Just before I give you any information at all here – this was the best part of my trip to Thailand in November 2018. By far!
Because well, who doesn’t want to play with elephants? Show me one person and I’ll show you a liar!
You can read my post on why I chose the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai here. They’re an ethical and sustainable business so it ticked all the boxes. Unfortunately there are still some places that abuse the animals and allow riding so make sure you do your research before booking a visit to an Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand. There are so many options to choose from and these differ depending on which sanctuary you visit.
Options & Costs
The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is no different. There are five different options available – two half day options (morning or afternoon), a full day visit, a one day walk with the elephants or an overnight stay. The option you go with will depend on how much money you want to spend or how much time you have in Chiang Mai.
- The half day options last for roughly three and a half hours and they cost 1,700 baht (£42 / $54) each for adults with a reduced rate available for children between four and 10.
- The full day visit lasts for seven hours and costs 2,400 baht (£59 / $76) per person and with children rates available.
- The day trek starts at around 0700 and finishes at 1530. This will cost you 3,500 baht (£86 / $111).
- For 4,900 baht (£120 / $156) you can have a day visit and then stay overnight at the sanctuary with a trek to a waterfall with the elephants the next day. You’ll then leave at around 5pm the next day.
We only had four days in Chiang Mai so we opted for the half day morning visit to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. At a cost of just £42 each, it was soooo worth it!
If you’re within 5km of the Old City then the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary trucks will pick you up from your hotel at no additional cost. For our trip this involved us getting up at 0530 and getting picked up, bleary-eyed at 0645. The truck could fit around eight people and it takes 1.5 hours from Chiang Mai.
Along with your pick up, you also get English speaking tour guides, snacks, drinking water, snacks for the elephants and a rather fetching traditional Karen overshirt. There are things you should bring along though – a hat, bathing suit, sunscreen, a towel, shoes, a change of clothes and definitely a camera/GoPro!
Our Half Day Visit
After we turned up at around 0830 we all sat down to hear from the tour guides. They gave us an overview of elephants in Thailand and the history of the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. The passion for the elephants’ wellbeing really comes across from all of the guides.
The guides will then take you through each of the elephants and tell you a bit about them. There is also a photographer there to capture moments from the day (they’ll be posted on Facebook later). In our camp, camp nine, there were six elephants. Two elephants in their 70s that liked to be on their own, two younger elephants and then two tiny baby elephants. No prizes for guessing which two were the most popular within our group!
After our short introduction, it was down to the fun stuff…
Meeting the Elephants
Elephants can eat up to around 18 hours a day (what a life!) so the guides taught us a couple of ways to feed them. The first way is the easy way – you just hold it out and they’ll grab the bananas using their trunk. The second way is a bit more interesting – you say ‘bonbon’ and hold the bananas up high. The elephants will react to that and lift their trunks and open their mouths. You just shove the bananas right in there. I’ll be honest and say I was a bit hesitant at first! You just have to avoid getting slobbered on!
After around 45 minutes of feeding the elephants, we got the chance to get some photos with them. The guides are more than happy to take your photos too, just ask them. One of the younger elephants had enough of the photos though and found a hose that was left on by the guides… He picked it up and started running with it waving it all over the place. Playful little guys!
We then changed into our swimming gear ahead of the next activities. The guides talked us through an inspection of one of the elephants just to make sure everything is ok with them. So we got to help out with measuring them and weighing them before giving the eldest elephant a quick brush clean so she didn’t have to walk to the river.
The best part was definitely messing around with the elephants in the river. The river is a short walk but you do have to walk over a lot of stones so don’t be like me and remember some suitable footwear after you get changed. Your time in the river is completely up to the elephants. If they’ve had enough they’ll just walk back to the camp on their own accord. You’re armed with a bucket to wash the elephants. Just a word of warning though, you will get absolutely soaked! We got to wash them for around 20 minutes before they called time on playing in the water.
It seems like the wrong way round but next up we covered the elephants in mud. You’d think you’d clean them AFTER the mud bath right? Nope! The mud actually serves as sunscreen for the elephants to protect them from the sun. Little fun fact for you there!
