Last update: July 11, 2017
Elephant Parks around Chiang Mai.
Where are the best elephant parks located.
Around the town of Chiang Mai, in Chiang Mai province there are many elephant parks and camps; Chiang Mai is truly "Elephant Central". These elephants were quite suddenly unemployed in 1989 when logging was banned throughout Thailand. There are 3 main areas with elephant camps; from North to South these are:
The North: Mae Taeng is a town 60 km north of Chiang Mai. Just beyond Mae Taeng village is the "Mae Taeng river valley" which is about one to one a half hour driving from Chiang Mai, and here are many elephant parks located almost next to each other. The first elephant parks are in a narrow valley; but after driving through a narrow road the valley suddenly opens up into a broad valley surrounded by mountains through which the Mae Taeng river slowly meanders in a large "S" shape. In this beautiful valley the Elephant Nature Park is located, the largest ethical park.
The center: the Mae Sa valley is much closer to Chiang Mai (30 km); it is less than one hour driving. The camps here are next to a beautiful stream, the Mae Sa river which cascades down the rocks into cool pools where the elephants can take a bath. There are high trees and vegetation everywhere; a bit further up the valley westward is the large Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden which is worth a visit of at least a few hours. Patara Elephant Farm is also quite close to Chiang Mai but just southwest of it; less than one hour driving.
The South: Further south is the Mae Wang river near the town of ... you guessed it; Mae Wang. Mae means river and the village on the Mae Wang river has the same name. The area here is close to Doi Inthanon; the highest mountain in Thailand. Here, around Doi Inthanon are the Karen Hill tribe villages which run the small-scale camps. A few of the parks are close to the main road into Mae Wang; but many camps around here are in the densely forested jungle area just outside of Doi Inthanon National Park; for example the Elephant Jungle Paradise park. These elephant camps in the highlands around Doi Inthanon (the highest mountain in Thailand) are about 2 hours driving away, sometimes over rough terrain.
Karte von Elefanten Parke rundum Chiang Mai
Ethical parks, sanctuaries
1 Elephant Nature Park
2 Elephant Jungle Paradise
3 Elephant Dream Valley
4 Thai elephant Care center
5 Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
6 Elephant Rescue Park
7 Elephant Retirement Park
8 Rantong Elephant Centre
9 Blue Daily Elephant Care
Mahout training Parks
10 Patara Elephant Farm
11 Elephant Carer Home
12 BaanChang elephant park
13 Thai Elephant Home
14 Woody Elephant Training
15 Gachorgwa Elephant Camp
Elephant Show Parks
A MaeSa Elephant Camp
B MaeTaeng Elephant Park
C MaeTaman Elephant Camp
D Chok Chai Elephant Camp
Elephant Park Map - around Chiang Mai
Finding a good camp is quite complicated: should it be an ethical park; or a sanctuary for old elephants where riding elephants is "not done"; or a more intimate experience in one of the many smaller parks. Or you may prefer a "Mahout training Park" with bareback riding and river baths.
Directory of Elephant Parks around Chiang Mai.
Note: this list is in no particular order. The most popular companies (Patara Elephant Farm and Elephant Nature Park) can be sold out months in advance.
The elephant rides mentioned here are for 1 person sitting behind the elephants' head; bareback. Most of these parks do NO elephant riding.
List of ethical parks and sanctuaries.
- Elephant Nature Park (ENP) - Lek Chailert founded the first ethical park in 1996; and it is up to now the largest and most popular. The park area is 10000 hectares for about 70 elephants. About 1,5 hour's drive from CM in Mae Taeng valley. No riding.
Elephant Nature Park has such a huge amount of visitors that in 2016 they have started offering off-site tours to neighboring camps. Some of their Karen programs are in Mae Taeng valley, and some are located around Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain of Thailand. These special tours do not visit Elephant Nature Park; and there is a notice on their website: "Saddle Off (South) programs. These programs are located in different villages to the South of Chiang Mai city. They do not visit Elephant Nature Park."
For example the Journey to freedom program is located in the remote village of Ban Mae Satop which is near to Doi Khun Mae Satop; a small mountain about 200km driving southwest of Chiang Mai. More on this blog: www.globeslice.com
- Elephant Jungle Paradise park. In Mae Wang, about 1,5 to 2 hours away, The ride up to the park is not for the faint hearted, it is one of the highest parks on the Doi Inthanon mountain and the last part of 30 minutes is a very bumpy ride. Nestled deep within the jungle, there are 6 elephants. No riding but mud baths. Only 2400 baht/day per person.
