Short stumpy legs slide in the mud as the baby elephants mischievously overtake us on the elephant sanctuary path. We catch up with them when they stop for their favourite juicy plants and leaves. For a reprieve from the balmy humid heat, they pick up the cool red soil with their trunk and sprinkle it over their rough wrinkled skin.
Elephant Rescue Park
Elephant Rescue Park is a newly established elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It provides a haven for homeless and abused elephants and also unwanted cats and dogs. The elephants have a new life of freedom, hope and love. There are no chains, no hooks, no shows and no riding. Taken from their mother, and made to do tricks and work in circuses these baby elephants are now in a safe, loving and secure home at the Elephant Rescue Park.
Here there is an opportunity to feed them their favourite treats of bananas, walk, play and swim with them and learn so much about these precious animals and meet the mahouts who are a part of this incredible team. All this with the backdrop of beautiful tropical views on a secluded property. For an authentic and unique experience, away from the crowds and commercialism here is a rare opportunity for one-on-one interactions with the elephants.
Shabu, Pailin and Nam Choke all have a heartbreaking story to tell. Saved from a cruel and harsh life of circuses and begging from tourists, they have gone through so much in their short life.
Shabu – 2 years and 10 months old male
Shabu has a shy and gentle nature. Taken from his mother at a very young age to perform in a circus in Pattaya, he is so tiny and smaller than elephants younger than him because of malnourishment and separation from his mother so young. Since arriving at the Elephant Rescue Park he has gained weight and looks so much healthier. He is so cute with coarse tufts of ginger hair sticking up on his body and he has the hugest eyes framed with thick long ginger eyelashes. Though he is adored by the bigger babies they sometimes push him aside and he is left out.
Pailin – 2 years and 6 months old female
Pailin was rescued from a circus in Surin where she performed tricks such as walking on only two legs. She has gained a lot of weight since arriving at the elephant sanctuary. Sometimes she will go off by herself and rock her body because she learned this behaviour from her stressful time in the circus. Pailin has a lot of character and is adorable and friendly. She loves pulling out plants and throwing them over her head to keep the hot sun off her. Scratches behind her ears are the way to her heart and she has a very strong bond with Nam Choke.
Nam Choke – 1 year and 7 months old male
Nam Choke is the latest addition to the elephant sanctuary. This big gorgeous boy was rescued from a life in the circus and selling souvenirs to tourists. Nam Choke is the youngest but also the biggest of the three. His personality is always happy, playful and full of mischief. He loves swimming in the river and putting his head underwater. His appetite is huge and he loves bananas.
The elephants each have their own mahouts who are the guardian angels of these precious babies. Mr Knot, Mr Eak and Mr Arm are the most important humans in each elephant’s life. They spend almost 24 hours a day with their little charges. The bond and friendship between the mahouts and the babies are a credit to the sanctuary. The mahouts deserve praise for the happiness, health and vitality of the elephants. The babies each have their own personalities, but Mr Kid tells us that the babies will sometimes even take the same character as their mahouts! The mahouts are funny, thoughtful and sometimes it’s hard to know who is having the most fun – the babies or the mahouts!
Walking with the Baby Elephants
During our time at the elephant sanctuary, we learned so much about this beautiful, emotional and intelligent animal. We spent a couple of hours walking with them in the jungle and the experience is personalised and special. There are not many places you can spend a couple of blissful hours with baby elephants without the crowds!
With the steamy heat of a tropical climate, the backdrop of rolling hills, pristine jungle, muddy red paths almost overtaken by thick green foliage, we follow and the baby elephants lead. Because the elephants have control, they go at their own pace and stop and eat in a contented and leisurely manner. The mahouts give gentle commands and the elephant’s welfare is put before anything else.
The atmosphere on the walk is happiness and exuberance and the elephants have so much affection for each other and continuously caress each other with their trunks and rumble softly. The soft rain makes little puddles they love playing in and by the end of the walk, they look like little red elephants from the desert rather than tropical elephants!
When we arrive at the river, the elephants have free will if they want to go for a swim. They hesitate for a while but the cool muddy water is too much temptation for them, so they go in and splash, blow water, duck underwater and have so much fun. The mahouts wait on the riverbank and keep a watchful eye on them. It’s up to the elephants how long they want to stay in the river (but not too long in case they catch a cold) and the mahouts patiently wait for them.
