Is it ethical to visit an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai?
Visiting a Chiang Mai elephant sanctuary is one of the top attractions to go for tourists visiting Thailand as well as locals from all over the kingdom.
After experiencing great hardship in their working lives, these rescued elephants start a new beginning at their spacious homes in elephant sanctuaries all over Chiang Mai.
Learning how to be ethical is the most appropriate way for you to be close with them. Animal shelter like Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai are doing their part educating us all on how to be responsible travelers.
The rescued Chiang Mai elephants depended on their survival along with the tourist’s dollar. So while you are on vacation in Chiang Mai, your visit will make a significant improvement to their living habitat.
You have the options to interact, observe and ride these majestic elephants that have been through decades of slogging. It’s totally up to the individual tourist on how they define ethical.
It all boils down to your choice on where to visit and how you categorize elephant sanctuaries or rehab camps that are as ethical as the operators claimed to be in Thailand.
Here’re my 11 best elephant sanctuaries to pick while you are vacationing in Chiang Mai.
Quick Jump Contents
Chang Chill Elephant Camp
Formerly known as Happy Elephant Care Valley, this elephant park in Chiang Mai have transited into a high welfare venue.
In 2019, the World Animal Protection Organization began working with the newly rename Chang Chill Elephant Camp.
There’s been a trend to make more elephant sanctuaries acceptable to tourists and Chiang Chill is pretty much one such set up.
It’s an observational only environment, where visitors can observe the six resident females in their natural habitat over the course of their normal daily routines.
The consistency of this routine (ethical) according to the owner Mr. Supakorn Tananseth, gives a better life and welfare for the elephants.
These females Chiang Mai based elephants have been retired to Chang Chill from various provinces in Thailand as they are relieved of the hard work in the logging and trekking industries.
Top Activities at Chang Chill Elephant Camp:
Guests are allowed to load banana or sugar cane snacks and other ingredients in the custom-made feeding tubes made from natural bamboo canes.
There will also be sharing moments with the camp’s Mahouts on the lifestyle of Chiang Mai elephants (Asian species) in their natural environment.
- Full Day children friendly
- Half Day morning/afternoon
- 2 Days program
Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai
@saveelephantfoundation All girl loves attention! So does our elephant lady. They likes us to speak to them politely. treat them gently. สาวๆชอบให้มีคนเอาใจใส่ดูแล เด็กสาวที่นี่เช่นกัน ชอบให้ขัดเล็บ ดูแลผิวกาย และเวลาพูดต้องพูดจาสุภาพ และปฎิบัติต่ออย่างนุ่มนวล ฟ้าใหม่ และทองเอ ชอบให้ทำเล็บและรักสวยรักงาม #elephant #elephants #saveelephantfoundation #elephantnaturepark #animalsanctuary #babyelephant #animalplay ##animalspa #animals ♬ เสียงต้นฉบับ – Save Elephant Foundation
Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai is one of the most well known establishment since 1990.
Formatted by well-known elephant conservationist Lek Saengduean Chailert.
The center is considered a leading rehabilitation park for elephants in Thailand.
Probably, one of the biggest elephant herd in Chiang Mai, providing a full visitor and volunteering experience.
One of a kind “Skywalk” program where visitors observed and learned the chosen elephant herd amidst other rescued animals.
This huge Chiang Mai elephant park has won tons of awards and documentaries from Discovery Channel, National Geographic, Animal Planet, BBC, CNN etc
Top Activities at Elephant Nature Park:
Tons of activities from feeding, bathing, jungle walk to walking the resident dogs and even water rafting. You can spend your free time, socializing, getting a Thai massage, walking the dogs, tubing on the river, etc.
Or simply watch elephants wandering on the property freely. It’s like a village by itself. There are even a small convenience stall and food market outside the park’s front gate.
- Half/Full day programs available and you can also book a personalized trip.
- Overnight non air-con accommodation in private hut with mosquitoes net and attached bathroom.
- Volunteers live in shared accommodation with attached bathroom.
- All vegetarian meals are cooked and served by local villagers. Programs are suitable for all ages
Chai Lai Orchid Elephant Camp
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Chai Lai Orchid is one of those ethical elephant sanctuaries that gives back 100% of its profits to the locals (Pga K’nyau) hill tribe.
Bamboo cabins with attached outdoor shower and a mountain or river view are available for booking at their website.
The majority of visitors to Chai Lai Orchid elephant camp usually spend one or two nights in its campsite’s traditional bamboo accommodation.
