That Obligatory Post About Elephants in Thailand

by - 3:00 PM


I think it's an unwritten law that every tourist who visits Thailand has to go to an elephant park. I didn't feel like breaking that law for the simple reason that I love elephants. Once upon a time baby Envy got her hands on a yellow stuffed elephant and the rest is history. Visiting an elephant park was the only thing I demanded to do in Thailand. And as it turned out, I got lucky enough to visit two. The first was part of the jungle trek near Chiang Mai. The second visit was to Doi Inthanon Elephant Park, also near Chiang Mai. At first I didn't feel so good writing about it. Not because every travel blogger in the history of travel blogging has already done it. I felt bad because of some of the experiences I had, experiences we'd rather not talk about in the western world. But that's also exactly why I'm writing this now anyway.

At the end of my three-day jungle trek my parents and I were brought to a roadside enclosure along with some other tourists. Everyone was given a plastic bag of bananas to feed the elephants and we were told this was one of the 'no riding' places. That was important to me, because elephants aren't made to give rides all day. Their backs will give out. Now before you argue that the same goes for horses, keep in mind that the average horse doesn't carry a dozen tourists a day. If a horse would do that it'd have the same back problems as elephants, with the difference that elephants are endangered on top of being mistreated in many countries.
As I got to the enclosure I started to feel a little uncomfortable. There were two young elephants there. The enclosure was right next to the road. It was nothing more than a huge shed without walls, for a lack of a better description. The elephants were chained up. We were probably not the first group of tourists there that day. A third elephant was brought in from a little further down the road, where we weren't allowed to go. 
At first I enjoyed feeding the elephants. Then my gut feeling got too strong and I became uncomfortable with the situation. 'No riding, no riding,' the Thai at the enclosure kept saying and indeed there was no riding. But it didn't feel right. I wasn't okay with the sad little enclosure. And even though I'd never seen an elephant from up close before, I felt like these elephants didn't look happy. I was kind of relieved when I left.


The next day, as we were on our way to Doi Inthanon Elephant Park, we came past the same place. A few meters further down the road was the enclosure where the third elephant had come from. All the elephants there were wearing saddles and other gear, waiting for tourists to take a ride on their backs. I felt a little sick to my stomach.


The day I spent at Doi Inthanon was very different. I was afraid this elephant sanctuary would be the same as the previous one, despite the flyer advertising there'd be no riding. I'd heard that promise before. Upon first glance Doi Inthanon already looked very different though: nowhere near a road, loads of trees, a nice little river. It looked good. Sure, it'd be perfect if elephants could roam around in complete freedom, but since that's impossible at this point in time this park seemed to be the best place where elephants could be.

Once we got to the open space in the middle of the park everyone got a traditional shirt (which didn't look good on me, but traditional clothing never does) and a bag full of bananas. Then we went off into the jungle to visit the elephants, who have quite a bit of space to roam around here.
After a short walk we saw three elephants on a small open space in the jungle. Three men kept an eye on them to make sure they wouldn't walk off the premises of the park. Apart from that they were free to do whatever they wanted - like ramming down a tree or two, as we saw.
At this point I didn't feel bad about the whole elephant situation anymore. Doi Inthanon wasn't like the roadside place at all. Here the elephants looked much happier and way more energetic. Especially four year old Ari, who liked to reach into the banana bags if you didn't give him any. This happened quite a lot, since I'd quickly given out my bananas to all three elephants.
While we were feeding the elephants the park employees took pictures of us and made Ari kiss people by putting his trunk up to their faces. Honestly, it feels like putting a vacuum cleaner full of bananas on your cheek. It's not exactly natural for an elephant to do this, but it's still much better than the roadside slavery.


As the day went on (and all the bananas were gone) the elephants decided to go for a walk. We followed them straight through the jungle, up and down hills, through an ant hill (and yes, those bastards bit me) and eventually down to the open space next to the river, where the humans had lunch while the elephants continued their clumsy way up and down the hills.
After lunch we got into a riceless rice paddy with the elephants to give them a mud bath, which soon turned into a mud fight. It was glorious, despite one of the elephants pooping in the water.


All the mud had to be washed off. Not just off our backs, but also off of the elephants. Everyone and the elephants went for a swim in the river, where we all got a plastic pan to scoop water up and pour it over the elephants. One of the guys from the park used it as a hat, which still makes me laugh.
Rinsing the mud from the mud fight off soon turned into a, you guessed it, water fight. If you were close to an elephant you had a serious advantage. Trunks make for pretty good water guns or showers. At this point it started to rain and with elephants using the river as a toilet I ran for shelter. That marked the end of my day at Doi Inthanon Elephant Park.

