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Asia Travel: A Visit to an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand

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This post describes a visit to an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Connect this itinerary to your trip to Bangkok, Thailand’s islands, north into Myanmar or east into Laos.

The basics

  • Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in the surrounds of Chiang Mai, Thailand.
  • The sanctuary owns and manages bookings:
  • Private transport to and from the sanctuary is included in booking fees.
  • Elephant Jungle Sanctuary also offers experiences in Pattaya, Phuket, and Samui.
  • We recommend connecting this itinerary to your travels through northern Thailand into Myanmar or Laos. Many tourists fly from Bangkok to Chiang Mai as their entry point to northern Thailand.

Map of Chiang Mai

Ethical & Sustainable Tourism at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary wishes to promote the ethical treatment of Thai elephants and maintain sustainable practices for elephant ecotourism.

Around the world elephants are exploited in tourism and entertainment industries. “Young elephants are poached from the wild to be sold and used as novelties in hotels or trained to perform for tourists. This practice is damaging to the population of elephants, as the mother is normally killed during the poaching process and this separation greatly endangers the life and long-term health of the infant. Some estimate that as many as 70% of baby elephants currently used in tourism may have been poached from their natural habitats” (Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, 2020).

The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary responds to this by taking a progressive and ethically responsible approach to elephant eco-tourism.

The sanctuary gains ownership of elephants who were previously involved in exploitative industries. The elephants are homed in one of a number of properties throughout Thailand Because these elephants are unable to be released to the wild, the sanctuary groups elephants into families, giving them a sense of normalcy they may not have previously had. Visitor’s admission fees provide the funds needed to house, rehabilitate, pay for staff and provide ongoing care to the elephants.

“Visitors can come to any of sanctuaries and enjoy the company of the elephants in a variety of ways, but we don’t allow anyone to ride the elephants or force the elephants to do anything they don’t want to do” (Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, 2020).

By raising awareness and educating people about elephant care and the plight of the Thai elephant, the Sanctuary aims to change the life of elephants, one at a time.

A Visit to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

About the Chiang Mai Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

Visitors to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary will “meet members of the Karen tribe, witness stunning views of the surrounding jungle and mountains and interact with friendly, happy elephants in a safe and sustainable environment” (Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, 2020).

About the Karen Hill tribe

“The Karen Hill tribe in Thailand are the largest ethnic minority group, with an estimated population of around 1,000,000.

The Karen Hill tribe are unrelated to other ethnic minorities and hill tribes in Thailand and Burma. They settled in what is now called Thailand, centuries before the Thais arrived (when the country was part of the Mon-Khmer Empire). They are believed to originated from Tibet, migrating southwards through China, to Myanmar and Thailand. Christian Missionaries began arriving in Karen territories after Burma was annexed by the British in 1826. They converted many Karen people to Christianity, and romanised their language.

The Karen are the only tribe in Thailand to own and work with elephants. They have a long standing history and relationship with elephants, who they used to work in the forests. They are famous as highly skilled mahouts, and in fact, most of the mahouts in the elephants camps in Chiang Mai today, are Karen hill tribe.

Today, the Karen Hill tribe live in proximity to areas alongside the Thai-Myanmar border such as: Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and some in central Thailand.”

Read more about the Karen Hill tribe via Thailand Hilltribe Holidays.

Morning Tour: Day at-a-Glance

06:30 – 07:00Pick up from your accommodation.
07:00Drive approximately 1.5 hours South of Chiang Mai through rolling hills, forest, and local farming areas.
08:30Arrive at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. Learn about the elephants and change into traditional Karen clothing.
09:00Meet the elephants. Feed, play, and photograph the elephants in a natural environment as you learn about their behavior and history.
09:45Take the elephants for a mud bath
10:30Walk with the elephants to a river and bathe them.
11:30Eat a traditional meal with fellow visitors and Sanctuary staff.
12:00Leave the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and drive back to Chiang Mai.
13:30Drop off at your hotel or accommodation.

Begin the day by meeting your guide, learning about Thai elephants and the Karen Hill Tribe.

Meet the elephants: feed them, pet them and talk to them. Notice their bristly hair, crepey skin, and how they use their trunks to lift food into their mouths. Take a peek into the insides of their diamond shaped mouths.

Following the feeding, follow the elephants to their watering hole. The elephants use the mud to cool off.

Prior to departing back to Chiang Mai, bid farewell to the elephant friends you’ve made and enjoy a sit down meal with fellow travelers and Karen Hill tribe members.

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