Short stumpy legs slide in the mud as the three baby elephants mischievously overtake us on the path at the elephant sanctuary. We catch up with them when they stop for their favourite juicy plants and leaves. For a short 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 also 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
Adorable and friendly, Pailin was rescued from a circus in Surin where she performed tricks such as walking on only two legs. She also 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 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 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 and he loves swimming in the river and putting his head underwater. He has a huge appetite and loves his food with bananas being his favourite!
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 human in each elephant’s life. They spend almost 24 hours a day with their little charges and the bond and friendship between the mahouts and the babies is 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 learn so much about this beautiful, emotional and intelligent animal. We spend a couple of hours walking with them in the jungle and because there is only us, the experience is personalised and special. There are not many places you can spend a couple of blissful hours with baby elephants and have them all to yourself!
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 river bank and keep a watchful eye on them. It is 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 and 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 a female from the logging industry will soon be calling the elephant sanctuary home so 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 make many elephant’s dreams come true.
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 is 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 bring 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”.
A Disturbing and Haunting video on the Phajann ritual
READ THE TRUTH ABOUT ELEPHANT TOURISM BY MINDFUL WANDERLUST
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 was 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 stay at the Chang Thai House which is a simple traditional style hotel conveniently located within 10 minutes walk to the night bazaar and markets. It is 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 is divine. All this about 380 Baht! (14 AUD).
The gorgeous setting upstairs with cushions at low timber tables in traditional Thai style add 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.
THE SALSA KITCHEN
For a change from Thai food, we try 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 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).
More of our Thailand Travel Stories
This is perfect timing us! We are from Finland and currently planning a trip to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam for 3 months next year. Seeing the eles is a big factor for us and everything we looked at so far seems so busy and crowded. We even started to look at Laos.This looks perfect for us and we are excited about getting close to the eles and being by ourselves in a private tour. We will be doing this for sure. Thank you! Muriel and Kym
We are glad it’s was helpful for you Muriel and Kym. It really was a wonderful couple of hours, made all the more special having the elephants to ourselves. They may have the new addition of mum and her newborn baby by the time you arrive! Make sure you book in advance if you can, as it can fill up quickly. Have a great trip!
Such gorgeous animals!! Totally adorable! Beautiful article and so well written. It must be heartbreaking for them losing their mother and what they have gone through. At least they have a lovely home now and it’s great how there is more awareness now about their cruel treatment that is able to get them in the position to take tourists on rides and do shows etc. Hopefully in a few years time, elephants rides and shows will be a thing of the past.
They are just adorable Gillian! In that short time, we also got to know their individual personalities. It was one of the best days and great sanctuary to visit and support.
LOVE! LOVE! LOVE! Everything about this is gorgeous. The last time we went to Thailand was in the 80s and it was all the rage to ride elephants. I can’t even comprehend doing that now, it seems so shallow and I feel guilty. Having said that, we have come a long way and this place looks ideal. It makes we want to go back. If we do this will be one place we ‘ll be visiting.
Hi Tammy. People are a lot more aware of the situation now than we were years ago. We remember in Kanchanaburi buying bunches of bananas for baby elephants walking the street. We thought we were doing great but in fact, we were encouraging the purchase of baby elephants. If you’re ever back in Thailand visit this sanctuary, you will have a great day and help these elephants.
This is an interesting and exceptional travel activity I’ve ever read. I’ve traveled Thailand several times but never did this kind of interactive activity. Spending time with nature is always my favorite things to do. I’ve attended many elephant shows in different parts of Thailand, but never been so close to the eles. Never scrubbed them, washed them as you did Ray & Sue in your private tour. I also appreciate the initiative to save the baby elephants from the cruel circus shows and curate them in their natural habitat. I’m going to try this itinerary in my next Thailand visit. Thank you Ray & Sue for sharing your awesome experience. This is truly an inspirational article with great photos.
Thanks for your comment Saeed. This is a great park to spend time with the elephants in their natural environment and support their rescue. If you are ever in Thailand we recommend you visit here. A pregnant mother will soon be calling the park home, so it would be great to time your visit in time for the birth of the baby. It will be the highlight of your trip!
This is one of the most beautiful articles I have read about an elephant sanctuary in Thailand. There is a lot of information and your photos are just stunning. It looks like they really love their elephants and a great place to visit. Thank you from Hennie in Amsterdam
Thanks Hennie. Keep this beautiful sanctuary in mind if you are ever visiting Thailand.
What a gem of a find, we were scouting for info for our upcoming Thailand trip, and stumbled on your visit to the elephant sanctuary, it sounds like such a worthy cause and one we are surely going to visit, especially with the Private serene elephant care package, that seems well worth the experience for the money, it is not very often you get chance to be that close to elephants in a more natural setting. The photo’s of the food also look rather yummy, it actually looks like real food and not the type that when you order, the dishes look nothing like. Thanks for the insight, and we hope to see you revealing a few more.
Thanks Bryan and Sheila. If ever visiting Thailand this is one of the best sanctuaries in Chiang Mai. The elephants are free and much loved. One thing we love about Chiang Mai is the food, it’s a vegetarian delight!