One of the best things about visiting Chiang Mai province are the elephant camps. Set up as a result of mahouts (elephant owners) and their elephants losing jobs when the teak industry in Thailand collapsed, Chiang
Mai’s elephant camps are now one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. If you’re in Chiang Mai and want to visit an elephant camp, you’ll have a few choices. There are however some that are better than others because of value for money, things you get to do when you’re at the elephant camp or simply because the camp has a good reputation for taking care of their elephants. These four elephant camps, in my opinion, are the best in Chiang Mai province and here’s why.
Mae Sa Elephant Camp – One of the most popular elephant camps in Chiang Mai province is the Mae Sa Elephant Camp. It’s also one of my favorites. Mae Sa has an excellent reputation for treating its elephants very well. For tourists, it offers a fun-packed day of elephant activities including an hour’s ride on an elephant, feeding elephants, an elephant show where you’ll see the elephants paint pictures, play football and basketball, dancing, playing musical instruments and pulling lumber.
After the show, you can purchase one of the elephant paintings at the nice gift shop set up at the camp. You’ll also get to ride a raft down the river, and get an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch that really is exceptional. Mae Sa Elephant Camp also has wonderful events set up for Children’s Day, Songkran and National Elephant Day. If you’d like to be a mahout (elephant trainer) they even have one, two and three day training courses, where you can learn how to be a mahout, bathe the elephants, take care of the elephants and stay overnight in a typical Thai bungalow. Mae Sa Elephant Camp is open from 8am to 3pm every day. You can get to the camp by booking a tour with any of the tour operators in Chiang Mai or surrounding areas.
(Mae Tang) Elephant Nature Park – In Thai ‘Mae Tang’ but in English known as the Elephant Nature Park, this is one of the most famous parks in Thailand. The founder of the park, Sangduen Chailert, known as ‘Lek’ has been featured on several National Geographic and Animal Planet shows as she is famous in Thailand for the work she does for elephant conservation. The Elephant Nature Park is different than other elephant camps in Chiang Mai in that you won’t see elephant shows or the usual tourist events.
At Elephant Nature Park, you’ll see elephants in their natural settings, get to feed the elephants, bathe with the elephants, and even feed the elephants from a special feeding platform. The camp also offers overnight stays and volunteer opportunities. To visit the camp, you must make a special reservation but you can do that over the internet at their website at Elephant Nature Park.
The cost to visit is about three times more expensive than other camps, but well worth it as it’s more ‘hands on’ and you’ll get to experience things with the elephants just not available at the other camps. The elephants at the camp are also those that have been taken or bought from abusive owners and moved to the camp to be rehabilitated and taken care of.
Thai Elephant Conservation Center – Located in Lampang, about 90 minutes drive from Chiang Mai, the Thai Elephant Conservation Center is famous for its Elephant Hospital. At the elephant hospital, the vets take care of elephants that have stepped on landmines on the Cambodian border, been mistreated by their owners or are sick.
They have a Mobile Elephant Clinic that travels around the Chiang Mai area giving free treatment to elephants that are sick or injured. They also offer several Mahout Training courses, from one day up to 10 day courses. Go to their website at Thai Elephant Conservation Center to make reservations to visit or for a Mahout Training course.
Friends of the Asian Elephant (FAE) – The best elephant hospital in Thailand, Friends of the Asian Elephant was set up by Soraida Salwala because, as a child she saw a sick elephant being shot because there was no treatment available for it. At the time, it was the world’s first elephant hospital. Famous throughout Thailand for elephant conservation, Khun Salwala is an amazing woman.
I met her a few years ago on a visit to Friends of the Asian Elephant and I’ve never forgotten the meeting. At FAE, you’ll see the elephants that are being treated for illness or injury. The hospital is also famous for the number of elephants it’s treated due to their foot being blown off by landmines on the Cambodia border. As elephants cannot stand on only three legs due to their extreme weight, an elephant missing a foot has to be taken care of in a hospital setting for the rest of its life.
Friends of the Asian Elephant is not a typical elephant camp, so a visit here is short as you’ll just be able to see the hospital and visit the gift shop but, as a way to help support the disappearing Thai elephant, it’s a must see for anyone who cares about elephants and elephant conservation.