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I finished my tour of Thailand with a trip to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. It was by far the highlight of my adventures in the country. I can’t recommend it highly enough, so here are the steps so you can follow in my footsteps.
Travel to Thailand
Someone asked me recently if there were elephants in the USA. Yep…in the zoos. If you want to get up, close and personal, you’ll just need to fly to Thailand. The best way to do that is to use Skyscanner. Make sure to read my post on how to save on your flights. I’ve been able to find round-trip tickets from Europe and North America to Thailand for under $500, and I can help you do the same.
Get a bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
The cheapest tickets to Thailand are to Bangkok, but then you need to get to Chiang Mai. Your options are plane, train and bus. Personally I like the bus, and not just because they are the cheapest. Two of the companies are truly luxurious – NCA (Nakhonchai Air) and Sombat. Both have VIP and First Class buses which I describe as an airplane on wheels. The First Class is a little nicer than VIP, offering tons of leg room, hot meals, movies in the seat backs, great air conditioning, massages in the seats, clean bathrooms and no bugs. Tickets are around $15 for VIP and $20 for First Class. Get the sleeper bus and you save on the cost of a hostel too.
If you don’t want to take the bus, the overnight train is about $30 and a plane is around $40-$50.
Book a Tour with the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
There are currently about five elephant sanctuaries available in Chiang Mai. To be clear, these are sanctuaries where they take only take care of the elephants. There is no riding, animal cruelty or anything else that you would want to avoid. The highest rated sanctuary is the Elephant Nature Park, but that was fully booked for an entire month.
I got a tour with Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Chiang Mai. They have nine camps located in the Mae Wong District, a couple hours southwest of Chiang Mai. I was taken to Camp 2, a great location on the Mae Tia river complete with a secluded waterfall.
Most of the tours are around 2400 baht, about $75. That might seem like a lot in Thailand for an attraction. Like I said, this was my favorite attraction in Thailand, and that price is relatively cheap for an attraction by international standards.
Get to Know Your Elephants
At the time of my visit, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary had 55 elephants, and were scheduled to get a few more in a couple days. Their ages range from 3 to 74. Camp 2 has 7 elephants, including a 59-year-old grandmother and two babies.
Before working with the elephants, you have to wash your hands and don a Karen tribe shirt. This helps the elephants recognize you as a friend, although they were just as friendly when we all took our shirts off to bathe in the mud with them.
Feed Bananas to Your Elephant
Elephants eat a staggering 300 kg of food and drink 120 liters of water each day. For you Americans, that translates to about 660 pounds and 30 gallons. Despite their voracious appetite, you should still feed them one banana at a time.
Get a hand of bananas from the mahout (elephant handler). Peel one off and hide the rest behind your back. Shout bon, which means up in Thai, to get the elephant to lift up its trunk. Place the banana directly in the elephant’s mouth, or let her snatch it out of your hand with her trunk, as that’s more likely. Just make sure you keep track of the other elephants. They’re likely to sneak up behind you and grab the rest of your bananas when you aren’t looking.
Later, you’ll be able to feed the elephants corn stalks, and then one final batch of bananas at the end of the day.
Depending on the sanctuary you choose, you’ll also be able to feed the elephants their “medicine.” These are balls made of bananas, rice, citrus fruits and salt – all the things an elephant needs but is unable to scavenge for themselves with the depleted natural resources in their habitat. These you’ll have to place directly into their mouths, as their trunk will just make a mess of things.
Enjoy a Mud Bath and the Waterfalls
After you finish feeding the elephants, the mahouts will walk the elephants down with you to the watering hole. There, you can coat the elephants with the thick mud and then wash them off in the waterfalls of the Mae Tia river, assuming you’ve arrived at the same Camp as I did.
The only problem with the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is it doesn’t last forever. At 3 PM, you get the final call from the mahouts to clean up and get ready to return to Chiang Mai. After that, all that’s left is to go through your hundreds of photos and recount what an amazing time you had. I hope you’ve enjoyed my reminiscing. Would you like to attend yourself?