Beaches, national parks, food and culture–these are just some of the things that make Thailand such a popular tourist destination. Besides these attractions, visiting an elephant sanctuary is one of the best things to do in Thailand, especially if you journey to Chiang Mai in the north.
Interacting with elephants is a fabulous experience that gives you an insight into these majestic animals. But, if you intend to visit, I would recommend a sanctuary that offers an ethical elephant experience. It is important to ensure that the animals are well-cared for and that the rescue’s activities for tourists do not hinder the welfare of the elephants.
Thailand Elephant Sanctuary: 5 of the Best Rescues in or Near Chiang Mai
What is an Ethical Elephant Experience?
Elephants are wild animals–they should be able to roam free in their natural habitat. But due to certain circumstances, some elephants have been held captive for years, inappropriately trained to do things, chained, and denied adequate space, food, water and rest. These animals are rehabilitated at elephant parks and sanctuaries such as the ones near Chiang Mai that work towards their well-being. So, when you visit a sanctuary, it gives you an opportunity to see the good work being done and to interact with the animals in a way that doesn’t harm their health or welfare.
An ethical elephant experience has certain regulations that work in favor of the animals. Some of these include no usage of chains, enough space and freedom to move around, a good diet, no elephant rides (or limited rides), health check-ups, and interaction with other elephants. The sanctuaries also ensure that visitors do not frequently encroach on the animals’ personal space.
Wether you spend just an afternoon at a rescue or a week volunteering, here are 5 ethical elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai province.
1. Elephant Nature Park
Situated around 60 km from Chiang Mai city, the Elephant Nature Park is one of the most well-known sanctuaries in Thailand and my top choice for an ethical elephant experience (you can read about my experience here). A sanctuary and rescue centre, this park works towards rescuing and rehabilitating distressed elephants from around the country. Owner Lek, has been saving these majestic animals for many years and visitors can book a short interaction program or volunteer at this park.
Elephant Nature Park Information
Office Location: 1 Ratmakka Road, Phra Sing, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
Programs: The park has several different programs with different time frames to choose from. The single day visits are the most popular, because in addition to learning about the stories of the rescued elephants, a full day visit from morning till evening will have you feeding the elephants yummy fruit treats, watching the ellies splash around in the water during bath time, and see them interacting with each other. This program also includes a delicious buffet lunch.
The 7 day programs give you a deeper look into elephant care, plus learning about agriculture and community. There is also a volunteer program that will include the hundreds of rescue dogs on premise!
More Info & Booking: https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/enp/visit-volunteer. If you are staying in Chiang Mai you can book the Elephant Nature Park Full Day Group Tour through GetYourGuide which will pick you up there.
2. Patara Elephant Farm
One of the elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai that gives visitors a hands-on experience with these animals is Patara Elephant Farm. The people at this farm work hard to take care of these gentle giants and do their bit for elephant conservation (their philosophy is “extinction is forever”. You can book morning or afternoon sessions and during the program will get to know your animal by creating a trustful relationship. You will do this learning the ellies temperament, feeding, bathing and communicating.
Patara Elephant Farm Information
Location: Ban Pong, Hang Dong District, Chiang Mai 50230, Thailand
Programs: The most popular program is the ‘Elephant Owner for a Day’. Book this program and you are set for a fun day out with the elephants. You will learn how to approach an elephant, bathe and feed it and also go for a ride. Along the way, visit the forest area, waterfalls and temples. At the end of the day, you will get a good insight into how to take care of elephants. A modified version of the ‘Elephant Owner for a Day’ program, the ‘Elephant Day Care’ also focuses on taking care of non-working pregnant elephants and baby elephants. If you are not in favor of elephant rides, choose this program as there is no riding involved.
More Info & Booking: https://www.pataraelephantfarm.com/elephant-owner-for-a-day/#
3. Happy Elephant Home
At the Happy Elephant Home in Chiang Mai the rescued animals have a natural habitat to move around freely. They can go for a swim in the river, take a mud bath and eat more fruits than you thought possible. What’s very unique about the Happy Elephant Home is that when you arrive you will change into the the traditional Karen tribe clothing. This is so your normal clothes won’t get dirtied with mud from the river, but it really adds to the experience. Not just the elephants will be happy at the sanctuary, you will too!
Happy Elephant Home Information
Location: Unnamed Road, Kuet Chang, Mae Taeng District, Chiang Mai
Programs:On your full day visit here (there’s a half day option too), you can change into the traditional clothes of the local Karen people. Get familiar with the lifestyle of the elephants, meet and feed them, and enjoy a mud spa and river bath with the elephants during this program.
More Info & Booking: http://www.happyelephanthome.com/?page=tour#current
4. Into the Wild Elephant Camp
At Into the Wild Elephant Camp, the elephants are a part of the staffs extended family. They want to ensure the elephants live a happy life after workings so hard for so many years of their lives.This sanctuary works for the well-being of the elephants as well as the local Karen community. They believe in giving back to the community by employing locals and supplying them with clothing.
Office Location: 115 3 Room 1 Sri Poom Rd | Office at Hug Hostel, Chiang Mai
Programs:If you choose the full-day program, before heading to the elephant camp you will stop by the market to buy provisions, then proceed to meet the elephants and learn how to prepare food for them. Observe the elephants in their natural environment, walk into the jungle, interact with them and feed them. The program also includes a mud spa and bathing experience with the elephants, and learning to make herbal elephant medicine. The half-day program is similar to the full day one, but lasts for a shorter duration.
More Info & Booking: https://www.pm-tours.com/elephant-sanctuary/into-the-wild-elephant-camp-full-day-program/
5. Chiangmai Elephant Land
While traveling in Thailand, I realized that the Chiang Mai province has mountains, and vast forest areas dotted with rivers and waterfalls that provide the perfect home for rescued elephants. The drive to the Chiangmai Elephant Land will have you witnessing some of this beauty, taking you through some of the most scenic rice-fields, hill tribe villages and the remote jungle. Rescued elephants in this hidden paradise roam free and are well cared for. The result? Happier and healthier elephants! Take a look at their programs.
Location: 121 Moonmuang Rd., Sriphum, Muang, Chiangmai, Thailand 50200 And 57 Kotchasarn Road (near lane 2) , Changklan, Chiangmai 50100
Programs: For the one-day program you will travel to Elephant Land on the border of the Doi Inthanon National Park. The program includes meeting the elephants, making traditional elephant medicine, feeding breakfast to the elephants and taking a scenic walk into the jungle with these majestic animals. Also, join the elephants in a mud pool, and a bath under a waterfall. The two-day sanctuary program covers more of the same activities from the ‘One day Elephant Land’ program, but you will also be doing some jungle trekking through the rice terraces and places to learn about herbal plants.
More Info & Booking: http://chiangmaielephantland.com/category/trip-detail
A trip to Chiang Mai elephant sanctuaries provides visitors an amazing opportunity to meet these remarkable creatures. Elephants are truly unique animals and my interactions with them is one of my favorite bucket list checkmarks!
More About Chiang Mai
Bucket List of 18 Things to Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thailand’s Wat Rong Khun: The White Temple in Chiang Rai
Bathe Elephants at a Rescue in Thailand
Wat Chedi Luang: Explore a Temple Inside the City Walls of Chiang Mai
Traveling by Tuk Tuk in Chiang Mai & Other Transporation
Map of Chiang Mai