There are several elephant camps in Chiang Mai, but after some discussion with a tour co-ordinator, my friend and I chose to sign up Journey tours, who took us to the Maetaman Elephant camp. Once we arrived at the camp, we were taken to the area where the elephants would be performing. Before the show began we were able to meet the elephants and take some pictures.
Visitors were able to feed the elephants bananas and sugar cane, sold in little bundles from ladies around the camp for 30 baht (about $1). Elephant trainers were there for each elephant, guiding them into position for pictures and keeping them from knocking visitors over with their giant selves. Some people got lifted into the air via elephant trunk while others chose to just stand next to the grey giants in awe (like me).
The elephants looked healthy, their eyes bright and their trainers calm. All the elephants seemed relaxed around visitors and playful with their trainers. Their later performance showed the same trainers paired up with the same elephants so it was clear that each team had a close working relationship.
After the meet and greet, the elephants lined up to begin their performance where they flaunted their skills and intelligence. They lifted trunks, legs and trainers on cue, played soccer, the babies spun hoola hoops around their trunks and some even painted!
Once the show was finished, we took a short elephant ride through the jungle. We rode the elephants through the river, up a hill, then back down the ridge and through the water once more. The rhythm of the mighty elephant was quite relaxing. Their enormous bulk swayed across the trail with us on their backs, their grace unbelievable for such a huge animal.
That day was like a dream come true. I felt like I won an afternoon with an ancient being who would be my friend as long as I had bananas.
We dismounted from our dinosaur-sized friends and went back to camp via an ox cart ride. That ride was bumpy, dusty and awkward; a complete 360 from our enchanted walk in the jungle. Back at camp we sat down for a buffet lunch with the other tour groups and ended our day at the camp with a river raft ride.
Overall the Maeteamn Elephant camp was big, clean and the elephants seemed well taken care of. As I mentioned, there are several elephant camps located in the area so if you’re planning a trip and are concerned about animal welfare, do your homework before you go. From what research I did, most camps employ rules for the elephants so they’re not over worked. For example, they only work 4 hours a day and only take riders a total of 2 hours a day. Sadly, not all camps follow this guidelines so choose well. Feel free to ask your tour co-ordinator directly before signing up for a trip.
There is also the option of visiting the elephant nature park in Chiang Mai, which specializes in elephant rescue and rehabilitation of abused elephants. That day trip is more expensive and there is no riding of the elephants as many are old and have been mistreated in the past. At the nature park you can feed the elephants, take pictures, help bathe them in the river and take a tour of everyday life at the rescue camp. Usual one day trips to elephant camps like the one I went to cost around 1,000 baht (around $30) while the nature park costs around 2,500 baht (around $75). It depends what you’re looking for in your adventure but I can say that the Maetaman elephants seemed to be in good hands with attentive trainers. For information on the tour co-ordinator I used, send me a message here or on facebook and I’d be happy to give you his contact info. Until next time, be safe and don’t take any wooden nickels!