It’s taken me a long time to write this post as I have a lot of mixed feelings about this part of our trip to Thailand. Elephants are my favorite animal and have been for as long as I can remember (since I was 2, according to my mom). But despite that love, my direct experience with them was mostly limited to visiting them at the zoo every few years. Not surprising, growing up in America. That’s why, when I went to India back in 2012, I couldn’t wait to have a chance to ride them. Later I learned that riding elephants is actually not something people should be doing.
Flash forward to my trip to Thailand, and one of the things I knew I wanted to do is visit the elephants. A viral video had been going around of elephants painting pictures, and I just had to see this for myself. A quick Google search came up with plenty of options throughout the country, and plenty of warnings on elephant abuses. I definitely wanted to be careful which place I chose. It was a year later, long after coming home that I read an article by D Travels Round that I learned the full extent of what these shows actually do to the elephants. I won’t rehash it all here, as I don’t have much first-hand experience, but I strongly encourage everyone to read it.
Now that I know differently, I realize how it easy it is for tourist to be tricked into paying money to these places. I was one of them. As such, I’m not going to go into too many details about this part of our trip. If you want to spend time with the elephants, I recommend going to the Elephant Nature Park in Chaing Mai. It’s quite a bit more expensive, but you get to spend time with the elephants, doing the things they would normally be doing. No shows, no paintings. Just normal elephant activities. If the price is too much, then I suggest skipping this activity altogether. It’s just not worth contributing to the abuse for our own entertainment.
But back to the story. We chose the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, because from everything I read online, it seemed like the kind of place that truly took care of their elephants. It’s fairly simple to reach by bus – about 45 minutes south of Chiang Mai. The stop is right across the street from the entrance.
After paying our entrance fee, we head straight to the arena for the next showing. The elephants perform all sorts of tricks and tasks, from rolling logs together to throwing balls in the air, to walking on a single log and of course, painting pictures.
At the end, tourists can feed the elephants sugar canes and bananas for a chance to get up close and personal.
After the show, we walk around the rest of the complex. We start at the nursery. I can’t even handle the cuteness of the baby elephants!
Then we make our way to the watering hole, just in time for the next bathing show. Because it really is more of a show than a break for the elephants.
It doesn’t take much time to see and do everything here, especially as we aren’t planning to do an elephant ride (though they are offered). I think we spend a total of 3 hours here before catching the bus back to Chain Mai.
Looking back now, I realize I never felt totally comfortable with this place, and I wish I had stuck with my gut feeling. I convinced myself that because I hadn’t found many negative reviews of this place online, that everything was fine. I didn’t know the shows they perform were considered cruel, but I knew not to ride them. And this place offered elephant rides. If they were making the elephants do something I knew to be not OK, then what else might be happening behind the scenes? But I wanted to see the elephants so much I just pushed it all aside.
Again, I urge you to think twice before deciding to spend your money on an elephant experience while traveling. Really make sure you do your research, and if it’s anything but spending time with the elephants while they do normal elephant things, really consider if that place has the elephants best interest at heart.