Before visiting Thailand, we knew that we wanted to see Elephants, but that we didn’t want to ride them. I know how cruel it is and the amount of torture they go through to be able to carry people on their backs, and we both wanted no part in that part of elephant tourism. I did some research and found the more ethical Elephant Nature Park, in Chiang Mai. Unfortunately for the dates that we wanted, they were almost fully booked. Oh no!

On their website, they showed a newer enclosure, Elephant Haven in Kanchanaburi. This place, up until a year ago, used to provide elephant rides. Now though, they’ve teamed up with Elephant Nature Park to let the elephants live in a more natural habitat, with definitely no riding.

A day with the Elephants

We were picked up from our guesthouse at 8am prompt and driven out to Sak Yoi, where the Elephant park was located. After sitting and watching them appear one by one, waiting to be fed, we were soon down to business! The first order of the day? Breakfast! There were around 15-20 of us, and we chopped up what seemed like a million watermelons.

After this, we made rice balls. Consisting of sticky rice, banana and some kind of bran flour, these were what we fed to the Elephants first, before the mountains of watermelon we’d cut up.

Feeding them was so fun! We picked up pieces of melon and put them into the elephant’s trunk, and they’d then feed themselves. Chopper, one of the youngest elephants, loved to collect 3 or 4 pieces and stuff them all in his mouth at once. Amazing!

A Jungle Walk

The next part of our day involved a walk through the jungle, along side the elephants. They were encouraged by clapping and singing from the mahouts, which was nice to see. They mostly followed the path but had tendencies to wander off to tasty looking trees and bushes. We stopped at a viewpoint whilst the elephants ate, and saw a  metal bench that used to be strapped to their backs for riding. It looked so big and heavy, and made us both so sad!

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Lunch and a side trip

We ate a tasty vegetarian lunch provided by Elephant Haven, and really enjoyed it! After our lunch break the guys took us in the minivans over to the Death Railway and Krasae Cave for a look around for an hour. We weren’t expecting this but it was a nice side trip, and a chance to see another part of the Death Railway. Walking on the train tracks was scary – not good if you’re afraid of heights! Although this little trip was probably added in to stretch the day out, it was worthwhile, and gave us another chance to do some sightseeing. Not riding a motorbike here sometimes limits us.

Water Babies

Returning from our trip, it was time to walk the elephants back into the jungle. Some of them chose to jump right into the mud pit, rolling in the dirt and getting absolutely covered! It was so amusing to see. The remaining elephants meandered around the pit but chose not to go in, instead doing what they know best: eating!

We watched the elephants get truly filthy for half an hour or so, before walking down to the river. In they all went for a bath! We braved the river too with buckets and got to splash water onto them and give them a wash down. Elephant skin is much hairier than you’d imagine! I always thought they’d just be really leathery, but there’s coarse hair on their skin too. They seemed to enjoy the water and were rolling about in it happily – it was so nice!

This was our final part of the day and after a final feeding of watermelon, we were done and ready to go back to our guesthouse.

Final thoughts

We had such a lovely day at Elephant Haven, and it was nice to be able to observe the Elephants in their natural habitat. It’s never going to be the perfect thing; at the end of the day, we’re still paying tourists coming to look at Elephants. But we both feel that we picked an ethical camp, and did our best to not fund the sad side of elephant tourism. We’d recommend this park for sure – it’s calm and quiet, and possibly less busy than the main Chiang Mai one. We’ll cherish the photographs we took for ages, and I’m sure we’ll remember this day fondly for a long time.