One of the best experiences you can do in Thailand is spend the day learning and interacting with elephants at an ethical elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai. I chose Into the Wild Elephant Camp 11qqbecause out of all my research, Into the Wild Elephant Camp came in as one of the top 3 sanctuaries in Chiang Mai, for Ethical Elephant well being.
Getting to have an experience up close and personal with these incredible creatures was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will treasure forever. In this article I will be going into detail about what a half day in this camp looked like and how the elephants interacted with us.
I have also created an article about how to find an Ethical Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai to help you with the process of choosing the right sanctuary for you.
How much is the Experience at Into the Wild Elephant Camp
There are two trip types for this experience, the half day and the full day.
Half day 1,700 THB (£40)
Full day 2,400 THB (£56)
What half a day at Into the Wild Elephant Camp looks like
Pick up 6.30am – 7am
The Into the Wild truck will pick you up from your accommodation around 6/7am. The journey to the sanctuary is roughly an hour and a half, up to the Southern Mountains of Chiang Mai. The journey once you turn off the road and onto the dirt tracks is very bumpy. If you suffer from car sickness, it is best to take a pill before embarking on the drive.
The truck will stop off at a local market about half an hour in to get supplies for the day ahead. Use this time to grab a coffee, or a quick snack to fuel you for the day ahead.
There was only 5 of us on the trip, making the experience a lot more intimate.
When you arrive
When the truck comes to a stop, some of you might kiss the ground! You will be greeted by the elephant carers and checked to see if you are carrying plastic bags. The baby elephant at the sanctuary is a bit of a cheeky tyrant and will full blown run at you if it thinks you have food, i.e a plastic bag.
You will also be greeted by some adorable rescue dogs. Walking over the bridge to the elephants was scary. The animals are huge and are curious, which at the time I thought meant they could smell my fear. At this point, I did feel uneasy and didn’t like how close I was to them.
I was anxious that I had made a mistake about the sanctuary and if it was really ethical.
Learning about the history, behaviors and ethics of elephant care in Thailand
The first part of our day out was learning all about the elephants’ wellbeing. These Elephants have all retired from logging and tourism. Which means absolutely no riding or ‘entertaining’ tricks take place here. Mike explains where the elephants came from, their daily routines, how they care for the animals and where they can roam. He also explained how sometimes riding elephants is necessary. That if an elephant has wandered off too far from its home or it has wandered into farmland with pesticides, they need to ride it back. It is the same if the animal needs to visit the vet and needs to be loaded onto the truck.
Mike also tells us about the history of elephants in Thailand and how they are like horses in Europe. Villages have grown up with these creatures and count them as pets and farm hands to help with the work.
He went into thorough detail about these animals and answered my bazillion questions (because I was worried about the ethics of the place). The elephants are free to roam for up to two hours from the main site into the jungle before the carers start to worry about them.
The elephants are not manhandled or hit to “entertain” guests. They say voice commands and whether the elephants listen or not, is a different story. They are not forced to interact with us, they are allowed to come and go as they please. This briefing relaxed me a lot and made me feel more comfortable about the whole experience.
Feeding the Elephants
The next part of the day was feeding the elephants. This was by far my favourite. The food of choice was banana and with 6 elephants and 5 people, we each got to tend to one of them. I was very lucky to have the baby and mum. To feed the elephants, all you do is hand them a banana vertically and they will wrap their trunks around it and swallow it whole.
We each got a basket of bananas and this exercise allowed us to get familiar with the creatures and vice versa. Having this exercise first was such an amazing experience and really calmed my anxiety about them.
Walking in the Jungle with the Elephants
After feeding time is finished, it is time to walk in the jungle with them. The walk is very easy and can be done in trainers or sturdy sandals.This part of the experience is a time to watch the elephants’ behaviour and how they forage for food on their own. I was surprised to see how easy they found it to climb along the higher ground. The founder spoke more about the elephants’ wellbeing and some interesting facts about the creatures’ bowel movements. We spent a nice amount of time quietly talking and just observing the elephants.
Bathing Time for the Elephants
After changing into swimmers, it was time to head to the water and bath the Elephants. First you put mud onto their skin.
This acts as barrier and protects the elephants skin from sun burn, the mud also cools the elephant down and provides a protective layer from incest bites.
The elephants then go into the water and wash it off. This time also acts as play time for them. I was very nervous about getting trod on by the elephants as we were essentially in their way. But luckily, no toes were crushed during the process. Mike, one of the guides, was so nice and encouraging telling me to get closer and touch them. He kept taking my hand to guide me to them without being scared.
Once washed off, they played a little and then got out of the water. We decided to have some group shots in the water with them in the background to mark our experience. They were not forced to interact and entertain us, they weren’t told to perform tricks, they simply just went about their day.
I feel like with such an intimate group it was not putting stress on the elephants, but it is a big topic in the ethical conversation as to whether bathing the elephants needs to be phased out. I don’t think I would really like more than 5 people sharing my bathtime.
Lunchtime and then saying goodbye
After showering/getting back into our clothes, it was time for lunch. The lunch is egg fried rice wrapped in a banana leaf, with sweet chili sauce to add in. You also received a bottle of water and a plate of mango to share.
We chatted about our experience and cuddled the rescue dogs before being told the time had come to depart. Mike brought out some jewellry baskets for us to look in and purchase if we wanted. The bracelets were made by the local Karen tribe.
Then we headed on the bumpy dirt track back to civilisation.
The overall day out was absolutely magic and it really was an amazing experience.
What to bring for a day out
For this fun day out, you will need to bring a few essential items with you:
- Swimming Costume
- Flip flops and trainers
- A towel
- Money – As you pay for the experience after, you might also want to buy a souviner.
- Waterproof phone case/Go Pro
- Water (although this is provided)
Remember to be in the moment. I know capturing every detail is magical, but try and absorb the experience as you are doing it. I advise you to ask one of the guides to take some photos of you in the water with your waterproof camera, as candid real moments. That way you get the best of both worlds.
I didnt own a waterproof case at the time so, one of the girls managed to capture moments of all of us.
Going to Into the Wild Elephant camp was one of the best experiences I had in Thailand. Having the opportunity to interact with these magnificent creatures on a personal level is something I will hold close to me forever. I do wish my anxiety hadn’t played up as much, because I was constantly doubting if I was being unethical.
But the elephants are well cared for, the relationship between the guides and elephants is lovely to watch and even funny at times. There were no chains or ropes, the elephants had area to roam and wander off as they pleased.
I do think it was an incredible day out and I would definitely recommend Into the Wild Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai. But I do encourage you to do your own research on Ethical Elephant Sanctuaries in Chiang MaI and come to your own conclusion on what sanctuary is best for you.
As Always, Happy Exploring!