a cruelty free guide to elephants in Thailand

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If you’re planning a trip to Thailand and you want the Elephant experience of a lifetime, then you simply must visit the Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai.

Please be wary of other elephant attractions that exploit and abuse their elephants for customer gratification.

If you love animals then do not fund these cruelties. An elephant must be trained against their will to give rides to paying customers – they are beaten with a weapon known as a bull-hook, and are mentally abused to “break the animals spirit” and make them submissive.

They are amazing, almighty creatures, and deserve to be recognised as such.

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Grandma, 81 years old.

We were staying in the old city of Chiang Mai when we arranged our visit to the Elephant Nature Park. Upon booking, ENP took down details of our accommodation so that they could pick us up and drive us to the location themselves.

During the drive, we were shown a short documentary on the atrocities endured by elephants who are used for work in Thailand. We were shown this footage so that we would know never to place money in the hands of these abusers. The documentary then went on to show how Elephant Nature Park had rescued elephants from these cruel trades, and they were now free to live the life they deserved.

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Upon arrival, we were greeted by many friendly dogs and cats. There were over 400 rescued dogs at ENP at the time of our visit. Judging by the kind nature of the staff, that number has likely increased since. Following this, we were shown to the cafeteria, were an all-you-can-eat, plant-based buffet was laid out for the choosing. Perfection.

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Next, came the elephants. As a first step, we were given small watermelons and asked to stand at a distance before handing over the fruit. The elephants took the offerings zealously, chomping them whole – rind and all.

As the elephants were free roaming throughout the park, our guide led us around the different areas, giving formal introductions as she went.

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Along the way, we made friends with Kabu, who had a deformed leg due to abuse in the logging industry. We met a family of three, all left handicapped from their unenviable past in the tourist industry. Grandma, an 81 year old, was the oldest resident at the park at the time – elephants can live as long as humans, and you can tell their age by the folding of their ears. An adorably cheeky 2 year old elephant came to say hi, too; and there were many others, all peaceful and full of thankfulness for their new lives in paradise.

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Kabu and her disfigured leg.
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The handicapped herd.
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Babyphant.

As a finale, we were brought to the river where the staff began coaxing the elephants into the water with watermelons.

I had read awful reviews from other parks – often wrongly titled as sanctuaries – where the staff had forced the elephants into the water by hitting them with sticks or pulling on their ears. ENP was not like that at all. In fact, it took a very long time to get the elephants into the river because the staff were not willing to force them.

Eventually, the temptation of fruit worked, and we were able to slosh buckets of water over the elephant’s backs to cool them down in the midday heat.

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ENP was incredible. We had plenty of time to roam with the elephants and learn about them independently. They were so remarkable to see up close, and their skin – in case you’re curious – was surprisingly soft to the touch. At the end of the trip, we were driven back to our accommodation, wholly satisfied with the experience. The memories are something we will never forget, and it will be a struggle to knock them from the top shelf. The total cost per person was just under £60 (2,500 THB), check them out here.

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The end.

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