If I was to put one place on your list to visit while in Chiang Mai, Thailand I would 100% recommend Elephant Nature Park. You can think of this place as a retirement home for elephants that have endured some serious trauma in their lifetime but stand tall in the face of mistreatment. Observing these gentle giants in their natural habitat is, without doubt, one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had. The sanctuary is a completely immersive experience complete with getting up close and personal with the elephants and getting to know their story before they ended up at Elephant Nature Park. I promise, by the end of your experience, you will not only find a true appreciation for these beautiful giants but also count the days until you can return.
We met for breakfast at 7 AM sharp and headed out for a walk with the elephants. We came well equipped with bananas in hand to meet our new friends. Along the walk, our tour guide Apple told us more about the life of these elephants who now call Elephant Nature Park home. You can really sense Apple’s love for these animals by the way she tells their stories.
She told us, she studied tourism and hospitality in college, but soon grew tired of the unfulfilling work with tourists. She has always had a passion for elephants, as she grew up around them. She found her calling to the park when the founder of the camp came to her village to rescue one of the elephants – after meeting Lek and seeing her drive, Apple needed no further convincing. Our entire group was awestruck by Apple’s story and determination to save the elephants.
After the walk, we took a quick break to pack up our things and meet for lunch. I was really sad this was the last lunch we would have at the park (I need their secret recipes for noodles). After lunch, we walked to the river and watched the girls bathe. The sheer joy on their faces, while they play with the water, is beautiful! Apple mentioned, on her days off it’s her favorite thing to do- watch the girls play in the water.
After bath time, we put our hands to good use and made a special treat for some of the elderly elephants who don’t have teeth. We mixed water, bananas, corn, rice, oats, and rice flour to make vegan meatballs – apparently, the girls love it! We fed the girls and to our surprise, they loved it! After the feeding, we were given free time to hang out before heading out of the sanctuary.
It was a bittersweet goodbye. In our short time there, we formed a special bond with these girls and each other. They inspired me so much, that as soon as we left the campgrounds, I whipped out my laptop and wrote this article while everyone else dozed off. I would chalk up this experience to be one of THE best experiences during this trip. I feel blessed to have met and learned about these beautiful creatures. Hats off to Elephant Nature Park for giving me a new perspective on elephants!