Our trip to Elephant Valley on the outskirts of Chiang Rai was an incredible and ethical way to get close to Thailand’s beautiful mascot
When it comes to responsible tourism we’re always super cautious and skeptical when it comes to anything to do with animals and we’d heard about the many ride/wash touch sanctuaries that exist in Thailand. After being recommended Elephant Valley by some fellow travellers we had a look at their site and went along for a half day trip. We were not disappointed.
The sanctuary runs half and full day sessions. The half day is 1600 BHT, the full day 2000 BHT. Both include a delicious buffet lunch and a 8.30am collection from your hostel. We stayed at Bed and Bike Poshtel and it took around 20 minutes to get to the sanctuary.
We visited the office the day before our visit so that we could pay for our half day trip with a credit card otherwise it’s cash upon arrival at the sanctuary. The half day tour ran from 09.00 until 12.30 when we broke for lunch we then got a lift to the White Temple on the way back to town. Elephant Valley also offer guided tours in Chiang Rai, volunteering and stay overs. See their site for more info.
Observation not intrusion
The key ethos of the Elephant Valley Thailand is simple. They want elephants to just be elephants in a natural, stress free environment. This means no riding, touching or washing elephants. This was important to us when it came to looking at places to visit. The animals at the sanctuary – 4 females and a male – have come from human environments, they were used in the logging trade or for entertainment in the circus. The Elephant Valley programme is aiming to re-introduce these animals back into the wild and a key component in this journey is limiting the elephants exposure and reliance on humans. Some of the elephants had to be taught how to eat and clean themselves as they had become so reliant on human interaction.
You can find out all about Sanctuaries ethos here.
The sanctuary was set up and is directed by Jack Highwood who picked us up from our hostel. It was nice to see the boss getting stuck in with the day to day running of the place! Jack set up Elephant Valley Thailand in Xx and has been working with elephants for over 15 years. There is a sister project in Cambodia which you can find out more about here. Our guide for the day was Quang, a super enthusiastic and very funny local guide who has been at Elephant Valley for just over a year. Her obvious passion for the animals really shone through and her ability to bring the sensitivity and feelings of the elephants to life through easy to understand analogies was fantastic.
Watching from a distance
Upon arrival Kwang delivered a safety briefing and introduction where she described Elephant Valley as a primary school where elephants who had been exposed to human behaviour could learn to be elephants again. It was a very interesting way to look at the sanctuary and as the day progressed it became clear that a school was exactly what the sanctuary was – for the elephants and the guests! After disinfecting our shoes we headed into the 14 hectare paddock – an old farm and made for a perfect elephant playground.
We spent the majority of the morning watching the elephants from a distance and listening to their history as told by Kwang. It was fascinating to watch these amazing creatures just be themselves, with their stories being brought to life through Kwangs storytelling. We were both amazed by how much we learnt. Routine is very important to the Elephants so after watching them feed they looked like they wanted to go for a dip. They changed their minds and headed for a shower. The only people that get close to the elephants are their carers who watch them from a distance as they roam the sanctuary and give them a wash down when it’s shower time! As there is no free flowing water within the sanctuary – a tricky location to find and set up in Thailand – carers have to hose them as a substitute.
The male Thong Inn is the only elephant who has his keeper ride him. This is to keep him calm and focused and when he arrived he was incredibly restless unless and dangerous he had someone he trusted with him.
Feeding time for the elephants…
After shower time it was feeding time. This is as close to the elephants as you will get. The elephants took their time to come up to the feeding area, trunks outstretched. The reason for hand feeding the elephants is two fold – being hand fed has been part of their routine their whole life. Also, it’s a an opportunity to give them any extra vitamins or antibiotics they need.
Feeding an elephant really is an awe inspiring experience. Being so close to such a huge and majestic creature is a humbling and beautiful experience. The intelligence in their eyes is captivating. We both left feeling blown away. It was then time for our lunch! A tasty buffet of fish, chicken, morning glory and stir fried veg finished off with sticky rice. It was an opportunity to chat to the other visitors to the sanctuary.
An amazing day out
We were both blown away by our visit to Elephant Valley Thailand. It really was the best example of ehical tourism we’ve seen. The welfare of the elephants was the number one priority here – the fact we could enjoy being in their presence was an added bonus.
The mix of passion, knowledge and a suitable setting made for an enlightening and highly educational day out that proved you don’t have to be hands on to really appreciate these beautiful animals.
We can’t recommend Elephant Valley enough! If you’re in Northern Thailand be sure to check them out.
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