On the way back to Chiang Mai I was reminded of the 'park' for the day before once again. It seemed so much sadder after I'd been to Doi Inthanon. Apparently it's mostly Asian tourists who go for an elephant ride, but for the love of god, please don't ride an elephant if you visit Asia. If you want to get up close to elephants there are plenty of great alternatives, Doi Inthanon is just one of them. Do a little bit of research and you'll be able to make a change for the elephants in Thailand: if everyone goes to places like Doi Inthanon the riding industry will disappear. And let's be honest, what's more fun: sitting on an elephant's back or feeding it and playing with it? So if you're not too squeamish and don't mind a little mud, go visit a park like Doi Inthanon Elephant Park. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

x Envy

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16 Fellow Ramblers

  1. Reading about that first park you visited really broke my heart - such incredible, majestic creatures like elephants who travel such long distances and roam freely in the wild really should not be contained so cruelly! I am so glad that the second place you visited gave a better impression and that the elephants had more freedom! Thank you for raising the important issue of animal welfare and not just brushing your less-than-perfect first experience under the carpet!

    Abbey 😘 http://www.abbeylouisarose.co.uk

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    1. The first place was heartbreaking. Pure animal slavery right there... I hope I helped a tiny little bit in making people choose for parks where the elephants are free. Because when those become the standard, we'll be able to start working on a world where these animals can be truly free again.

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  2. It's honestly heartbreaking to think that people go to places where elephants are forced to do backbreaking labor. Elephants are majestic, intelligent creatures and they understand captivity. Ugh. Thank you for bringing attention to a place that has more humane practices -- hopefully people will vote with their dollars and stop patronizing the cruel places.

    xx
    Emily
    emilyhallock.blogspot.com

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    1. I've heard it's mostly Asian tourists who go to the places where you can tide an elephant - though I met some very loud Australians who were proud of riding an elephant. I think this is a change that comes about slowly, but at least it's happening!

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  3. It breaks my heart knowing that there are so many elephants out there who have to go through such tough labour for human enjoyment 😢 Thank you for taking the time to highlight that not all places are like that though 💖

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    1. If you're ever in Thailand you'll see that there are many more places like Doi Inthanon. But as long as the cruel places exist we need to keep bringing attention to the issue!

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  4. This sounds like an amazing experience. I appreciate your determination to only visit non riding parks!

    Kate | http://paintingoctober.blogspot.com

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    1. Once I'd found the right park it was indeed truly amazing!

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  5. That elephant looks adorable I want to hug it. Okay, so no sharks, but I'll draw an elephant for you xD In fact, I kinda wanna draw that very picture! The elephant looks so happy there! I just sat and awww'ed for like, five whole minutes.

    the-emo-wolverine-writes.blogspot.com

    ps. the only reason I'm not reading/commenting on all your blog posts is because I'm saving them as "rewards" for when I finish my studying xD cause I have finals coming up in three weeks and today is the first day of the study break ;____;

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    1. Feel free to draw any picture of mine you like! I aww'ed almost the entire time I was at the second park 😂

      I hope you'll enjoy your rewarfs when your exams are over 😊

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  6. I am with you on the no riding elephants! I went to a rescue sanctuary in Laos where they only allow up to 8 people per day, so the elephants get plenty of freedom and rest time. The tour is walking through a jungle with the elephants trekking beside you along the river. They love it as they get fed by us plenty along the journey, you wash them before staring the trek, and you just give them so much love. It upsets me seeing all these sanctuaries making money whilst torturing the elephants, I've got very strong views on it. At least there are places out there like the one I went to and the Doi Inthanon you went to which are trying to save these beautiful animals!

    Lovely post, thanks for sharing!

    Abs x
    https://afababulouslife.blogspot.co.uk

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    1. I think I saw an ad for the tour you did in Laos! I also thought that Laos is worse for elephants than Thailand. I'm glad we agree and both have a strong opinion on this topic; it's going to be because of people like us that the situation changes!

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  7. thailand! what a wonderful place to visit, it's always been on my list. elephants really are fascinating creatures but the way they're kept breaks my heart :( i'm glad that some places do take care of them. lovely post! xx

    ~ noor

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    1. I hope you get to visit Thailand one day and when you do I'm now sure you'll pick a good elephant park :)

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  8. It sounds like you had a fantastic time at the second place, what a shame about the first one.
    Your whole trip has been like one amazingly huge adventure just to read.
    Cora ❤ http://www.teapartyprincess.co.uk/

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    1. The second place was wonderful. I consider myself lucky I got to see elephants up close in such a healthy environment.

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