After their swim in the river, we help scrub them with a brush and wash them in their very own natural swimming pool. It’s one of the most fun parts of the day for them as they splash and play in the water. They suck water up with their trunks and spray us and blow water over their backs. The sparkly clean babies then have a rest in their enclosure due to the midday heat.
The most delicious home-cooked vegetarian meal, fresh coconut juice and tropical fruit for dessert complete our day. The vegetables are bought from the local market daily and they serve the best pad thai in Chiang Mai! They can cater for all dietary requirements if they are notified at the time of booking.
This is one of the most fun and heart-warming days ever. Everyone makes us feel like a part of the family. Mr Kit, one of the founders, gives us a lot of information and his enthusiasm and love for the elephant sanctuary, its future and the elephants is contagious.
The place is abuzz with excitement because of plans for a new addition to the family. Mr Kit tells us about a female from the logging industry who will soon be calling the elephant sanctuary home. We will definitely be coming back to meet her. His mission is to give 30 elephants a safe and loving home here. We hope they succeed in their venture because it will save many elephants from a hard and heartbreaking life.
Elephant Rescue Park Information
We did the Private Serene Elephant Care Package, so we had the unique experience of having the elephants all to ourselves! Elephant Rescue Park is one elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai where the elephant’s well-being and happiness are put before anything else and all employees including the mahouts are treated with respect. We highly recommend this, as this is one of those once in a lifetime experiences. For 4500 Baht (150 AUD) it’s incredible value and includes:
Private return transfers from accommodation in Chiang Mai which takes about one hour each way.
An information session on the elephants
An introduction to the elephants
Feeding the elephants
A couple of hours walking with the elephants
Bathing and swimming with elephants
A delicious home-cooked meal
Gumboots and hats are supplied and visitors have an option of wearing the clothes the sanctuary supplies or bringing their own change of clothes. You will get muddy and wet so bring a towel so you can shower and change into clean clothes before lunch.
There are two sessions daily: Morning 06.30-12.30 and Afternoon 12.00-17.30
For more information, other packages and bookings: ELEPHANT RESCUE PARK
Choosing an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai
Thailand elephants have traditionally been exploited and used by humans throughout history. For these wild animals to interact with humans and allow humans to ride them, they undergo an excruciating cruel breaking ritual called the Phajann.
While searching for an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, we sought one that didn’t use their elephants for riding, shows, or use the bullhook and have their elephants in chains. A few sanctuaries in Chiang Mai deliver this, but the Elephant Rescue Park has the only private experience and without the emphasis on mass profits and big crowds. They tick off all our criteria and their intimate private tours were a big factor in choosing here. Spending time and interacting with the elephants in their natural environment is the only activity that is cruelty-free. Anything that offers riding, shows, paintings and other entertainment means they have endured horrific abuse and the phajann because there is no such thing as a “responsible ride or show”.
In Chiang Mai
During our short stay in Chiang Mai, we stayed at the Chang Thai House which is a simple traditional-style hotel conveniently located within 10-minute walk to the night bazaar and markets. It’s great value at 1300 Baht (50 AUD) which includes a tasty breakfast. Chiang Mai is one of our favourite cities for vegetarian food because of the variety and amazing prices. The restaurants and cafes for vegetarians and vegans offer so much choice. Not to mention the traditional Thai food at the night bazaar and markets.
Imm Aim serves a variety of healthy vegetarian and vegan food. The classic pad thai, pad med ma muang, fresh spring rolls that look too good to eat, and the juices make the most delectable lunch. The pineapple juice and the chocolate/banana smoothie made with coconut milk are divine. All this is about 380 Baht! (14 AUD).
The gorgeous setting upstairs with cushions at low timber tables in traditional Thai style adds to the ambient atmosphere. All the vegetables are picked straight from an organic garden, so the meals are so fresh and healthy. This is a great place for vegetarians and vegans and great for the budget. The main dishes cost about 75 Baht (3 AUD). Our favourite here is the Thai vegetables with cashews and coconut.
For a change from Thai food, we tried the Salsa Kitchen. Though it’s not a specialised vegetarian restaurant they have a lot of vegetarian options and like they say… beans make up the true soul of good Mexican food. We have vegetarian nachos and chimichangos – flour tortillas filled with spicy beans, roasted peppers and cheese. All this is served with spicy homemade salsas, sour cream and pineapple/jicama salad. This topped off with a jug of sangria full of fresh chunky fruit was mouth-watering! This was about 700 Baht (26 AUD).