Baan Chang Elephant Sanctuary
One of the things I was looking forward to the most while in Thailand was getting up close to a real Elephant. I’ve seen them in zoos before but never had the opportunity to get close to one. One thing was for sure, I didn’t want to go to a camp that abused the Elephants or made them do things that were unnatural for an elephant (painting pictures etc.)
I searched through a few blogs and came across Jeremy’s: http://www.livingthedreamrtw.com/ and Kirsty & Poi’s: http://www.nolacetobe.com/ . I noticed that they had been in Chiang Mai recently so asked them for any recommendations. I got pointed in the direction of Baan Chiang Elephant Sanctuary.
I pre-booked online for this but the guys from the park came to pick us up from my hostel and then drop me off at the end of it. The ride to the camp was about an hour long (but it would vary depending on where you’re staying). As soon as you enter through the gates you see the colossal animals standing in front of you.
The park isn’t the biggest of places. It’s a family-run park but they are looking to expand in the next few years. You start the day with an introduction from the owner and are then given a uniform to change in to (its one size fits all… apparently). I’m not sure why you have to wear the uniform, my guess is it’s so that the elephants get used to the colours and don’t stomp you to death while you’re with them.
Once you’re in your uniform you have a brief talk on how to safely approach an elephant and then you’re handed some food to go up and feed them. Placing food in to an elephant’s trunk and then its mouth is an unbelievable experience. I tried to get around all of the elephants with some food but the baby elephant was too cute not to give extra too. One of the elephant carers got an elephant to “kiss” me with its trunk but unfortunately I didn’t get that on camera.
After feeding them you’re taken to another area where you learn more about them and eventually how to mount them. By shouting certain commands for them the elephant will lie down while you jump on to its back. Another command makes the elephant stand up and then repeating the command gets them to sit back down again. When you’re getting off an elephant, do it slowly! I gave myself elephant burn (a lot like carpet burn but worse) while getting off as the hairs scraped my leg.
Once everybody has had a go at mounting and dismounting an elephant, you’re taught how to ride them! A lot of elephant camps will have ‘saddles’ on their elephants, but as it was explained to us a saddle can be very uncomfortable for the elephant and can rub against their skin. At Baan Chiang you’re taught to ride bareback! Again it’s done by certain commands shouted to the elephant while you’re sitting on them, but you also have to tap the elephant behind the ear with your foot in the opposite direction to what you want to go (tap your right foot to go left and your left foot to go right).
After the group has had a go of riding the elephants you’re taken back to the ‘shack’ for a bit of lunch. The lunch provided is included in the ticket price and its well worth it! We had chicken drumsticks, rice, a Thai dish and some pineapple for desert. Giving everybody the chance to let their food go down, you get to watch the smaller elephants taking a bath next to the area where you’re sitting. When you’re all ready you’re then taken back to the area with the elephants and paired up with one to ride up the mountain!
I can’t remember what my elephant was called, but it sounded like something rude.
We all managed to mount the elephants first time and once we were in a line we set off up the hill. Holding on to the elephant was easier than I thought it’d be. It hurts a bit having your legs stretched so far apart but you soon get used to it. If you’ve got your knees behind the elephant’s ear it gets kinda hot too!
You get to enjoy the scenery on the way up the hill and then stop once you’re at the top to give the elephants a rest. You’re also given the opportunity to lean a bit more about the elephants from the carers that are with you.
After the elephants are fully rested you begin your walk back down the hill. As we were walking down, my elephant decided it didn’t want to be a part of the group anymore and made a dash for the forest for some food. The trainers got it back under control and led me back to the path… but that was possibly one of the scariest moments I’ve had in Thailand. I don’t know whether it was because I looked horrified or they just found the situation funny, but the trainers couldn’t stop laughing and telling me how naughty my elephant was.
As your elephants get back in to camp, you walk straight past the area that you mounted them and go towards the giant pools of water where you get in and bath them! Before you get in to the water you do get off the elephant and can pass your camera to one of the trainers. I took my small compact camera with me as I wasn’t sure at the time, but now I wish I’d taken my big DSLR as it would have been safe enough to do so.
With all of the elephants in the water, you’re passed a bucket and a brush and then get in with them. Again, doing this with an elephant is an amazing experience so if you’re in Thailand I’d highly recommend it! There are shower facilities at the camp so once you’re done washing them you can wash yourself and relax before the camp workers drive you back to the hostel.
I only stayed at the camp for a day, but there are courses that you can stay on for a few days to learn more about the elephants and how they’re cared for. Certainly one of the most enjoyable times I had while in Thailand and helping me cross off one of my bucket list items I thoroughly enjoyed it! Thanks Baan Chiang and thanks to the bloggers I mentioned earlier for recommending it to me!