Chiang Mai, THAILAND – Elephants Never Forget


I normally prefer not to do group tours but this time I made an exception. Chiang Mai is a very exciting city. It seems to be bustling at all times. For instance, markets and street vendors open at 11:00pm. I mean that’s when they begin to set up shop! And these markets are full and very busy it just seems like no one sleeps in Thailand! I think this is great for tourist but can’t imagine how the locals keep up this pace.

 The streets are lined with all kinds of shops and businesses. Tour operators are plentiful so that means that the prices for tours are very competitive. Normally I use the hotel concierge for help with arrangements for tours but in this case I found a very kind woman with a tour agency very close by. I decided on two tours, one for an Elephant experience and the other just a tour of northern Chiang Mai.
I decided to go with the elephant tour that would not involve riding the animals so it was a no brainer to choose…. I think all of the other places involved riding the elephants because I think this is what most tourist look forward to doing.
Initially Patara Elephant experience was recommended but after giving it some thought I decided to change my elephant venue. I decided to go to the Elephant Nature Park Instead of Patara.
Patara would not return my request for information on if they used ‘hooks’ to control the elephants. You see, when you ride an elephant they have a Guide there beside you in case of emergency or to keep the elephants from wondering off for let’s say something to eat and sometimes they have to use this ‘hook’ on them. You know like we see at the circus in the US.
Well I know we all have our ‘hooks’ in life and I know better so I decided it wasn’t worth it to experience riding them if it meant that there was a chance of having to use the hook.
The Elephant Reserve is a little different. Although we did not ride elephants we did feed, hug, wash and just hang out with them. It felt like a once in a lifetime experience.






The tour began by making the rounds in the van picking up folks from each hotel. There were about 9 of us and the driver. The 45 minute drive provides an opportunity to see more of northern Thailand outside of the city. As we came closer to the reserve the area was more remote off the highway and onto back roads in the countryside.
The reserve is huge and green beside a river and as we drove up we passed by tourist riding elephants from other places. We drove through a gate and pulled over and the landscape was breath taking. Everything was so green with elephants just roaming around and very peaceful.
I soon realized that this encounter would not involve restrained animals AT ALL. I mean they allow the animals to roam as they please and we are doing the same. Our guide gave us a discussion on how to behave around them for our safety and we also signed a waiver. Yes, it was very intimidating but after a while everyone was very comfortable. Each elephant or pair had someone from the reserve with them at all times. They have no weapons or hooks to keep them in line. It was amazing because they were very calm and responded to voice commands (mostly). A few of them are blind and old but also a lot of very young ones too.
The reserve also rescues dogs and one in particular started to follow our group around and barking. The dogs had color coded collars on them to show their temperament. A red collar meant the dog was a bit of a trouble maker and not to pet them.  At one point a red collar dog came very close to us while we were standing and stroking this pair of elephants. Well, one was blind and they were BFF’s in that they always stuck together. The one that could see would never leave the other behind. It was amazing to watch them make their way around the grounds together. Well this dog seemed to get a little too close for comfort and the one that could see just broke out in a big yell and started to charge the dog – as we were standing there. Well, I never moved so fast…we all spread so fast. That was amazing!
These are rescued elephants that for the most part were victims of very harsh abuse by their previous owners. It’s very expensive to feed them so they were under feed, used for logging, given drugs to work long hours and to suppress their appetite, used to beg on the streets in Bangkok and some even injured from land ( see photo) mines… Just horrible things but they are very happy now.
They don’t have any hooks, nothing to keep them under control (I know – intimidating). They used voice commands. They are very close to one another. They sort of pick friends and hang tight together. These guys are 40 and 50 years old BFFs.
We spent the entire day with these elephants. We saw a film on the history or Elephants in Thailand and some very sad stuff that pretty much showed us how they end up at the reserve and if you can keep a dry eye through that then….. We also had a discussion session with the staff veterinarian who gave us information on medical and wellness services for the elephants and dogs and a little education on them as well. As part of the tour package, the reserve also provides a nice vegetarian buffet lunch.
If you love animals and the outdoors I would highly recommend this tour. This experience is like no other that you can experience any place outside of northern Thailand and I couldn’t forget this experience even it I tried. Amazing….