A piece of (elephant) heaven – Elephant Nature Park – Chiang Mai, Thailand

There is a big part of my recent trip to Thailand that is missing from my blog posts – my one week volunteership at the Elephant Nature Park – just outside of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. It was the main reason that I headed off to Thailand again and I’ve been struggling to blog about it, as I cannot seem to capture the experience in words. I will try my best, in words and pictures. What I feel in my heart for this place cannot be expressed.

Elephant Nature Park is an elephant sanctuary, or more accurately, an elephant heaven. All the elephants at the park have been rescued from some form of (in most cases, multiple forms of) abuse and domestic work. Land mine victims, illegal loggers with broken limbs, blind ellies, broken and beaten, they’ve all been rescued by the amazing people at the park.

The stories behind the past of these elephants is heartbreaking and the fact that there are countless more where they came from, in the same situation, is even more heartbreaking. What animals that take part in as domestic work, or tourism entertainment, have to endure and the multitude of animals treated in this way is something that I struggle to comprehend. Thailand is famous for its’ elephant trekking and all sorts of animal entertainment for tourism, but if you take a look behind the scenes of this trade, you will be disgusted at what you uncover. I’ve never been one to force the realities of animal abuse down anyone’s throats and I am not about to now, but what I learnt about Thai treatment of animals, and Asian elephants in particular, who are supposed to be revered in their culture, is really something else.

So the Elephant Nature Park provides a haven for these gentle giants with such traumatic pasts. It was founded and is run by Lek Chailert – the warmest heart you will ever meet. She has so much love for these elephants and has dedicated her life to saving them. Hearing her sing to the young elephants to calm them down when they were upset with the introduction of a new baby, Navann, reinforced the gentleness of her kindness and passion.

Not only do they care for elephants (and let me tell you – the process involved with this task is no easy feat, it is a mass effort on a daily basis to keep the place alive), but they also have a dog shelter with over 300 rescued dogs (mostly from a mass rescue mission in the last Bangkok floods) and there also seems to be a water buffalo rescue effort going down there inadvertently!

When one of our volunteer group members asked Lek what we, as society, can do to help the cause, she did not respond with the standard answer of “donations”, she rather said “your voice”. So this is me, sharing my voice and helping to show people what is really going on in Thailand. As a tourist, please please please stay away from anything animal-related – it is almost certainly an abusive situation. Don’t be a part of it. Visit the Elephant Nature Park instead and experience true compassion. It is rare in this world.

This is proof that there is good in the human race. We see so much stupidity and heartlessness on a daily basis that this refreshing experience of raw human kindness is rare.

Feel free to leave your comments asking me any questions about my experience there as a volunteer – I am very happy to answer anything about this treasure of a sanctuary!

You can find them on Facebook as Elephant Nature Park and Twitter @save_elephant.


6 responses to “A piece of (elephant) heaven – Elephant Nature Park – Chiang Mai, Thailand

  • Barb

    I’m planning a long awaited trip there this year. Any tips that you think might be helpful would be great. I cannot wait to work with these amazing animals! Thanks!

    • PopcornCandi

      Hmmm… some tips…
      1. Take clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty and are not too attached to. You WILL get filthy, but it is fun 🙂
      2. Take some extra clothes that you can leave behind. They donate them to the village nearby.
      3. Take your own garden/work gloves. You will be very grateful to have your own pair that is not falling apart. And even take a few extra pairs to donate.
      4. Be prepared for some hard work. It is quite a bit of manual labour.
      5. Make sure to spend some of your free time helping out at the dog shelter. They really need the hands for walking dogs, playing with puppies and social interaction with the dogs. It’s really quite fun!
      6. Make sure to take some cash with you for some well-deserved massages. There are ladies from the local village that offer really good (and cheap) massages at the park – it is well worth it!

      That is all that I can think of for now. Is there anything else in particular you need to know?

  • juliana

    is there a need of any vaccination before going ? How about kids (6yo)- is it safe to take ? :)) Thanks.

  • thetigerandthefly

    we are booked in for next year just can’t wait, was wondering about a few things:

    – approx. how many volunteers do they have at once?
    – do you share your rooms with others?
    – what type of shoes would you take, as it looks like there’s alot of walking
    – and did you have many worries with mosquito’s? I always get terribly eaten when in asia

    thanks a tonne! x

    • PopcornCandi

      Very exciting!

      – I was in a group of 11 volunteers
      – I Thi knit depends on what rooms they have available, but yes, we all shared 2 to a room
      – closed comfortable shoes would be ideal. It can be very dusty and dirty. No need for proper trainers, unless you want to go jogging in the mornings/evenings
      – the Mosquitos are definitely around. I used repellant every evening and didn’t get eaten

      Hope that helps!

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