Elephant Nature Park is a rescue and rehabilitation centre in Chiang Mai, Thailand. They provide a natural habitat for elephants but also have cats, dogs and buffalos under their care. They are a reputable sanctuary that National Graphics, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, BBC and more have praised for their efforts. As an animal lover, I highly recommend them and was basically making them take my money.
Many ‘sanctuaries’ in Southeast Asia claim to respect and treat their animals with care. Please do your do diligence before going to one and research the heck out of it. If you come across a ‘sanctuary’ that allows elephant rides, please don’t go to it. Elephant backs cannot handle the weight of a person and saddle. Really, if you’re going to Thailand just go to this one. But in reality, never take someones word for things like this and look into the sanctuary yourself. Elephant Nature Park also have centres in Cambodia and Myanmar.
Elephant Park Nature Sanctuary
When we planned our day trip to Elephant Park Nature, we planned it for what was supposed to be our second full day in Thailand. THANKFULLY we did this. On our way to Thailand, we had a stop in Beijing and actually missed our next flight and ended up spending the night in China.
Pro tip –
If you ever have a 3 hour or less layover in Beijing, please do not stop for ANYTHING until you made it past security and to your gate. You have to pee? Do it on the plane. You’re hungry? Tough. You broke your leg and need help? Natural selection baby.
Jokes on that last one for anyone that didn’t clue in. That airport is HUGE. We literally missed our plane to Thailand by minutes because we spent a little too much time refreshing in the bathroom. We also had about a 3-hour layover, which normally is enough time. Not in Beijing though.
Like I said, thankfully we booked our day trip on our second full day in Thailand. A trip there is not cheap. We spent 100$CDN and had to book our visit about 2 months in advance. Book as early as possible as spots fill up fast. We actually wanted to book the package where we got to bathe with the elephants but there were no more available days during the time we were in Chiang Mai. Le sigh.
The cost of your day trip to the sanctuary includes vehicle accommodation there and back. Everyone has to meet at the office in a main part of Chiang Mai. Important thing to know is that we did not know the location or distance to the office. Rookie mistake. So we arranged with our guesthouse host to have a taxi pick us up the next morning. Easy enough.
The next morning, we sat on the steps of our home for 5 days nice and early as to not miss our taxi. As the minutes went by, no taxi was appearing. A little anxiety was building from within but I was optimistic that things would turn out okay. When a taxi finally pulled up, there was a huge sigh of relief as we did not have much time to make it to the office. We told the driver “Elephant Park Nature office” in which he nodded and we were off.
The second bout of anxiety comes shortly. We had no idea where the office was but we just knew that we had to be there very soon. My sister and I were sitting in the modified trunk of his truck and we had no way of communicating with our driver. As 9am was creeping up we thought we weren’t going to make it. When we realized our driver was taking us OUT of the city, we knew we weren’t going to make it. After we spent a couple minutes panicking, we deduced the driver was probably taking us to the sanctuary. Things didn’t seem so bad anymore. Sure we now had to pay for what should have been a free trip but at least we were going. At this point we poked fun at the fact that we were “lost” and enjoyed the ride.
When we finally stopped outside of a gate with elephant statues on either side, we thought we were there but wanted to confirm with the driver. We tried to tell him he 1) didn’t take us to the office like we wanted and 2) we wanted to confirm we were at the right sanctuary. This was when we realized our driver knew no English. I speak about my surprise to the language barrier in Thailand in this post and encourage you to read it! It also provides helpful tips to have a fail-proof trip!
We then tried to speak with another tour guide and see if she could translate to our taxi driver what we meant and she too, did not know English very well. Again, plugging in this post before you start thinking “you’re in Thailand, why would she know English?!”. Our taxi driver got on the phone with what I assumed was dispatch and my sister spoke to her about our situation. After our driver and her spoke to dispatch, what we found out was that we were NOT in Elephant Park Nature but some “sanctuary”. We assumed back at our guesthouse, our driver just recognized the word “elephant” when we asked him to take us to “Elephant Park Nature office” and figured we wanted to go to any “sanctuary”.
So again, we got into the trunk of his taxi after things got sorted out with dispatch. So we thought. Another 20 minutes was spent on the roads until we pulled up to a new ‘sanctuary’. This one we instantly knew was wrong because we could see on the grounds people were riding the elephants. After a mish-mash of awkward exchanges in English and Thai, the driver handed us his phone to call whoever. We retrieved the number for the sanctuary from an email we had and my sister got on the phone with someone. She explained what happened and asked the person to tell our driver where we wanted to go and the location. We were finally confident we were going to the right place. And luckily, the correct sanctuary was very close by.
After a quick drive we pulled up to Elephant Nature Park. Our driver asked us to pay him a ridiculous amount in which we refused and counter offered. What should have been a 3$CDN taxi ride each to the office turned into a 50$CDN taxi ride each. This is also when round 3 of anxiety started. The staff at the park informed us it’s not a problem for someone to take their own transportation to the sanctuary but the rule was they must use their own form of transportation to get back. We explained to many staff members and the bus driver what happened and how we did not intend to do that. After some deliberations amongst each other, they decided to let us take their bus back. Phew! It was an honest mistake from us and our taxi driver and we appreciated that they acknowledged it.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this post where I speak about my experience at the sanctuary!
Disclaimer – all photos belong to Elephant Nature Park. They were taken from their Instagram account which you should totally follow for your daily dose of cuteness.
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