Chiang Mai is one of the most beautiful cities in Thailand. Being surrounded by nature, it offers an amazing amount of outdoor activities that one can partake in. One of the most common activities that people do in Chiang Mai is taking an elephant riding tour. Many people take up these tour opportunities without doing proper research on the company they are going with – this is exactly what I did when I first visited Chiang Mai three years ago.
What many people do not realize is that many of these tour operators do not treat their elephants with proper care and respect. They are used as an object for tourism purposes only, with the expense being taken out on the elephants. While riding an elephant can be an amazing experience, it is extremely important to make sure the tour company you are going with treats their elephants properly.
This is where the Elephant Nature Park comes in. The park is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center for those elephants that have been abused. The elephants are free to roam in a natural environment on their own, surrounded by a river, and beautiful mountainous landscapes. Most are extremely accommodating to the many visitors that help out at the park.
While it is a completely different experience than taking a general riding elephant tour, you get so much more out of it. Not only are you there to volunteer and help, you get educated on the problem of abused elephants in Northern Thailand. I participated in a one-day volunteer visit. This included feeding the elephants by hand twice throughout the day, bathing them ourselves in the river, and ending the day with a documentary on this issue (for example, I learned that there are only 30,000 Asian elephants left on the planet, – on their website they put it in the perspective of under a third of a sports stadium crowd. Also, lunch was included and it was an amazing vegetarian feast.)
There are many different ways in which you can visit and volunteer at the park. Besides a one day visit that I did (where they pick you up and drop you off at your guesthouse), you can also partake in being an Elephant Volunteer for 7 to 14 days, or even be an Elephant Helper Overnight for 2 days and 1 night.
The organization is doing great things, and you have an opportunity to give back and gain knowledge that perhaps you did not know before. You can find all of the information, background, and volunteer offerings on their website: www.elephantnaturepark.org, and usually your guesthouse will have information on the park as well and set everything up for you.
Enjoy the pictures!
Katie Davos, research intern