Bringing our kids to a Chiang Mai elephant sanctuary was a top priority for our visit to Chiang Mai with kids. Sadly, there are many elephant parks in Thailand which mistreat the animals, so we did a lot of research to find an ethical elephant camp.
We eventually went with Elephant Nature Park, as recommended by our Thailand Lonely Planet. We chose them for their leadership in elephant welfare in Thailand. For the welfare of these majestic animals, Elephant Nature Park does not allow any elephant riding or elephant bathing in rivers.
We booked a family-friendly Elephant Trails – Single Day adventure at a camp north of Chiang Mai. Elephant Nature Park provides transportation from your hotel in a nice, air conditioned passenger van. When our van arrived, we were happy to see several other families with small children inside. It’s always comforting to have other small kids on tours.
Elephant Trails Park
Just under an hour later we arrived at the Elephant Trails Park in the mountains north of town. We were given some bottled water and an opportunity to change into some of their clothes in case we got dirty. They also provided sandals for everyone (except the kids, since they didn’t have any small sizes). We initially stayed in our own clothes as we had brought a spare set. Finally, before starting our elephant experience, we all had to wash our hands to get rid of any sunscreen and bug repellent.
Our group of roughly 25 people got to spend the day with the five amazing elephants. The herd consisted of one very large, elderly and super gentle elephant, one small adolescent elephant and three other adult elephants. They were all very gentle and appeared well cared for and therefore comfortable around humans. After witnessing elephant abuse first-hand in other parts of the world, we watched closely for any signs of mistreatment, but we’re happy to report we didn’t see any here. The elephants appeared to be treated kindly by their handlers the entire time and they seemed to take their cues from the elephants. For example, when the elephants wanted to move on from the mud pit, we were all instructed to move out of the way so they elephants could leave.
Feeding the Elephants
Our day began with feeding the elephants. The elephants were brought into an area behind a simple two log fence. Elephant Nature Park had laid out several large buckets of bananas for us to feed to the elephants. The elephants absolutely love bananas and were very eagerly snatching them from our hands. This could be an intimidating experience for a little kid, but our five year old daughter did really well. She was very brave and ended up feeding tons of bananas to the grateful elephants. Our three year old son was initially intimidated by the elephants so he often passed his bananas to us to feed the elephants. We made sure to give him space until he was ready to participate.
Feeding elephants was a great way to start the day as it helped built trust between us. From the feeding area, we walked the elephants along a jungle path to a river. Our family and another family with a small child were assigned the biggest elephant as it was the most gentle. Everyone was given a bag full of bananas and sugar cane to feed to their elephant along the way. Of course, our daughter absolutely loved this and was all smiles and giggles. I was amazed at the grace of this extremely large animal – she was very patient with the kids and never showed any sign of agitation at any time during our walk together.
Elephant River Walk
When we got to the river, the elephants and their handlers went in first and then we followed them. The cool water was only halfway up our shins and was very refreshing on a hot Thailand day. After a short walk upstream, the elephants were brought to a clearing, while we stood on the other side of the river. The handlers then climbed a nearby hill, starting hacking pieces off a plant and threw it down to the elephants below. I’m not sure what it was, but the elephants loved it and we had front row seats to enjoy the feeding.
Once the elephants had their fill, we continued our journey down the river. Shortly after we left the river, we left the elephants and went back to the lodge where we enjoyed a simple, but very tasty vegetarian buffet lunch. The kids enjoyed the French fries and fruit, while we gobbled up the Pad Thai, veggie stir fry and a massaman curry, which was amongst the best curries we had all month in Thailand!
Elephant Mud Pit
After lunch the staff convinced us to change into their clothes as we were about to go into the mud pit with the elephants. They even had sizes small enough to fit our 3 year old.
The mud pit was at the base of a hill with a pipe of fresh water pouring into it. The elephants were so excited to see the mud pit that they literally ran into it. The elephants took turns drinking the fresh water, while the rest rolled around and blew mud on their backs. Many of us got sprayed with mud as the elephants went about their messy business.
After the elephants were settled, we got to take off our shoes and go into the mud pit with the elephants. This time, instead of feeding them, we got to rub mud on their trunks. Our daughter and her new friend were having a great time going from elephant-to-elephant rubbing mud on them, while our son was simply thrilled to be able to stand in a huge puddle of mud and get as dirty as he wanted.
We finished the day with one last feeding. This time our son got brave enough to try feeding the elephants himself. At first he didn’t like the elephants wrapping their trunks around his hand, but he soon got the hang of it and loved it in no time. A lot of the adults in the group were socializing by this time, so it left the huge baskets of bananas and sugar cane mostly to the kids. The kids were just as crazy-excited about the last feeding as they were the first.
We had such an amazing day with our Chiang Mai elephant experience. We have always loved elephants and were happy to share our love with the kids, who loved every minute of it. It was a privilege to spend so much time up close to these majestic animals.
Visiting an elephant nature park in Chiang Mai is a must do for any family in Thailand. Please do your research to ensure your park treats the elephants well as these beautiful animals deserve kindness and respect.