The mahout will assist you on how to engage and feed the elephants at your room’s balcony in the morning.
So, don’t be surprised if one of them pay you a visit with its trunk sticking into your room.
Vegetarian meals are available upon request. Payment via cash (Thai Baht), Credit card and bank transfers.
Activities at Chai Lai Orchid:
- Private walks, ranging between 2 and 6 hours, giving you the flexibility to choose what you want to experience.
- Guests are allowed to swim in the cool mountain river and bathe its rescued elephants.
- Uncover Pga k’ nyau tribe’s culture in the area
- Visit the astonishing secluded jungle temple Wat Luang Khun Win and trek to several beautiful waterfalls.
Trip Distance: 1 hour 10 minutes from airport with bumpy ride on some part of the pathway leading to the campsite. Grab taxi might not be a good idea. Suggest contacting my guide/SUV for best transfers.
Bottom line: Chai Lai Orchid elephant camp is one of the best places to visit as a couple. A pretty awesome stay in a bamboo cabin with uninterrupted mountain view and surrounded by nature. Highlight, is a friendly visit by one of its residence elephant at your room’s balcony in the morning.
Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary
Burm and Emily’s elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai (BEES) is an elephant and animal rescue center in Mae Tan Valley in Mae Chiam.
This is indeed a greater-welfare elephant nature park, where they have implemented a hands-off approach to view elephants in a more natural habitat.
Located close to peaceful lush forests and rivers with a spectacular view of Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain peak.
BEES unique approach is to adopt, buy and even rent working elephants. Giving the elephants a better tomorrow in an unbelievable beautiful natural habitat after working in poor conditions most of their life.
Top Activities at Burm and Emily’s elephant sanctuary:
- Get close to these gentle mammoth in a splendid forest setting near Doi Intanon.
- Mini elephant safari to locate these elephant in a forest area.
- Accompanied by camp’s mahouts with narratives about the history of these elephants.
- Programs runs from Monday to Sunday. Suitable for children aged 10 and above.
- Booking in advance is necessary for confirmation.
- Short stay available. No lavish resort style accommodation, just mattress on the floor and mosquitoes net.
Mahouts Elephant Foundation
Mahouts Elephant Foundation in Chiang Mai mission is to return more captive elephants to the extensive jungle range to roam freely.
The framework preserves the safety and welfare of the elephants, a sustainable healthy forest and Thailand’s culture for future generation.
This is the model we want to keep replicating and taking to more communities. This will in time create a shift in elephant tourism where people choose to see the elephants living naturally.
“This is a young project but more and more communities are asking us to return these elephants back to the forest but we need the tourists to sustain this” – Sarah Blaine, Founder
Mahouts Elephant Foundation aims to offer a different experience at Huay Pakoot mountain village near Doi Intanon.
More like a combination of AirBNB and elephant safari where you will be accommodated with a host family. Back to nature stuff with beds on the floor/mosquito net. Limited electricity and shower/toilet located outside.
Western style toilet but without the flushing system. Buckets of water are available just like an adventure in the wilderness.
Meals will be cooked by the host and brought to your guesthouse. The best part is that you will have 4 days of totally tranquil experience with nature and the foundation’s resident elephants.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
Spend half or full day with elephants at the Jungle Sanctuary and it all depends on your group size.
The different between Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and the rest, is that they have 8 locations in Chiang Mai.
The trip will be determined by your program choice but you can make a request for your favorable sanctuary. Wheelchair bound visitors can be accommodated by special request.
Each location have at least 3 elephants and you may have a good chance that only your group will participate at one of the locations.
The inconvenient thing is that, you’ll be traveling on cramped open-air truck or Songthaew especially when there are more visitors on peak season.
You will experience bumpy and dusty ride on the last stretch of the ride. Difficult for wheelchair-bound visitors.
Best thing is to book your own vehicle/driver local guide for transportation.
Activities at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary:
- Standard interaction with elephant such as bathing, walking and feeding.
- Traditional Thai meals are provided.
- Full elephant experience with half, full day and overnight stay.
- Full board overnight stay at traditional Karen tribe house.
- Children and wheelchair friendly.
Trip distance: Chiang Mai city to Elephant Jungle Sanctuary takes approx 1.5 hrs.
Monraming Elephant Park
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This locally run elephant nature park in Chiang Mai provides a 20-acre jungle surroundings for 6 adults elephants.
