Elephant Jungle Sanctuary | Chiang Mai

I'm so excited to tell you about the day we had at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. I'm not going to go into the ins and outs of the elephant tourist trade but there are aspects of it that make it not so appealing.

Before arriving in Thailand I read a lot about the Elephant Nature Park and was pretty much set on going. It's a place where rescued elephants are looked after in a safe environment, after living through the tourist trade. But due to the fact SE Asia is now in it's high season we weren't able to book to go for another week and a half - boo! Shame on me for not booking ahead of time. I was all ready to give up hope when the lady at the tourist office offered up an alternative, the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. A similar operation in eco-tourism where the well-being of the elephants is their main priority - run by a hill tribe village, the elephants have been rescued from the tourist trade and are able to roam free in the jungle, but come back to the tribe for sugar cane and bananas in the day - I'd probably do the same.

We were picked up shortly after 8am the next day and in the back of a pick up truck we drove an hour out of town and almost another hour up a rocky, very nauseating mountain road. A short trek to the village later, and we were met by the most friendly team of people ready to take us on to see the elephants.

Split into two groups of no more than 10 we came across our first three elephants and were handed bananas and sugar cane to feed them. I have to admit, I was definitely nervous and a little intimidated by the sheer size of them (note how awkward and scared I look in the photos), but Shay got stuck right in. After a good while we moved on to another lot of elephants who were a lot more boisterous, including a very excitable baby elephant. The babies were certainly my favourite - they are just too cute, but it was so nice to see older elephants with a new lease of life, so calm and serene.

After a quick spot of lunch looking out onto the rice fields, we got into our swimming cozzies and went down to the river where the elephants were already splashing about. I have to say this was the best part of the whole day for both Shay and I, to see how happy the elephants were in the water, mucking about and genuinely enjoying their time there.

Some splashing around and a good scrub later, not to mention the pure elation of watching a baby elephant in water, we headed up to the mud bath to cover them back up for the next day. The mud helps to protect their skin from the sun and more importantly mosquitos, which we witnessed them batting away with bamboo shoots. I'll be honest, the mud pit was stanky, but the elephants did a pretty good job of covering themselves by sucking up the mud with their trunks and blowing it back over themselves and consequently us. At one point, Shay got stuck in between two of the large elephants, which could have been a bit scary but all he had to do was calmly place his hands on each elephant to let them know he was there and they moved out of the way.

We then said good by to the elephants and us humanoids headed back down to the waterfall to get clean. The mud was so thick it left orange clay marks on our skins - Shay was happy as he said it finally looked like he had a tan. We mucked about in the water for a bit, being careful not to break our legs/ankles on the slippery rocks and then headed back up to get changed and prepare to leave.

Honestly, truly, it was such a brilliant experience - nothing like either of us have ever done before. If you're heading to Thailand, I'd recommend looking into the elephant tourist trade and the effects it leaves on these magnificent creatures. You can check out the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary's website and facebook page - they offer free photography for the day too which is a nice little memento especially for the moments when a camera would be impossible to keep on you, allowing you to get fully stuck in and enjoy the day.

The last few photos in this post are ones taken by the sanctuary which I wanted to use to show the full experience!

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