There are lots of opportunities to see elephants around Chiang Mai. Many offer what is called an “Elephant Show” – which was definitely not the kind of experience we were looking for. We looked at advertising material on display for various elephant parks and then did some online research before we settled on a visit to the Baanchang Elephant Park in Chiang Mai. We felt that at Baanchang we would be treated to an up-close and personal experience with an elephant – including feeding, bare-back riding and bathing, in as ethical manner as was possible given the size and nature of the creatures.
We were collected from our hotel by air-conditioned minibus and taken to the park where we were first of all given a set of mahout clothing to change into before being given a safety briefing, as well as being told about the elephants and their background. Most of the 19 elephants at the park have been rescued from logging or from performing in elephant shows.
Soon we were having our first encounter with the elephants by feeding them their morning snack of small bunches of bananas and sugar cane. After we had been taught the various commands we would need to be able to control the elephant during our afternoon ride, three elephants of various size were brought before us and we got our first chance of climbing onto their backs and practice our new-found skills.
All too soon it was time for lunch and a rest on the hammocks before setting out into the nearby countryside for our elephant ride. I was surprised how tough it was to just sit and be taken for a ride – especially when the path took us downhill. I used muscles I never knew I had! The mahouts walked with us all the way, constantly asking if we were alright and taking photographs with our cameras for us.
When we arrived back at the Elephant Park it was time for bathing. What a joy it was to see the smallest elephant (which was five years old but still looked like a baby) run into the water and roll around in ecstasy, squirting water at everyone! I opted to take the opportunity to go into the water with the elephants to bathe them but Michael chose to stay ashore to take photos – which may have been a wise move especially when our elephant expelled a load of dung into the pool!!
After more photos, we were each given a towel and could have a hot shower before changing back into our own clothes and being driven back to our hotel.
It was an absolute privilege to spend a day with these amazingly gentle creatures. Fantastic memories.
Obviously the following was not filmed by me, but you can see the kind of experience we had!