How to help at the best elephant sanctuary Chiang Mai offers
When you look up things to do in Thailand you stumble upon an array of elephant activities. They all look pretty affordable so you think, why not, that's a cool experience that will spice up my Insta feed?! Unfortunately the tourism industry has some dark secrets and elephant tourism is one of them.
When I was in Chiang Mai I was lucky enough to spend a day at an elephant sanctuary, The Elephant Nature Park. There we learned about the gruelling process of taming wild elephants for tourism. I want to share a few things that resonated with me. But if you don't feel like reading on, just take away this one piece of information:
DON'T RIDE ELEPHANTS and if an "animal sanctuary" offers elephant rides, they're NOT a REAL sanctuary.
4 things I Learned about Elephant Tourism
1. Babies are separated from their mothers
To get started in the industry wild baby elephants are taken away from their mothers after birth. Why? Because you can't train a large wild elephant without some serious risk, while a baby is small and easy to manipulate.
2. Their spirit is broken through Phajaan
After they're captured they're taken out into the forest, chained up and beaten. This process is known as "breaking their spirit" or "phajaan" and it's a way for the elephant to learn that the human is the dominant and they need to listen to their commands.
3. painting and circuses are torture not entertainment
After the baby is tamed they are shipped off to be trained in all sorts of things, it can be anything from the lumbar industry to tourism. In tourism they can be seen in circuses, performing tricks. You may see an elephant "painting" well it's not like they have a passion for the arts. They have their master poking sharp objects in their ears in order to maneuver their heads.
4. Elephant's backs are not structured to support human weight
And yes, riding an elephant is horrible. In fact while elephants are massive animals, their backs are not structurally made for riding. At the end of their "career" they often retire because their backs are deformed and broken from the stress.
*The above 3 are not my photos but used to highlight the issue
What CAN YOU do to Stop The BAD Elephant Tourism?
I'm sharing all of this not to upset you, or shame you if you've done these activities in the past. My parents took me on elephant rides as a kid and they just didn't know any better.
I'm just trying to raise awareness and help spread the word.
1. Don't go on elephant rides
If less people chose to partake in these activities then they'll stop. Basic supply and demand (thanks Econ 101). So simply put - don't ride elephants.
2. Don't give your money to companies that offer elephant rides
If you want to spend time with elephants I highly encourage you to look for somewhere that doesn't offer elephant rides. There are many "conservation" or "eco parks" for elephants in Thailand, but if you can ride elephants there then they're pure b.s..
You can chose to spend a day with elephants or volunteering for an extended time at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai.
Below are a few pictures of our experience at The Elephant Nature Park. We spent the day walking and feeding them. The highlight was when we met them in the river. They were cooling off and we showered them with buckets of water. They seemed to like it and we appreciated the cooling down too.
Because these are retired elephants, and not wild, the risk of charging and injury is minimal. They were very friendly, especially if you're holding a banana.
Walking with elephants at the Elephant Nature Park
Elephants eating after their bath
A closeup of one of our elephants
Elephant foot vs. human foot
An elephant and volunteer at the Elephant Nature Park
Food storage for elephants
This is the food storage area. Elephants eat between 200-600 lbs of food a day. The Elephant Nature Park uses part of the tour money towards feeding the elephants.
Pin It for Later
Read one of my Travel Guides
Explore the desert of Ica and the oasis at Huacachina. Go beyond the typical Huacachina tours. This travel guide offers tips on where to stay and what to see and eat.
This New Orleans 3-Day itinerary is packed with fun activities and useful tips. Let the photos inspire your travel and use the map to plan your stay in NOLA.
Explore beyond Niagara Falls with this travel guide to the Niagara Region. Includes photography for inspiration, tips and a map of Niagara-On-The-Lake wineries.
Enjoy a long weekend trip to Colorado. This Colorado itinerary comes with a guide and tips to Denver, Colorado Springs and Rocky Mountain National Park.
Spend 2 days exploring temples and the backcountry of Siem Reap with 2 amazing private tours. Travel guide includes itinerary, tips and photo galleries.
Travel through Oceanside, Cabrillo National Monument & the coastline with this 2 day itinerary & San Diego photography guide. Complete with photos of cute sea lions.
Enjoy this travel guide Loire Valley itinerary. The Loire is a French region famous for stunning chateaux including Chaumont, Cheverny, Chenonceau & Chambord.
My travel guide to Thailand has tips for cultural experiences & photo spots. Check out my Thailand 10-day itinerary for Bangkok, Pattaya, Krabi & Chiang Mai.
Roam through the streets of London with my travel guide. My blog includes travel tips on London photography locations, unique experiences and places for foodies.
My travel guide includes a map, flexible itinerary and Toronto photography spots. Made by me, a local, with authentic experiences & my favourite restaurants.
Spend 4 days exploring the lush island of Kauai, Hawaii. This Kauai travel blog includes photos, and itinerary, maps and tips on sights and more.
Maui, is for beach lovers, hikers & photographers. My Maui itinerary covers 5 days. The guide includes tips on my favourite experiences, food & photography spots.
Corsican beaches sparkle blue and the inland is filled with beautiful mountains and bush. Explore the South of the island with my guide and map.
Spend a week driving through the stunning Faroe Islands. This travel guide includes a Faroe Islands itinerary with accommodation, maps & other tips.
My guide for Paris is great for both first timers & return travellers. It includes highlights and a walking map with a Paris-in-a-week itinerary.
Spend 10 days discovering Japan with this guide and Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Nara itinerary. Enjoy my photo blog and tips.
Read one of my other blog posts
A travel guide to seeing the Peruvian weavers of Patacancha in the Sacred Valley, near Cusco. They share their techniques and Inca traditions. Plus, I give tips on how to spot synthetic vs. real garments.
Savour 8 amazing meals with this New Orleans food blog guide. A combination of Southern foods and other great flavours. Bon appétit!
The perfect gift guide if you’re looking for gift ideas for travel photographers. The list had useful and fun ideas for travelers and photographers both.
The Bear Lake hike takes you to 4 beautiful lakes in RMNP including; Nymph, Dream, Emerald and Bear. Check out my photography and experience from the trail.
Spend an autumn day picking apples at Chudleigh’s Apple Farm, near Toronto. Check out this photoblog guide for fun activities & two apple dessert recipes.
6 photography tips I learned from a photographer in the Loire Valley. They will take your travel, landscape and architecture photography up another level.
One of the best ways to get around the Faroe Islands is by car. Check out my Spotify playlist I made for our trip.
In Paris you need to be smart, especially as a solo female. Here I talk about my experience with street harassment and some tips for dealing with it.
Experience The Elephant Nature Park, the best elephant sanctuary Chiang Mai offers. I learned why we shouldn’t ride elephants, plus got to feed and bathe some rescued ones.
Here’s a list of my travel camera gear for both longer travel and when I’m out for the day doing street photography. Spoiler alert: I’m a Fujifilm addict.
There’s more sheep than people on The Faroe Islands. Here’s why they’re so important to the geography and people on the islands, plus a photo gallery.