An elephant ride in Chiang Mai, Thailand has always been in my bucket list. Not just because it calls for an ultimate adventure, I have this emotional attachment with these gentle giants since it is my birth animal according to Burmese animal signs.
Chiang Mai has the largest number of Elephant population in Thailand, and many “sanctuaries” taking care of them can be found here. Be aware that not all these are real sanctuaries, these are legal businesses who operates for the pleasure of its guests and not the Elephants. I myself went to one of these sanctuaries to fulfill my ultimate goal, an elephant ride in Chiang Mai. I went for this experience, solo and paid a hefty price just for this experience.
The owner told us that the money goes to vegetation and buying of land around the sanctuary because Elephants need to walk around and they just eat everywhere. Of course, some operational expenses too. But here’s one reality that can never be denied. These Elephants are CAPTIVES, even though they are claiming that they love the elephants and they take care of their welfare, their actions seems not to fit their press release. Everything started to sink in when I saw how the mahouts are hurting them with their bullhooks – the sharp hooks that they use and stick into elephant’s skin to control them. Even my elephant is just stopping and eating some grass, he’s hitting him so hard to continue walking and at one point that I felt like it’s enough I raised my voice and told him to stop!
I’m surprised how good the elephants are in trekking given their huge bodies and heavy weight. We were climbing over the edge of the hills and it’s quite scary for those who have fear of heights and these elephants were pros. Overall it was a fun day and the most enjoyable part is bathing with them on the river and mud. Though deep inside, I know something is wrong and it doesn’t feel right.
The Elephants, after the day of excursion with guests are back on their own chains! Of course we did ask what’s the need for that and the reason they gave us is, they need to do this because elephants fight if they are not chained. Seriously? Yes, and apparently an elephant costs 1 Million THB so they wouldn’t want to lose that investment. It’s business and it looks like they do not genuinely care about these animals which the owner even called, family. They even gave them names, you don’t put your family or loved once in chains! Aside from this fact, these Elephants undergo an exhausting training for them to learn some tricks and for you to be able to ride them at the back. This doesn’t work without the mahouts torturing them with their bullhooks.
Yeah it looks cool riding an elephant but it doesn’t feel like a moral thing to do after learning all these abuses in the name of business. Aside from this, some studies suggests that their back are the weakest parts of their body, imagine the pain they are going through?
Patronizing this kind of businesses won’t help stop the abuse and if you still want to an elephant ride in Chiang Mai, educate more yourself and watch some videos and read articles online about this nasty business. I never mentioned riding an elephant with a basket on its back for people to sit on, that’s even worst! My intention in writing this article is to help the call for a more sustainable tourism in dealing with Elephants. For fairness, the crew were nice and took care of their guests well but the maltreatment of these animals must stop.
You still have some options if you want to spend time with elephants in Chiang Mai. There are real sanctuaries that run a facility that rescues elephants who are victims of abuse. Here you cannot ride them at the back but surely you can spend time with them on their free world, even bathing with them on mud.
Checkout Elephant Nature Park. Elephant Nature Park is a unique project set in Chiang Mai province, Northern Thailand. Established in the 1990’s and their aim has always been to provide a sanctuary and rescue centre for elephants. The park is located some 60km from the city, and has provided a sanctuary for dozens of distressed elephants from all over Thailand.
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I wish I’d had this post many years ago when I first went to Chiang Mai. It was always a dream of mine to see the elephants, so when we were asked if we wanted to ride one, it seemed like a no-brainer at the time. However, I quickly realised that it’s not natural for elephants to give rides to humans. They’re not horses or camels. Thank you for highlighting this, and I really hope they find a sustainable approach in the future to protect these beloved animals.
Yes, any of these tourist entertainment involving animals, are more often than not, not really ethical. Be it swimming with sharks, petting tigers or riding elephants!!! Rescued Elephant Centres sound impressive though.
I’m glad you brought this up. Elephants are often beaten and abused to tame them enough to hold passengers. These gentle beasts deserve better
Thank you for this – One thing that infuriates me is seeing people (especially influencers) pose for pictures on the backs of elephants. Do they not realise the cruelties the elephants endure just so that they can get a picture! I think if a sanctuary allows you to climb atop an elephant, it is not a genuine sanctuary! Hopefully people like you will continue to write these kinds of posts and educate other travellers!
I have to admit I have rode an elephant before, once on India and another time in Bali. However That was years ago and it was before I knew that it wan immoral to do so. Now you won’t get me on one. Glad to hear that you find somewhere else that takes care of them. Glad to know there are still good places out there to help the stressed elephants.
Yes… in fact anything that keeps wild animals in captivity should be shunned. I am not even a fan of the very concept of zoos, let alone using them for rides. Glad that you realized this. Tourists need to be careful and avoid going for everything that looks exotic.
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