Before coming to Chiang Mai, we researched different ethical elephant parks we could visit. When choosing an elephant park we especially wanted to choose a park in which they do not ride them or abuse the elephants in any way. While many tourists in Thailand do not know this, but elephants are not like horses and riding elephants can cause permanent damage to their spines. Elephants will actually only let you ride them if they have been tortured and forced for a long time. So while it may sound fun to "ride an elephant" please consider if this is truly best for the elephants welfare.
We had heard great things of Elephant Nature Sanctuary (ENP), but I wanted to choose an elephant sanctuary that was a little less popular and not so mainstream. Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary (BLES) is another great, but small sanctuary, but unfortunately after many emails to them I could never get in touch with them. I'm not sure if they are still taking in tourists or not.
So we chose Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. While most people just go for a 1 day visit, we wanted to get a more in-depth and personal experience at the park, so we chose the overnight visit for 4900 baht.
Overall, our visit was really great. Our visit started out by following the 1 day itinerary, where we got to feed and spend time with the elephants, help make the elephant "vitamin snack", bathe them in a mud bath, and spend time relaxing at the elephant camp. After the 1-day people left, we went with some of the staff to another camp (I think there are currently 7 different elephant camps for Elephant Jungle Sanctuary). At this camp we got to spend even more time with different elephants (this time just us, so that was very nice!) At the camp that night there was a 4 month old baby. The baby was so cute and it was so awesome to get time with this adorable little elephant. That night we enjoyed a nice dinner cooked by the local people, showered, relaxed, and finally went to bed in our traditional wood house. The next day we got to spend a little more time with the elephants in the morning, and then trek to one of the local Karen villages to learn about the people who live there. We got to relax there and have lunch, then we went to see a waterfall and got some time to go swimming. Finally we walked to the last camp of EJS, got to see more elephants, and then it was time to go.
While our visit was great, it wasn't perfect. I really enjoyed getting to be so close to the elephants and the baby elephants were so cute. I really had a good time. But, sometimes the feeding and mud spa time felt a little staged and zoo-like, and we weren't completely happy during these times. I know they do similar things at parks like Elephant Nature Park so I know it isn't just Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. Also at night, we did notice that the elephants had to be chained up. We understood that it was for their safety and so they would not get lost or stolen, but I wondered why they couldn't just build a fence or some other enclosure instead. At the end of our experience though, we realized that while the situation isn't perfect, their lives here are so much better than at the parks where they were being ridden and beaten. You also have to remember that this is a park for rescued elephants, so you shouldn't be expecting to just see wild elephants in their natural environment. When we thought about these things, it did make us feel better. But, Michael and I are going to continue our search for ethical ecotourism and places where you can see wild animals or help with animal rehabilitation. Please, share your experiences in the comments below if you find an elephant park that you had a great experience with. One place that Michael and I are interested in going to in the future is Yala National Park in Sri Lanka, where you can see wild Asian elephants. If you have experience going to Yala national park, please let me know what you thought of it!
Anyway, that was my honest review of Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. We had a great time, despite some of its problems. Overall, our time in Chiang Mai was wonderful and I cannot wait to go back to Thailand one day and keep exploring it!