Seeing elephants in Thailand was high on my list of priorities, ensuring I was seeing them in a humane environment was even higher. After a little research I decided on the Elephant Nature Park. The cost was 2,500 THB, which is about $70USD. This was one of the most expensive activities I did while I was in Thailand but WELL worth it.
TIP: If you decide to go with Elephant Nature Park be sure to book your ticket in advance. I booked mine about 2 weeks prior and was very lucky, I got the last spot!
If you’re within the city square the tour guide will pick you up at your hotel between 8:30AM and 9AM, otherwise they ask that you meet them at their office in the city by 7:30AM. I was picked up at 8AM on the dot. I didn’t give myself enough time to get a coffee or food so I’m just sitting there in the van afraid of the hangry caffeine deprived monster about take over my body and mind. I knew I should have weaned myself off coffee! Why did I have to snooze that 4th time? Why didn’t I have snacks on me at all times? How am I going to enjoy the elephants when all I can think about is food? Can you eat elephants? Wait, what? NO! And then we pulled into a shopping plaza with a 711 and a cafe. Saved.
On the way there you watch a short video about the park, how it came to be, what kinds of elephants they rescue and why it’s important. It almost brought me to tears. I won’t get too into it but if you are planning on seeing elephants in Thailand please make sure the company is ethical and please do not ride them. When people train elephants to carry people, do tricks in the circus or participate in illegal logging they do this by starving them, tying them up and by sticking a metal spike in their ears. Elephants in these kinds of situations suffer from anxiety, form mental illnesses and even try and kill themselves by stepping on their own trunks. The elephants at the Nature Park were missing eyes, blind, had mental illnesses, and dislocated and broken limbs as a result of people using them for entertainment. Just sayin.
Anyway, as soon as you arrive you’re invited to feed the elephants, then the guide will take you around the park and introduce you to each one. You can touch them, feed them, take a picture with them, just being in their presence is incredible. Before you know it you’ve spent hours just observing and walking around. You get about an hour for lunch midday. The park also rescues dogs, there are about 400 onsite just roaming around for you to play with and pet. You can also adopt them and the park will help you figure out how to get your new baby home.
After lunch you give the elephants a bath in the river, this can get a little wet and muddy so dress appropriately. Then you just walk around and meet more elephants. I’m really not doing a good job at conveying how awesome this is. You really are just walking around and hanging out in their presence but that’s the cool part. It’s not thrilling or scary or an adrenaline rush, it’s just like you’re hanging out with an ELEPHANT!
It was around 3PM that we headed back to the city, earlier than they said on the agenda so I just walked around in the city checking out the temples to kill time before the Night Bazaar. I went to a few different shops, I was on the hunt for some unique Thai textiles. I was about 30 minutes from my hotel when it started pouring out of nowhere. I ducked under a tree for cover and this other girl did too. She was from Belgium but was on her way to Australia for a couple months. We stood under the tree for a little while chatting then just decided to walk in the rain. We went to this indoor market and found some great fabric that I was able to snag for about a half of the asking price.
TIP: If you’re willing to venture out in the rain you can get great deals. A lot of vendors would rather make a sale at half price than nothing at all due to rain and little business.
The rain didn’t look like it was going to stop anytime soon so I decided to make a run for it. Jessica, the tree girl, and I made plans to go to the Jazz Club at the North Gate. They have karaoke on Wednesday nights and great drinks. The city was about a foot deep in water so I took off my shoes and sprinted through the streets in the direction of my hotel. I got lost a few times but finally made it home soaking. I was pretty exhausted at this point so I decided get a massage.
TIP: Massages are extremely cheap. They range from 200-300 THB depending on what you get. If you can, get them often, it’s worth it. Also, because they’re so cheap make sure to tip. This is one of the only services where it is (kind of) expected.
A Thai massage is not your average massage. This little lady twisted me into a pretzel. She didn’t speak much English but she was telling me how most people cry out in agony half the time. I enjoyed myself but I can definitely see how someone not as flexible would find it painful.
TIP: If you’re going to be in Chiang Mai go to Pai. It’s about 8 hours north of Chiang Mai via bus. Everyone I met RAVED about this little town, I wish I had devoted some time to go there. This is supposedly a much more laid back and relaxed location and not yet overtaken by tourists. It’s also, from what I hear, a great place to rent a motorbike and explore. I also heard that the Chiang Mai Grand Canyon is a great thing to check out in the city, it’s 15 minutes from the center.