May 262012

Elephant Nature Park!  This has got to rate as one of our best experiences on the trip so far.  Thanks Stace and Dez for the reco!  There are lots of elephant camps in Chiang Mai, but Elephant Nature Park is a little bit different.  All the elephants there are rescued working elephants that were treated poorly elsewhere.  Wild Asian elephants are endangered, but there’s this weird thing where “working” elephants aren’t considered endangered and thus aren’t protected.  We watched a horrible documentary of how badly working elephants are treated and how they’re “broken in.”  So sad.

A Thai woman named Lek started Elephant Nature Park to create a sanctuary for elephants and started rescuing these poor animals.  A lot of the elephants in the park were either orphans, disabled, or blinded from mistreatment.  There are 34 elephants and instead of riding elephants like the typical tourist attraction, you get to feed and help wash the elephants.  She wants to promote responsible tourism and not riding elephants.

This definitely was our most expensive attraction but it was worth it.  The van picks you up and you drive an hour and a half outside of Chiang Mai into the countryside.  We arrive at the park and the elephants are free-roaming around.  Mike and I have seen elephants in the wild in Tanzania when we went on safari, but being able to get up close and personal in Chiang Mai is what made this different.

Baby and Mamas Roaming Around

There are some concrete pillars around the park and the elephants like to scratch their bug bites by rubbing back and forth on them.  Too funny!  I guess everyone hates an itchy bug bite.

Itching That Bug Bite

In the morning we get the feed the elephants.  They’ll eat 300-600 pounds of food a day, so the park will let tourists feed them fruits and vegetables and the rest of the day, they’ll graze while they free-roam.  There are tons of baskets of fruits and vegetables!  Bananas are definitely their favorite, but we also give them watermelon and pumpkin squash.  The squash they don’t like as much.  It’s funny how some elephants are pickier eaters than others.

Tons of Vegetables and Fruit for the Elephants

Feeding the elephants was so much fun!  You can feel how strong their trunks are when they grab the food out of your hands.  It was really amazing to feed the blind elephant—you have to put the food directly in her trunk so she can feel it before she puts it in her mouth.

Feeding Watermelon

After lunch, we go down to the river to help wash the elephants.  All day they’ve caked on dirt and in the afternoons we wash them and help cool them off in the river.  Everyone is given a bucket and then we splash away.  The elephants also use their trunks to throw water onto their backs.

Getting Splashed by the Elephant

Bathing Elephants - This One's Busy Eating a Banana Too

One side note: beware of huge elephant turds floating by in the river!  Haha.  I don’t know why we wash them since afterwards they just cake themselves in mud again.  The rolling around in the mud looked like so much fun.  It was really cute watching the baby elephant.

Mud Roll!

After Effects

There’s an elephant who likes to give people “kisses,” so we took our turn and each got a huge smack from her trunk.  Mike’s expression is hilarious!

Elephant Smooch

Before we leave for the day, we do another feeding.  What a magical experience—not something we will ever forget.  I’ll leave you with a short clip so you can see the feeding elephants in action!

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