While in Chiang Mai I knew I wanted to do some sort of elephant activity. Unfortunately I ended up having to leave Chiang Mai earlier than I had planned which left me frantically researching and calling different elephant parks to organize a visit.
I’m fully aware that interacting with elephants and visiting elephant parks is a controversial activity. A lot of research was done before deciding on Baanchang. I was careful not to choose a park that required the elephants to do “tricks” like painting or playing games and read through lots of reviews online. The main fault of Baanchang is that the elephants are not allowed to roam freely at all times and are chained during some parts of the day (particularly when the visitors feed them).
Elephants are giant and curious creatures and while every facility would love to have the resources to let these animals roam freely at all times, it’s just not realistic. The elephants seemed to have great relationships with their mahouts (elephant keepers) and it was really sweet seeing how naturally the mahouts and elephants interacted.
It would be amazing if these elephants were in the jungles, free from any harm or exploitation, but unfortunately in Asia many elephants are abused and used to work in the jungles. I’d much rather the elephants live in a park like Baanchang where they can be properly fed and cared for by the mahouts.
That being said, I had an amazing day at Baanchang. I thought it was well worth the price and it was probably my favorite part of my trip to Chiang Mai.
It’s no surprise that an animal of such size eats a ton. Elephants eat hundreds of pounds of food a day and so the mahouts at Baanchang are almost constantly feeding them.
When we arrived at the park our first activity of the day was getting changed into some sweet mahout outfits and then picking up baskets of bananas and sugarcane for feeding time.
Approaching the elephants for the first time was admittedly intimidating. I didn’t realize how huge they would really be up close. There was one point where I brought a basket of food up to one elephant without realizing I was within reach of about three others.
I was squealing and distributing the bananas and sugar cane as quickly as I could while the mahouts watched and laughed at my joy/minor panic.
After feeding the elephants it was time to learn the basics of elephant riding. We learned how to safely get on and off the elephant as well as how to give the elephants instructions to lie down (so you could get on/off), turn right, turn left, go straight, and stop.
To be honest, I don’t really know that the elephant was listening to any directions I was giving during the initial riding lesson or once we hit the jungle trail. I think he was mostly following his trusted mahout who was walking in front of us.
But once we were taught the basics, it was time to trek through the jungle of the elephant park. We rode on the elephants for about an hour and let me tell ya, as cute and exciting as it was, elephants are not the most comfortable ride. If you didn’t have flexible hip flexors, straddling the giant elephant was tough.
Plus you don’t really have much to hold on to and you’re quite high off the ground so you don’t feel terribly stable up there either.
But it was wonderful. My elephant was a baby (elephants aren’t full grown until their teens) so it was a bit smaller than the other elephants and just the perfect size for me. It was adorable. I wanted to take it home. We were in love.
By the time our jungle trek was finished the sun was high, it was hot and we were all a bit dusty. The logical thing to do next was to cool down our elephants with a nice bath.
Y’all. Bath time was fun. My elephant was rather calmly seated in the water and I hopped in to scrub him down, splash him with water and give cuddles. I was really sad when it was time to say goodbye after bath time.
Nobody’s elephant cuddled with them like mine did. It was precious! Plus my mahout was awesome and took some GoPro footage for me while I was bathing the elephant (video coming soon).
If you’re in Chiang Mai, I’d definitely recommend Baanchang Elephant Park. The price is reasonable, they pick you up from and drop you off at your guest house or hotel, cook up an awesome lunch, and have showers for you to get cleaned off after all the activities.