One of the main activities in the north I wanted to accomplish was going to the famous and humane elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai. I had seen elephants in Pai, but not had the authentic experience of truly being with and spending time with the elephants.
Too many times, places who have Elephants mistreat them. They are tied up, kept in very small areas, used only for the enjoyment of tourists. One thing I learned all too well is that riding elephants is a big NO. Generally this is a huge red flag of mistreatment of these gentle giants. It is so heartbreaking to see elephants, strapped with big saddles that could potentially hurt them, riding around in circles or on treks with tourists on their back.
Luckily, this fact of mistreatment is becoming far more noticed and known by tourists and locals. Most, if not all travelers who do their research, will come to find that there are plenty of alternative places where they treat the animals humanely and gently, often times rescuing them from their previous conditions, with no riding and open areas for them to roam.
Originally, I had a couple popular Sanctuaries in mind that I wanted to visit, but they were fully booked. Our receptionist at the Dozy Hostel recommended a newer sanctuary that was just as good, she said, called Hug Elephants Sanctuary.
We opted for the half day trip which was about 1700baht/50$ for about 6 hours in total with traveling and time with the elephants. We set out with 4 of us and drove for about an hour outside Chiang Mai to the sanctuary, picking up another couple along the way.
We had a sweet, English speaking guide who explained a bit about the 4 elephants they had. They had 2 young 7 year old boys and 2 older females, one of which was giving birth at the time! So we were able to meet 3 of them.
The 6 of us and several guides headed out down a path, following a stream to where the elephants were. We were all given bags full of stalks to feed the elephants with. As we passed them, they knew right away what we had, eagerly following us, trying to reach into our bags for the delicious treats we had for them.
We walked with them to a bigger, open area where we then were able to interact and feed them. They loved their treats and often would try and take multiple at a time, constantly reaching and wanting more. Elephants eat up to 300 pounds of food a day… close to me. Just kidding. But really, that’s a ton. Not literally, but close enough.
It was such an awesome experience to get to hangout with these friendly creatures, and the BEST part was when they kissed you with their trunk on your cheek. Ahh! I was so giddy and laughing when they did it to me or anyone else. So sweet and such a funny feeling.
Once we were out of food for them, we headed down in our swim suits to the big mud pits. It was time to give the elephants and ourselves, a mud spa! We got completely muddy and rubbed the elephants down with mud and water, them loving and enjoying the feeling on their skin. Once they had just about enough, we headed down to the nearby pool of water to wash off them and ourselves.
They would take the water in their trunks and spray into the air and spray us. We would splash back and forth until we were all clean. What an awesome experience getting to hangout with our new animal friends for so long! It was seriously unreal, and so much more than we were expecting. We were all left in awe as we said goodbye, and headed out to a nearby waterfall to swim.
When we were done swimming around the beautiful scenery of the waterfall, we trekked back a ways to the base camp. Along the way, we saw another group of people with a different company with one elephant, doing a similar thing we just had. The only difference was instead of a group of 6, it was a group of about 25! It truly hit me then how incredibly lucky we had been to have true one on one time with the elephants. We were incredibly blessed to have had such a personal experience. It was amazing before, but my appreciation grew even more after realizing and seeing this.
We then ate some delicious fruit and headed back in the back of our truck seeing the gorgeous sunset along the way. What an experience. What a day.