Chiang Mai is known for servicing as an access point for half day and full day trips to hang out with elephants. There are companies that allow you to feed them, ride them, play with them, and even shovel their poop. Yes, you have to pay a hefty fee to be privileged with the honor of shoveling elephant poop. And people do actually pay it.
So naturally, after we decided to go to Chiang Mai, the first thing we did was book our own play date with elephants. Many of the parks blatantly give no regards for the well-being of the animals, some claim for be humane, and a few actually are humane(or at least they’ve tricked me into thinking they are). Lonely Planet Guidebook in hand, after much debating we selected a full day of “Elephant Day Care” at Baanchang Elephant Park.
If you are planning to book a day with elephants, I would recommend doing so very far in advance, as we booked a month in advance and many places were already full. Although we really liked our park, so it ended up working out for the best.
So what exactly is “Elephant Day Care” you may ask? Did I pay to shovel elephant poop? Absofreakingloutely not. I’ve had a dog since I was 9 and still have yet to pick up a single piece of dog crap. S/o to Mama & Papa O for blessing me with two brothers who have to do the dirty work around the house. So there’s no way I would pay to break my princess feces-free streak.
Elephant Day Care was just hanging out with the elephants. When we first arrived to the park(after getting picked up from our hostel by van and driving an hour outside of the city), we sat with our guide for about an hour while he imparted wisdom about our pachyderm friends.
ElephFUN Facts(hehe see what I did there?)
- There are around 10,000 elephants in Thaland. 8,000 of them are in captivity.
- Elephants can live without their eyes, but they can’t live without their trunks.
- It costs 1 million Baht to rescue one elephant (around $350,000 USD)
- It hurts an elephant if you ride on it’s back with a contraption, but they can be safely and comfortably ridden bareback.
- Elephants don’t like cars and are scared of people in the wild due to poaching etc.
- In Thailand, most rescue elephants come from illegal logging activities and tourist attractions, ex. elephant riding and shows in Ayutthaya.
- Only one person can train an elephant, the elephant may be aggressive or dangerous for other trainers.
- When elephants are happy, they flap their ears and wag their tails, kind of like a dog.
So after getting #educated on elephants and how they live in Thailand, we were introduced to some of the elephants and got to feed them sugarcane. TBH I don’t remember the names of the elephants because they were all in Thai, but they each had a name and a trainer. The elephants were very smart, they’d reach out to us with their trunks for food constantly. They’d even hold several pieces of sugarcane in their trunks while they were chewing another piece. That was how I found my favorite elephant, the one who stocked up the most sugarcane and was most thirstily begging for food.
My favorite elephant. Couldn’t tell you the name because they told us their names in Thai, in one ear and out the other.
Said elephant swooping in to steal sugarcane I was trying to feed to another elephant.
Then we grabbed 3 elephants (and their Burmese trainers) and headed out into the jungle. Did I mention we were all wearing matching little karate outfit things the people had given us?
First we stopped in some kind of a meadow, for the elephants to eat even more grass. This was adorable until we got to find out first hand that two of the elephants didn’t like each other, after they started fighting and almost charged each other.
Then we went to some kind of a hut structure in the woods, where we cut even more sugarcane for them. We also made them sticky rice balls, with taro, bananas, sticky rice, and coconut milk. These were kind of gross and slimy, since the elephants can’t hold them in their trunk you have to place them directly in the elephants’ mouths, after yelling commands at them in Thai. We spent most of our time here, feeding the elephants and eating our own Pad Thai lunch.
Then we headed even FURTHER into the jungle so the elephants could roll in mud and chill with each other. We had been given more sugarcane at this point, and, you guessed it, the elephants kept eating (this is starting to sound like a children’s book).
We then began the long walk back to the elephant camp. On the way there the elephants kept either spraying water or peeing, so there were several times that it is highly possible that I got peed on by an elephant. Thailand truly has dropped my sanitation standards to an all-time low. Although in the elephant’s defense, I would totally pee on tourists paying to see me every day for laughs.
The final part of our play date was bathing the elephants. This I wasn’t too pumped about, as the water was murky and the elephants were clearly pooping in it while we were standing right there, but I didn’t want to be the prissy blonde who only came to take selfies with the elephants so I sucked it up. Besides, at that point in the day I was fully coated with a vile sludge anyways. The selfies were worth it all.
So there you have it. We made food for the elephants, watched them roll in the mud, and fed them. So basically we paid to feed elephants all day. They ate and they ate and they ate. And I think they peed on me. We did not ride them once. But you know what? It was awesome, and I would definitely do it again. I’d highly recommend Baanchang, they seemed to actually care for the elephants.