Asia Thailand

Elephant Experience With Elephant Nature Park In Chiang Mai, Thailand

swimming with elephants chiang mai elephant nature park

A Day Tour With Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai

In Bangkok I knew that when I was in Chiang Mai I wanted to book a tour with Elephant Nature Park. Though, being only two weeks out and in the busy season many options were booked out (fyi book way in advance if you are thinking about it). Luckily, I did manage to find one tour with Elephant Nature Park that had a free space called The Freedom Program.

Looking for more things to do in Northern Thailand? Why not give learning Muay Thai in Chiang Mai a try!

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About The Freedom Program

Located south of Chiang Mai City is the Karen village where the Freedom Program by Elephant Nature Park is held. The purpose is to encourage locals to participate in ecotourism and to show that tourists will still want to interact with their elephants even if they aren’t riding them.

Elephant Nature Park has had great success in building their own sanctuary and are now encouraging these smaller Karen communities to start doing the same. I was truly interested in the tour. Though at the time of booking this new tour had only been running for a couple months so their wasn’t much information available about it. Nevertheless, I was curious so I took the plunge and bought the $75 ticket.

elephant freedom program chiang mai

My Experience With Elephant Nature Park

The Van Ride There

The morning of the day I am waiting outside my hostel for the van to pick me up. A friendly lady walks down the lane way and brings me to the Elephant Nature Park van as the street is too narrow to drive down. Along the way we pick up more groups who have also signed up for the tour, until there is about eight of us in the van.

Once everyone is seated and ready we are shown a video about the Elephant Nature Park and the efforts they do to encourage ecotourism. Elephants in Thailand have been used commercially throughout the years, having their spirits broken in order to be trained and satisfy the demand in the industry. They have been used as nothing more than an instrument for gaining money with no regard towards their overall well being. This is the ideology Elephant Nature Park is attempting to change.

The van ride to the sanctuary takes about an hour and a half through rolling countryside. Chiang Mai is so much more than just a city. Even though it may seem like a concrete jungle, there are plenty opportunities to get away. You can even go on a camping excursion from Chiang Mai. We stop on the way at a seven eleven for snacks which I take advantage of, stocking up on chocolate and chips. Onward into the countryside we venture and spot numerous elephant riding companies along the way. I honestly did not realise how many there actually were, its ridiculous!

tasha amy elephants pic

Elephant Feeding

On arrival we park up at the Karen village under the cover of a large wooden hut. In the surrounding area is a locked room to store our stuff, some bathrooms and an eating area. Oh and of course the elephants a short walk across a path!

Huge sticks of sugar cane are dragged out by one of the staff members and a couple people in the group are given machetes and shown how to cut them up. A young Chinese boy starts eating the sugar cane himself, encouraging us Westerners to join as well.

Buckets of water are filled up to the brim with bushes inside for us to clean the cucumbers. They tell us the pesticides on them can make the elephants very sick and that it is import we get it all off. The cucumbers change from a white pale green to the usual dark green with each scrub.

preparing elephant food chiang mai

With food preparation complete we put them into buckets and bring them across the path to where the elephants are housed. A small wooden fence which is open on one side separates us and these magnificent creatures. There are four larger elephants, two which must be teenagers and two babies. They all get excited as we stand by the fence as they reach their trunks over for some food.

Unlike other animal sanctuary experiences we aren’t taught commands which tell the elephant to do a certain movement. Rather the animals do what they want, some refuse to eat the sugar cane, others like to sniff the food before deciding and some just grab it without a second thought.

feeding elephants

feeding baby elephants chiang mai

The baby elephants ignore the fence and run around to get the food, soon the other elephants follow as well. None of the mahouts tell them off for this behavior. Instead they help us feed them while the staff members tell us the individual elephants stories.

