what life choices lead me to riding barefoot on elephants in the mountains of Thailand? Never in a million years did I ever imagine that I’d be able to take advantage of this opportunity. EVER! The best night of my life was when I saw Paul McCartney in concert 2 years ago, and our elephant day was the best day of my life. At just 22, I’ve already had the time of my life and can’t imagine all I still get to experience in life if I’ve already had this much fun and excitement already!

Bathing elephants!
Bathing elephants!
Hanging out, casually.
Hanging out, casually.
This view.. I never got used to its beauty!
This view.. I never got used to its beauty!

Now, I’ve mentioned before that some of these sanctuaries have a bad reputation for being secretly neglecting or abusive. From what we saw, these elephants seemed happy enough… but we did witness, a couple of times, situations that were maybe not okay. Once, we saw one of the elephant handlers touch the elephant… inappropriately, if you get my drift. The herder was showing off, but we gave him a stern look of disappointment and stormed off. The second time, we saw one of the other handlers kicking the baby elephant in the leg. However, the baby is, presumably, being trained, and the baby is undoubtedly strong! He was ramming us like bowling pins, knocking several of us down at one time!

Prepping the afternoon snacks of banana leaves!
Prepping the afternoon snacks of banana leaves!
2015-06-27 00.36.32
2015-06-27 00.35.20
They eat constantly!

ALSO, I got stung by a hornet in the right butt cheek at the elephant sanctuary. And it still was the best day of my life. The hornet flew right up my baggy Thai pant leg, and stung me right in the cheek. Alex had to come with me into the outhouse to play doctor and remove the stinger. God bless her soul. AND DESPITE THIS, despite getting stung and having a numb butt cheek for the day, it was the greatest day ever! Who knew Thailand was such a gem!




5 thoughts on “The Elephant Park – Chiang Mai

  1. I am in awe of your young, full life! You are being able to see so much of God’s beautiful creation – – our planet! So much to see. So much to do. And you’re doing it, Little One! You WOW me with your determination and intelligence to make things happen. Thailand seems amazing, and I didn’t know elephants were so approachable. What a dream come true, and I couldn’t be happier for you!!!!

  2. It sounds like you had a great experience – but good that you also mentioned the things you saw that were not ideal and that you spoke about the reputation of elephant ‘sanctuaries’ in Thailand.
    Now people can make educated decisions when they are there as well.
    Keep writing!

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