The mud bath did involve throwing a lot of mud around; not always just at the elephants! Everyone ends up caked in mud while the elephants enjoy themselves. The elephants are obviously in the mud too so just be careful what you pick up…
We were ushered to the showers (don’t expect too much) and changing rooms before being served up some traditional lunch. There was salad, a chicken and potato spicy meal with plenty of rice and fruit. Water was included within the price but you could pay a small amount extra for some soft drinks or even some beer. The lunch was nice and it was buffet style so you could go up as many times as you wanted.
As we were preparing for our 1.5 hour drive back to Chiang Mai the guides gave us information on where to find the photos that the photographer took throughout the day. They also gave us a little bit of info on their other sites and how we can help them e.g. leaving reviews, providing feedback, telling friends and in turn help the elephants.
The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai isn’t your only EJS option in Thailand. They have other camps in Phuket, Pattaya and Samui (which will open in March 2019). The options available can vary at each location though so do have a look before you book up. For example, at Phuket and Pattaya you can even make some paper out of elephant poo! If playing with poo is something you want to do anyway!
As I mentioned at the start of this blog post – this was the highlight of my trip to Thailand! It was so much fun! You can play with these amazing animals for three and a half hours for just £40. What’s not to like?
If we had more time in Chiang Mai then we would’ve definitely opted for one of the longer stays. With that said, a half day is brilliant if you have time constraints.
I’ll be publishing my YouTube video of the trip soon. In the meantime, check out my YouTube channel for more travel videos.
I am so afraid to take these tours as I do not understand which one is ethical and which one is not. There are too many Elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai and it needs a good backend research to understand the one that is ethical. I believe you had a good time there learning about those huge lovely mammals. I hope I get to visit one soon.
Oh they look all so cute. It is so important to do research about the sanctuaries and understand which ones are ethical. Thank you for providing insight on how do to do that.
Looks like an incredible experience. Pleased to see you found an ethical sanctuary to visit, I’ll stick this on my list to visit whenever I get around to heading to that part of the world 🙂
Great timing. We were looking for an article on EJS. You have covered all the information that I need to make a decision on whether to go for half a day, full day or stay overnight. Thanks.
Can’t believe I used to live in Chiang Mai but never made it here. I guess I didn’t trust which one of the sanctuaries were entirely ethical. Looks like you had a great time!
I don’t know how you decided which one is ethical or not, but seems like you had a great time there. Feeding the elephant with saying bonbon sounds fun, as well as ‘swimming’ with them in the river. it will be a bummer though if they don’t want to go to the river.
Yes, I would definitely want to play with elephants, but $75 sounds kind of expensive for visiting the Jungle Sanctuary. I would have paid the price however, because this seems like such an unique experience.
Thailand is such a beautiful place. I had visited an elephant sanctuary near Bangkok but I don’t think it was ethical. So good to here about this one following all the ethics. It’s fun to see these gigantic creatures. Loved the bathing and feeding rituals.
I can totally see why this was the highlight of your trip! Looks like such an amazing experience. I want to do something like this someday too. I am glad that more and more people are aware of the fact that not all the sanctuaries are actually what they say they are, and people do some research before choosing where to go to. This is such a beautiful animal! I really enjoyed the photos.
I have visited Thailand a few times but never been to Chang Mai and its on my list. I would definitely want to visit the Elephant sanstuary if I was there and possibly go with the overnight stay which is quite affordable and you get more time to spend there. The elephants do look much happier here and well looked after I must say. A great way to be in rich with these gorgeous beasts in their natural habitat as close as possible.
I booked with this sanctuary as well when I went to Chiang Mai! I was a little worried about choosing an ethical sanctuary because I’ve heard so many horror stories of finding a sanctuary and then them offering elephant rides. I’m glad you enjoyed there as much as I did!
If you don’t mind me asking, was there a reason you chose this sanctuary over its more famous counterpart, Elephant Nature Park?
There are so many options in Northern Thailand it is really difficult to choose the right place. I’m glad you enjoyed it too!
Good question, I actually looked to book my visit to an elephant sanctuary too close to my trip. I originally wanted to visit Elephant Nature Park as I’d had a lot of recommendations. Unfortunately the package I wanted was fully booked for the time I was in Chiang Mai. So I picked Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and loved it! Did you end up going to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary too?