We have to peel the bananas for the baby elephants as they don’t have teeth strong enough to break the skin. Another cheeky elephant grabs the bucket and starts dragging the cucumbers across the dirt area. This goes on for an hour, we take photos and enjoy being right next to these beautiful animals until the elephants are no longer interested in the food and decide to move on.

walking with elephants chiang mai

Walking with Elephants

We begin to walk down the road, with the elephants on the right and us on the left. This way they have plenty of room and we are not in danger. We head off the road to a large paddock area surrounded by fallen trees, dry grass from the heat and a rolling landscape. The elephants bathe in the sunlight and start pushing around the trees.

dusty elephants chiang mai

dust throwing chiang mai

Soon enough the air becomes thick as the elephants start throwing dirt everywhere. All over each other, over themselves and in all directions. Most are loving the dirt bath. Though, one wanders back up the track with his mahout following behind, obviously not in the mood.

Further into the walk we end up in a valley with high hills up on either side. The plants are overgrown and grass is up to my knees off the narrow path. The elephants start spreading themselves out and exploring the area.

elephant herd chiang mai nature park

walking with elephants

A teenage elephant starts walking up the steep hill on one side. With each two steps she makes she slides back down one. We all wonder what could she be doing and what could be at the very top. Though, once she reaches the top she turns around and to our surprise lays down and starts sliding down. I guess everyone enjoys a good slide. We all have a good laugh, because how often do you see an elephant doing that!

After about an hour and a half playing in the dirt with the elephants we decide to walk back towards the village. The mahouts and their elephants lead the way through the dry Chiang Mai landscape.

baby elephant tusk chiang mai

Bathing The Elephants

Once back in the village we pile into the tray of a pick up truck are driven down towards the river for elephant bathing. With the wind in my hair and hot sun beating down this is the true definition of a good day. One of the girls I meet is a director from Los Angeles. We chill out taking a few photos of each other, as each of us is pretty decent behind the camera. Young Thai boys enjoy the refreshing water as we watch on while they take turns jumping in.

After killing time for twenty minutes the elephants soon emerge from around the corner. The truck arrives with more food for the elephants and they get all excited. We are given brushes and each one jumps into the water to cool down. None of the elephants are forced in and once they are over swimming they walk on out and hang around on the river bank.

swimming elephants

The water is about waist deep, though the elephants still manage to fully emerge themselves by lying on their side. I notice that the younger elephants definitely enjoy being in the water more, basically staying in the whole time.

The mahouts have a good time jumping in a covering us all in freezing water. It is a little bit too chilly for me though and I didn’t bring a change of clothes. Therefore I decide to wait with the older elephants on the sidelines.

The swimming is unfortunately cut short as another group of elephants arrive. Though, these ones have tourists riding on top. The staff tell us they are known for being quite aggressive towards our elephants. We quickly pack up and look on in disappointment at the riders. Our group of elephants start walking back towards the sanctuary, away from any possible danger.

water play elephants

chiang mai tasha amy elephants

Lunch and My Opinion

Back at the village we have a vegetarian lunch of noodles, a curry, vegetables and french fries. I chat with the girls I have met about what they are doing in Thailand and life back home. We bond equally over our love of animals, adventure and food.

Back in the van we all quickly fall asleep after a busy day under the Thai sun. Taking a tour with Elephant Nature Park is one of the best things I did in Chiang Mai. Throughout the time spent with the elephants I did not once see them getting pressured, abused by their mahouts or be overwhelmed by the people around them as groups were kept small. I think The Elephant Nature Park has done an excellent job with their Elephant Freedom Program. Especially by encouraging local Karen tribes to practice ecotourism and educate both the tourists and the local Thai people.

Next time I am in Chiang Mai I will definitely do another tour with Elephant Nature Park. Though, hopefully next time I get to visit their main park.

rolling in dirt tasha amy elephant chiang mai

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  • Reply
    Yashodhara Roy
    September 15, 2017 at 5:58 pm

    Literally everyone has been talking about elephant sanctuaries! And I loved reading your experience! I hope to get to Chiang Mai and some other parts of Thailand next year! #gltlove

  • Reply
    Outdoors Wonders
    September 15, 2017 at 4:22 am

    Thanks for giving a more detailed post about this particular tour with Elephant Nature Park. Elephants there seem to be well cared for and quite a happy bunch. I can’t wait to see them!

