Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way - Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

My number one thing to see in Southeast Asia was the elephants. They are such beautiful creatures and I have longed to see them up close and personal for as long as I can remeber.

As cool as riding them would be, I don’t like how they are treated in the places that offer rides. Unfortunately, while in Bangkok seeing the floating markets, unbeknownst to us beforehand, they took my mom and me to one where the animals were forced to wear costumes, give rides, and pose for pictures. You could see in their eyes how sad they were. I left in tears after 5 minutes.


 

After that, I wanted to make sure wherever I would be visiting elephants was ethical and not abusive. So when we traveled up to Chiang Mai, the opportunity came up to go to an elephant sanctuary and refuge. And boy, what a difference in the two places… You can see how happy I (and the elephants) am in all these photos, my smile is as wide as can be!

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

G Adventures recommended Ran-Tong: Save & Rescue Elephant Center as an activity while in Chiang Mai, assuring that the elephants were treated well (and they were not wrong!). We drove about an hour out to the park from Chaing Mai. Upon arrival, we were given superrrrr hot uniforms to wear 😉

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

After brief instruction, we were led out to the field where the elephants basically roam free. The first elephant we came up to was a “little” guy, just nearly a year old but still weighing over 1000 pounds.

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

Note: many people have asked why he has a rope around his neck, it’s basically like a leash we use for dogs. Many of the young elephants don’t realize their strength, and when they get excited, they can accidently knock down visitors, so it more just for precaution and guidance. 

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How cute is my momma!

He was so lively and playful, and kept trying to steal my water bottle!

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

After a little time with him, the handler took us over to cut up sugar cane, elephants’ favorite dessert! It’s no easy task cutting the sugar cane up with a machete, but it was worth it to see the elephants go crazy for it. And no, it’s not lost on me that we were paying to basically do the trainers chores haha! 😉

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

Armed with our baskets full of “dessert,” we headed back to the open field where the elephants seemed to have multiplied! There were so many of them, all eager to get a trunkful of the goodies in our baskets.

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

It’s hard to put into words what it’s like being so up close to these gentle giants. Some people were a little timid approaching them (and rightfully so, they can weigh up to 5 tons!), but I couldn’t help but be next to them.

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

Even the ones with giant tusks, I just walked right and gave them a nice pat.

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You could see just how happy these beautiful animals were!

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

Since elephants can’t sweat like us to keep cool, they prefer a mud bath to protect from the sun (like the one above rolling around in the dirt). And that’s exactly what we helped them do next! We literally got knee deep in a mud pit with the elephants and rubbed it all over them.

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

The elephants were completely relaxed and just rolled over in the mud letting us rub them down. They were in elephant heaven 😉

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

The handlers had a secret word that they’d say to get the elephants to spray mud all over you!

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

 

After the mud spa, we walked them over to be bathed off in the river.

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

This sweet little guy hugged me the entire way, how precious is that?!

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

Once in the river, the elephants just started leisurely laying around, swimming in the water with us!

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

I had to take a moment to let it sink all in: I was swimming with elephants in a river in the middle of Thailand. SWIMMING WITH ELEPHANTS!! It’s something I will never forget.

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

Riding an elephant seems like it would be really fun and cool, but you have to remember the majority of those kinds of places don’t treat the animals well. Getting the experience taking care of these gentle giants was far more rewarding and fun than riding around on top of them for a couple minutes. I urge you to do the same when visiting Thailand: do your research and find an ethically responsible place!

Seeing Elephants in Thailand the Right Way: Responsible Animal Tourism | CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

I hope you enjoyed this post and all the cute photos! Have you ever been? I’d love to see your pics as well 🙂

xx Chels

PS – I partnered have with an awesome company, The Elephant Pants. They sell those super cozy, cool elephant pants (pictured below) and lots of other cute clothes, including fab yoga tops, with a percentage of the profits going toward helping save elephants. So far, they have raised over $145,000 for the cause! Check out their website!

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