Elephants are greatly revered in Thailand, and especially in Chiang Mai. In fact, of the three-four thousand elephants living in Thailand, twenty percent of them can be found in the Chiang Mai province. Statues and pictures of elephants decorate almost every part of the city. In addition, Chiang Mai is the first place that Ryan and I have visited where we have seen elephants on the drives we take through the countryside. They can be found tied to the bases of trees near the open roads, much like cattle. There are also posted signs warning drivers to be on the lookout for elephants crossing the road. We definitely got a kick out of these.
My parents recently came for a visit and Ryan and I took them to Elephant Nature Park. This rescue and rehabilitation center is well known and therefore reservations can be difficult to make. We discovered this the hard way when we were unfortunately unable to visit the park with his parents in October because we hadn’t planned far enough ahead during their visit. (We’re sorry Matt and Sheree!)
Elephant Nature Park is located approximately sixty kilometers from Chiang Mai. In addition to their elephants, they also rescue cats, dogs, and buffalo. You can visit the park for the day, which is what we chose to do. You can spend the night. You can be a part of their volunteer program and help feed, wash, and walk dogs. You can even adopt one. Some of the dogs were in kennels, but a surprising number were running free. They had plenty of space and fresh air.
Of course we were there to see the elephants. Our guide walked us around the park and introduced us to many of the elephants and told us their stories. As can be expected with a rescue facility, many of their elephants had sad histories and were still being treated for horrendous injuries. A few had been blinded by hooks (either intentionally or unintentionally) while others had been the unfortunate victims of landmines. We got to feed some of them. We even got to wash one. I was a surprisingly bad aim with my bucket, but our elephant was very patient, as were the other members of our group when I accidentally splashed them.
We spent a nice, relaxing day at the park with the elephants and I enjoyed getting to see all the animals living together in apparent peace and harmony. Elephant Nature Park truly seems to care about their animals and I felt lucky that we got to be a part of it for a day and that we were able to share it with my parents. It was a very special experience. Thank you Mom and Dad! Thank you big, beautiful elephants! Thank you Thailand!