  • Reply
    August 23, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    Lovely photos! It’s great to know that tourists can still interact with these beautiful creatures without riding or harming them. What a wonderful experience this would have been and I’m so glad they are protecting the elephants 🙂

  • Reply
    Jennifer Schlueter
    August 21, 2017 at 7:57 pm

    Wow! Incredible adventure! An elephant park is still on my list and this made me want to go even more! And your pictures are awesome! Can’t wait to snuggle with one of the baby elephants 😀

  • Reply
    Crystal Castaway
    August 21, 2017 at 2:07 pm

    I really wanted to do this when I was in Chiang Mai but they were all booked out. So YES! definitely book in advance so you don’t miss out!

    • Reply
      August 25, 2017 at 4:19 pm

      Argh I nearly missed out as well! I never realized you had to book in advance, but it makes sense considering how popular it is.

  • Reply
    Addie Gray
    August 21, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    This sounds like such an amazing experience! So glad that there are options like this nowadays 🙂

  • Reply
    Katelyn Brin Bossany
    August 21, 2017 at 9:33 am

    This looks like an amazing adventure! I would love to visit an elephant park someday. It’s so wonderful that places like this exist to educate the public and protect these gorgeous creatures!

    • Reply
      August 25, 2017 at 4:20 pm

      Its definitely an amazing adventure! You totally should it is so magical. Yeah I agree its important to educate both locals and foreigners about ecotourism and discourage the riding and mistreatment of elephants

  • Reply
    Liliana Ventura
    August 21, 2017 at 4:27 am

    I love your post! SO INSPIRING!!

  • Reply
    Christie Goyette
    August 21, 2017 at 4:12 am

    This looks like such an amazing experience! I would love to do something like this when I visit Chiang Mai. It’s really nice to hear how well the elephants are treated at ENP as well!

    • Reply
      August 25, 2017 at 4:22 pm

      Yeah just remember to book in advance as it is super popular, especially ENP. If you just want to go to any park you can book once you are in Chiang Mai and at a discounted rate. Though, I reckon ENP gives you the best experience so I recommend visiting there

  • Reply
    August 21, 2017 at 3:19 am

    Thanks for sharing your experience! It is so hard to find an organization that allows you to experience and interact with elephants in a humane way. From what I’ve read ENP is one of the few!

    • Reply
      Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust
      August 25, 2017 at 4:25 pm

      No problem. Yeah that’s true especially there are a lot of place that claim to be a sanctuary, but actually mistreat their elephants. Just check reviews online before booking and see what other people have witnessed to whether they are treating their animals ethically

  • Reply
    Nicky Mackenzie
    August 21, 2017 at 2:29 am

    You have some beautiful photos to cherish! We visited ENP when we were in Chiang Mai, and it was the best experience! I’d love to go back and do it all again!

  • Reply
    Kristen Kellogg
    August 21, 2017 at 1:44 am

    You have SUCH beautiful photography in this article! My friend Lacy did this experience in Chiang Mia and loved it so much! Thank you for sharing!

  • Reply
    Danielle @ EscapingEssex
    August 20, 2017 at 10:38 pm

    Sounds like you had the best day! I’ve heard so many great things about Elephant Nature Park and I’m glad it lived up to the expectations for you! 🙂

  • Reply
    Vicki Viaja
    August 20, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    I love your post. For me also spending a day with elephants was the total highlight of my stay in Chiang Mai. Also I am happy you chose one that treats the animals well. (We heard about some that do one day like feeding and bathing with elephants and the next day they let another group ride the elephants. Just awful!) Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience! 🙂

    • Reply
      Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust
      August 27, 2017 at 10:27 pm

      Thanks! Oh wow I had not heard of that before, I guess some companies just jump on the eco tourism bandwagon and if the tourist dont look into the company and research they think they are ethical, but truly they are not. Its unfortunate

  • Reply
    August 20, 2017 at 11:04 am

    Sounds like an incredible experience! Would love to do something like this in Thailand, elephants are such beautiful creatures!

