As a person who loves animals (I mean I really love animals), I always make sure to do my research if I want to go somewhere that involves visiting animals. Thailand is absolutely full of places to experience up close and personal photo ops with a variety of animals. And morally, I cannot recommend many of the ones you commonly see when planning a trip to Thailand.
The Tiger Temple, for starters, is a solid no. No animal should be sedated and chained just so you can get a photo with it. I always try to explain it this way, would you want somebody you care about to be caged/bound/etc and forced to take photos with complete strangers all day long? I truly care about animals and so this is the way I see it. There are tons of monkey and elephant shows (or “experiences”) you can book and I just could not justify most of them. They made me sad, even. Some rescues even fall in this category. They rescued them from one thing only to force them into another. It breaks my heart. But Elephant Nature Park was different.
First of all, the elephants run on their schedule. That’s a big one for me. They’re not forced to do anything they don’t want to and are free to wander about the giant property as they please. They are rescues, taken from all different backgrounds with all types of rough lives before ENP. Because of this, some of them, understandably, do not like people. The ones who are not comfortable with humans stay at the neighboring area of the park, free to roam as they please without the visitors coming through.
There is absolutely no riding the elephants. Elephants are not meant to be ridden and any place that will let you ride them, saddles or not, does not truly care about the welfare of their elephants. To get them trained to allow this is a series of breaking their spirit and controlling them, which is obviously not something I could ever support.
At ENP, you spend your day feeding the elephants, playing with them in the water (if they want to, the one I was with wasn’t too interested and so we moved on to other things with him), loving on them if they want to and mostly just watching them being incredibly adorable elephants. Some of them are friendlier than others and they love to be loved on whether you’re hugging, petting, patting… whatever. The same as any other animals you might encounter, some of them love these things and some of them don’t. Everything at ENP is completely up to each individual elephant and that is one of the reasons I loved it so much.
They feed you a massive buffet lunch and it is all vegan, which was an awesome plus for me. I was able to overfill my stomach and not have to worry about what I was choosing from the tables.
In the morning, a van picks you up from your accommodation and you join the other members of your group, watching a movie about elephants and how Elephant Nature Park started out. The video, at times, is hard to watch. They let you know exactly what goes into training an elephant and it is horrifyingly abusive. After driving for a while, they stopped at a service station with bathrooms where you take a short break from driving, then continue on to ENP.
Each group is set up with a guide. Our guide was White and he was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. Your guide sticks with you from the very start to the very end when they drop you off back at your accommodation. They give you all of the information you need for the park and they are very knowledgeable, able to answer all types of questions.
We were introduced to the elephants by their names and given a little bit of backstory for each one. Many of them come from the tourism industry and quite a few from the logging industry, too. Some of them suffer from permanent injuries sustained in those fields. It was sad to see some of them limping or whatever the case might be, but it was relieving to know that they are in a place now that they are happy and taken care of so well.
I can honestly say this was one of the best days of my life. I felt happy on a level I could never put into words. Elephants are some of the most sweet and beautiful beings I’ve ever encountered and I would love to get the chance to go back. I would love to stay longer, too, and get to know the elephants and cute little puppers that roam around, better. (There was even an adorable pig there, too, and so many cute water buffalo!) When everything is said and done, you have time to check out the gift shop and then you’re taken back to your accommodation.
I bought me a few shirts for the road and kept my ticket for the memories (I keep a travel journal, of course I put it in there). The way that ENP cares about the elephants in their care is so beautiful and I have so much respect for all of them that make it happen. If you are considering going to Elephant Nature Park, please go! It was such an amazing experience for me!
This is in no way a sponsored post, just my honest opinion and feelings about an amazing organization.