You will even have a chance to walk and bathe these gentle giants.
The sanctuary embraces the elephants with love and care. There are no riding, chains or hooks, just happy elephants. Perfect vacation spot for family activity holidays.
Funds for the elephant care are supported by local guided service and adoptions.
The local guides are also involved as volunteers for this low profile Chiang Mai elephant park.
The park’s existence is mostly advertise through local guides.
This make Monraming Elephant Park more reclusive and isolated compare to other more recognized parks and sanctuaries.
Visitors can get close and feed them by hand. You’ll be encourage to prepare elephant food as well. To feed the elephants, you’ll learn how to cut sugar cane and grass.
Jungle walk with the elephants to see them forage their favorite food followed by bathing them in a specially construct natural pool.
After a hot day at the Park, the local guide/driver will chauffeur you to a supper cooling waterfall (Included in the trip itinerary)
- Full Day, Half Day morning/afternoon program.
- Children friendly.
- Local guide will chaperone you all the way from hotel – Park – Sticky waterfall – hotel.
- Veg meal can be arranged.
Elephant Freedom Village
This elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai is a small family run set-up. The elephants are owned and look after by Karen villagers.
EFV main objective is to rent or lease elephants from the villagers with monthly payment. In this process, the elephants are free from captivity and the villagers gets paid monthly.
All the elephants are free to roam in the forest and the ethnic group mahout will usher them back to the sanctuary sheltered paddock in the evening.
You can also explore the surrounding villages in the mountain and swim at the scenic waterfall. If you really loves to get close or cuddle with their baby elephant, then this is the place to visit.
Top Activities at Elephant Freedom Village:
- Walking them out to the forest for grazing, feeding them food and bathing them.
- Super friendly baby elephant that likes to be hugged and cuddled.
- Experience Karen lifestyle and activities such as weaving clothes, collecting coffee, making jewelry etc.
- 1/2 day, full day and overnight stay programs available
- Pick up/Drop off only available outside Chiang Mai city.
Bottom Line: Children friendly elephant sanctuary. Visitors are allowed to to play and cuddle with the baby elephants at the paddock. Small management team with 5 staffs making this sanctuary a great visit for small groups.
Patara Elephant Farm
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Starting with feeding and followed by bathing, visitors are also taught using several different methods to interact and ride the elephants.
The riding takes place around the farm and within a mountain range setting.
The farm’s owner and professional elephant caretakers conduct the programs in English.
You may have included elephant riding on your bucket list, but there are some ethical considerations with it.
Riding within an elephant nature park in Chiang Mai may seem harmless enough, but the training techniques that are a cause for concern.
Patara Elephant Farm let guests ride bareback just behind the elephant’s head without wooden seats.
Activities at Patara Elephant Farm:
- Guests ride bareback just behind the elephant’s head without wooden seats.
- Programs in English with up close feeding and bathing the elephants.
Thai Elephant Home
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Founded by Nayok Satien in 2006, Thai elephant home vigorously promotes elephant riding in all their programs.
There have 20 elephants of which 6 are in the nursery. All their elephant experience programs have riding in it’s itinerary.
Activities at Thai Elephant Home:
- Thai Elephant Home let guests ride bareback on all their programs.
- Up close feeding and bathing the elephants.
- 2 hr elephant riding program.
- 1 to 3days full board stay package are available.
- Volunteering are also in their program.
- Accommodation comes with attached toilet, hot shower and toiletries.
Operated by the same award-winning Elephant Valley project with strict ethical criteria for animal protection in Cambodia. Elephant Valley is located further up north in Chiang Rai, about 3 hrs drive from Chiang Mai city.
This sanctuary provides only elephant observation programs. The Valley is temporary closed for visitors and cannot be contacted. So are their website and Tripadvisor page. Only their Facebook page is active.
Will update viewers here when they are back in operations.
- Morning, afternoon half day as well as full day elephant observation programs.
- Feeding the elephants are included in the itinerary.
- Northern Lanna Thai lunch provided.
- Children under 5 yrs old free of charge.
Essential stuff you should bring along when visiting elephant sanctuaries.
- Comfortable Footwear
- Insect Repellent
- Refill water bottle
- Raincoat(wet season)
Resource for your next trip to Elephant Sanctuary
- Check out friendly local guides at getyourguide
- Craving for sumptuous local food? Go with eatwith
- Choose accommodations from top booking platform with free cancellation
- Rent yourself a comfortable car for trips to top attractions