  • Reply
    August 20, 2017 at 10:56 am

    This sounds like such an amazing experience!

  • Reply
    August 20, 2017 at 9:22 am

    Omg, they are so friendly and cute! I love that this is a sanctuary and that they don’t teach them commands. For being fairly new, they seem to be really well organized 🙂

  • Reply
    Sarah Gallo
    August 20, 2017 at 9:09 am

    WOW! What an incredible experience !!!!

  • Reply
    Ticket to Adventures
    August 20, 2017 at 7:19 am

    What an unforgettable experience! I have travelled a lot in Thailand but not made it up to Chiang Mai yet. I have always wanted to do things like this with elephants. Thank you for sharing this interesting article, I will add this on my list for future reference.

    • Reply
      Tash @ Backpackers Wanderlust
      August 27, 2017 at 10:29 pm

      Oh you will have to next time you are in Thailand! Its an amazing place, completely different than the Islands. Plus flights are so cheap nowadays which makes it super accessible. No problem 🙂

  • Reply
    Alexa Williams Meisler
    August 20, 2017 at 5:13 am

    Ahhhhhh! I want to do this. Seriously, dream come true!

  • Reply
    Missy | The Journey Project
    August 20, 2017 at 3:37 am

    I love that there is a group starting to do something about the mistreatment of elephants! I absolutely love animals, so this sounds like the tour for me!

  • Reply
    Diana Čechová
    August 20, 2017 at 3:33 am

    Wow! I’ve been to Chiang Mai recently, but I wasnt sure whether these Elephant days were about to be worth it! So hopefully… next time!

  • Reply
    marvi ocampo
    August 20, 2017 at 2:37 am

    What a wonderful experience! I’m such a scaredy cat when interacting with animals, even the gentle ones, so I don’t know if I can do this. But, I love reading and looking at people who are able to. Glad to see the elephants are being taken cared of despite being in a controlled area. 🙂

  • Reply
    August 20, 2017 at 2:35 am

    Such an incredible experience! I am so glad that despite all these negative news about Thailand with regards to animal treatments, these sorts of organizations exists! We definitely need more of these 🙂 Great story and photos!

  • Reply
    Fiona Thackeray
    August 20, 2017 at 12:24 am

    Amazing! I love elephants and it is so nice to hear of places that allow you to engage with them on ‘their terms’ and in a natural way – unlike a place we visited in South Africa that was billed as somewhere you could go to ‘watch their natural behaviour’ before they were walked into a woods and made to perform for us. Sounds like a great place to visit!

  • Reply
    Rebecca Hall
    August 19, 2017 at 11:51 pm

    I absolutely adore elephants! And I love the idea of being able to partake in trips that don’t do elephant rides and promote ethical elephant tourist. How wonderful!

  • Reply
    August 19, 2017 at 11:41 pm

    We were planning on going this past summer but didn’t end up having time. Great post! Those are some beautiful photos.

  • Reply
    Janine Beynon
    August 19, 2017 at 11:30 pm

    Loved reading about your experience. I spent some time in Chiang Mai and had a day at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary which was also a great experience! I loved it so much, it made me want to volunteer with animals in the future.

  • Reply
    Kalilah Hayward
    August 19, 2017 at 10:47 pm

    I’ve heard so much about this so I’m happy I finally get to such an informative post about this place! It sounds great!

  • Reply
    Aarti Kamath
    August 19, 2017 at 10:11 pm

    We were in Thailand last year but did only Bangkok and Phuket!.. Lately I have seen a few posts on Chiang Mai and it seems quite inviting to check it out some day! The pictures show you had a great time :)… Did you enjoy your vegetarian lunch of noodles, a curry, vegetables and french fries?…

  • Reply
    Jen Horsfall
    August 19, 2017 at 9:38 pm

    I’m going to Chiang Mai in November and this is definitely on my list!

  • Reply
    Megan Brake
    August 19, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    Looks like you had a really great time. Glad to see ethical elephant tourism becoming more and more popular!

