Why Not to Ride Them and What to do Instead

Your Choice Matters

Thailand. Elephants. Thai Elephants. Thailephants?  

While we’ve left most of our plans free to spontaneity, I knew when we came to Thailand I wanted an experience with elephants. Actually, like many people I wanted to ride one. As I worked my way through trip advisor reviews of the elephant companies near Chiang Mai, a reccurring theme came up- lots of 5 star reviews all around, and the companies who let your ride elephants had a fair share of very low reviews. Other people who rode the elephants witnessed animal cruelty at every one of the companies who had this activity. I read a bit more about it and found riding elephants, other than single-person bareback is more than an elephant’s back can handle on a consistent basis. Also, the riding companies work their elephants all day, every day. I don’t take issue in general with domesticating animals, but abusing them is not ok. What else did I learn? Asian elephants are endangered, learn more about why here:  WWF – Asian Elephants 

Do I really want to ride an elephant at it’s own expense? No. No, definitely not. We decided not to ride them, I hope our readers who are still considering elephant riding will opt for a different (still awesome) experience with no riding. 

I found two companies in Chiang Mai that offer elephant interaction without riding. 

First, and most famous is Elephant Nature Park. ENP was started by a Thai woman and is a home and rehabilitation center for abused elephants and other animals. They have a week-long volunteering gig that is raved about by everyone who stays and gets involved. ENP is reputable and treats their elephants well, they have a variety of options for visiting, none of them are cheap but all of them are popular.

Second, and our choice was Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.EJS is much smaller, more affordable, and it’s run by a Karen tribe (one of Thailand’s many hill tribes). They have six, happy elephants and they treat them well. They’ve had some of these passed down in their tribe- once the elephants worked moving logs around, now they attract people from around the world who want to meet them.

What you do matters most. When you make a purchase you vote with your money. Even if you always wanted to ride an elephant, pet a tiger (Tiger Kingdom drugs its cats) or check off some bucket list item, it’s worthwhile to consider the impact of your choice. Does it fund something you’d be sad to see like animal abuse or exploiting people? Do your research and don’t spend your money on something that you’ll regret.

You went to Thailand and didn’t ride an elephant??   Exactly! 

So what did you do?

We fed elephants! Big elephants, bigger elephants, and a baby elephant too- they like bananas. I would guess they like them about as much as I like chocolate. That’s a lot. If you hold the bananas loosely, the elephants will grab them from your hands. If you hold them in the air you can place them right in the elephant’s mouth. If you hand it to her trunk, an elephant will place it in her mouth on her own. They also eat bamboo and corn- each elephant eats about 300kg of food each day- that’s more than 600lbs of food!!

We had a mud-fight. The clay mud in Northern Thailand acts as a sun block, and it’s texturized so you can rub it into an Ele’s skin and she’ll love it. It’s thick mud and the staff does try and get you into a mud fight, yes it’s touristy and prescribed and it’s still fun.  

You have to get that mud off somehow. Oh, there’s a waterfall just down stream? Yes, let’s go play in that. We walked with three elephants, mom and baby and one other who get into the water to wash off and cool down. We scrubbed off the dirty and mud. We got sprayed by the Ellies and we splashed water on them. Momma Elephant pulled down about a half a tree and gave a bit to her baby and they had another good snack. The baby elephant fed off of the momma. There are few things cuter than a baby elephant playing in the water and eating.   

After elephant hugs and showers of spray, we swam and relaxed. It was easily one of my favorite days.