Elephants are almost synonymous with Thailand, and there are two types of tourists: the ones who ride them, and the ones that don’t. I’m not judging the people who ride them, because I was probably leaning towards that at one point in my life. But as I did more research, I discovered that the elephants at riding camps are abused, more often than not. Since that wasn’t something that I wanted to support, I decided to visit Elephant Nature Park instead. Here, they rescue and rehabilitate elephants. A ticket will cost you ฿2500 (approx. $75 USD). This includes transportation to/from your hotel (the sanctuary is about an hour and a half outside of Chiang Mai), lunch, and interacting with the elephants.
Seeing elephants up close, and being able to touch them, feed them, bathe them – is definitely a one of a kind experience. Their skin feels dry and kind of leathery. I was a bit apprehensive when I first tried to feed one, because I had this notion that they’d bite my hand off or something. But in reality, they’re like these gentle giants. They’re not looking to hurt you – they’re just looking to eat the watermelon that you have in your hands. I read somewhere that elephants look at humans the way than humans look at puppies: they think we’re cute!
If you want to bathe them, expect to get dirty. The handlers will take them down to the river, where you throw buckets of water over them. This is their way of staying cool. After this “bath”, the elephants will defeat the whole purpose and cover themselves with dirt. Again, another way for them to stay cool in the hot Thailand sun.
This is definitely not an experience to be missed!