  • Reply
    Bryony Clapperton
    August 19, 2017 at 8:56 pm

    Glad you were able to and promoting an ethical animal experience. Its really important that places and posts like this exist in Thailand and South East Asia to help others have an equally as life changing and ethical experience. P.S you look fab on all your pics too!

  • Reply
    August 19, 2017 at 8:41 pm

    Oh my god, this park sounds amazing! I’ve always wanted to help with saving and protecting animals and parks like this are one of the good possibilities. 🙂 I’ll definitely check it out once I’m in Thailand!

  • Reply
    Sarah @ Sarah Sees The World
    August 19, 2017 at 8:31 pm

    Oh I would LOVE to feed an elephant! Your photos are beautiful – such amazing animals! Responsible animal tourism is such a great thing.

  • Reply
    Doryn Fine
    August 19, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    This looks amazing and I am so jealous you were able to be so close to the baby elephants. The tour with Elephant Nature Park definitely seems like the way to go. I’ll keep that in mind for when I visit Thailand 🙂

  • Reply
    August 19, 2017 at 7:45 pm

    This brings back great memories- ENP was also the highlight of my time in Thailand…what a great way to spend a day! Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    August 19, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    I am planning a trip to Thailand at the moment, and we are making sure we only include Elephant experiences that do not involve cruelty to the animals. So far I’ve booked us into Elephant Hills in Khao Sok but this one in Chiang Mai is also on my list, once I firm up my dates for the northern part of my itinerary. Sounds like it’s a great experience.

  • Reply
    Fay Pickering
    August 19, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    What an amazing experience, it’s clear they really care for these gorgeous animals. Great photos, looks like you had a jam packed day.

  • Reply
    Stella Marie Encina
    August 19, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    Aww amazing experience! I love the fact that you chose this instead of riding them or supporting any other business that abuses elephants!

  • Reply
    Andrea Cvitanovic Mayfield
    August 19, 2017 at 5:28 pm

    What an amazing experience! Those elephants are just adorable and such majestic creatures! Great read 🙂

  • Reply
    Kirstin Street
    August 19, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    They’re so damn beautiful! I have such a respect and love for all elephants, and love reading about other’s encounters with them. I did a very similar program with Patara Elephant Farm in Chiang Mai and it was one of the greatest days of my life! Thanks for sharing, your photos are gorgeous <3

  • Reply
    Tanya Korteling
    August 19, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    This sounds an interesting experience. I recently spent some time at Elephant Valley Project in Mondulkiri Cambodia which is also extremely ethical! They only allow you to observe from a distance and no interaction at all not even feeding! If you’re ever in Cambodia I’d highly recommend it 🙂

  • Reply
    Elaine J Masters
    August 19, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    What a full and wonderful day. I loved how the elephants choose and do what they want. Must be hard when less fortunate elephants with riders (and all that implies) show up. Great experience.

  • Reply
    Jessica Carpenter
    August 19, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    This is amazing. I’ve heard of this sanctuary before and knew it was a good one, but I had no idea how good. I went to an elephant attraction in Chiang Mae years ago which I thought at the time was one of the best. They didn’t put seats on the elephants but we did rise them and they know a few commands. Which now I know better and wish I hadn’t gone. Although I think it was one of the better ones, it still contributed to the terrible practice. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Reply
    August 19, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    What an awesome experience! I love that they are so well looked after…it must have been weird to see people riding them, but for you to be participating in such a beautiful experience. I would definitely do this when i am there. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Reply
    Travel Textbook
    August 19, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    This is an awesome post — it is so good to see responsible animal tourism!

    Lucy x

  • Reply
    Aimee Binstead
    August 19, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    So much time for posts that advocate elephant experiences without riding them ???? Thanks for spreading the word about such an important issue and making people aware that more natural encounters are just as rewarding!

  • Reply
    August 19, 2017 at 10:20 am

    I’ve allways wanted to do that. This animals are just so amazing and great. Happy for you.

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