We then walked a little further to see two other elephants, one aged 65 and one huge male elephant, again we were given loads of time to feed and play with them. The scenery is beautiful at the park and when we were ready we walked down to the waterfall and eating area where we had a delicious lunch.
- Elephant Dream Valley - New park (2015) in Mae Wang; 4 elephants, 60km SW of Chiang Mai. There is no riding elephants and no chains, they can walk around freely. Good reviews on Tripadvisor.
- Thai elephant Care center - In the Mae Sa valley next to Maesa Elephant Camp (same owner). Take care of the elderly elephants. No riding.
- Elephant Jungle Sanctuary - An ethical park in Mae Wang about 2 hours of bumpy ride through the jungle and a good 20 minute walk down to the camp. Remote, and the transport by 4wd open trucks is the weak point of this camp - a minivan can't get to the camp. About 7 elephants, 2 locations. A joint initiative between members of the Karen hill-tribes and Chiang Mai locals. This sanctuary has become a popular alternative to Elephant Nature Park; they take great care of their elephants who walk around freely. No chains, no sticks, no riding, no abuse. A steal at only 2400 baht/day per person.
- Elephant Rescue Park - An ethical park between Mae Rim and Mae Taeng, about 30-45 min. driving away. Seems to be connected to Elephant PooPooPaper Park in Mae Rim village. No sticks or hooks and no riding. A small park opened in 2015, currently they have 1 adult and 3 baby elephants. Now they are #1 of 37 Nature & Parks in Chiang Mai on Tripadvisor.
- Elephant Retirement Park - A new park between Mae Rim and Mae Taeng with 6 elephants (it is indicated on Google maps). No bull hooks or chains; no riding, mud baths in the river. Mahout training. One of the cheaper parks at 2600Bt for one day.
- Rantong (Ran-Tong) Save and Rescue Elephant Centre. Established in 2009, 22 elephants. No sticks or hooks, only bareback riding.
- Blue Daily Elephant Care in Mae Wang/Doi Inthanon; 1 hour and a half driving.
bluedailyelephantcare.com. This safari only takes small groups of max. 9 people for the three elephants. There is only elephant care here, no riding. Can be a part of the all-in Blue Elephant Thailand Tour, which does bareback riding.
Two parks that are not on the map:
- Maerim Elephant Sanctuary - A new ethical park between Mae Rim and Mae Taeng (19°01'55.1"N 98°56'43.0"E), about 30-45 min. driving away. No sticks or hooks and no riding. A new park opened in October 2016, they have 1 adult and 3 baby elephants.
- Happy Elephant Home - It's a smaller sanctuary with 6 elephants and 2 baby's opposite ENP park in Mae Taeng. No riding but a 20-min trek to a river, feeding elephants and bathing them. The same owner as Woody Elephant Training. Good reviews.
If you want to visit a place where they really do care about the elephants and not benefit from them, definitely go to Happy Elephant Home. All the money goes to take care of the elephants.
Mahout training Parks.
The mahout rides the elephant sitting behind the elephants' head and ears. This is completely safe for the elephant; but maybe not so safe for you, if you fall off the elephant you might get hurt. Be careful; this is only for the fit and able.
- Patara Elephant Farm - Started in 2001 and has 50 elephants. "Be an Elephant Owner for a Day". Patara is not just a normal elephant farm; it is an Elephant sanctuary.
- Elephant Carer Home - Mae Taeng valley. Mahout training, 7 elephants.
"We decided on this park because it seemed so much more intimate. The elephants are very well taken care of and were visibly so so happy the entire time."
- BaanChang Elephant Park - Has 49 elephants, bathing in river, also mahout training. Review:
- Thai Elephant Home - Mae Taeng valley. Mahout experience, bareback riding etc. Thai Elephant Home opened in 2006 and is committed the Mae Taeng Reforestation Project. Twenty elephants; it's pricier than other camps but has very good reviews.
Quote: One of the most incredible experiences of our lives! The elephants are so well treated and are trained using positive reinforcement like feeding them bananas or sugar cane when they obey a command; rather than by punishment.
- Woody Elephant Training (Woody's Elephant Home) - Mae Taeng valley, opposite ENP, 12 elephants. Be a mahout for a day; has had some booking problems in the past. The same owner as Happy Elephant Home.
- Gachorgwa Elephant Camp - A small park near Mae Wang. Founded in 2015 with the intent to preserve Karen hill tribe wisdom. Bareback riding, bathing, and caring for the elephants.
facebook.com/gachorgwa and reviews: tripadvisor.com
Elephant Show parks
The elephant rides mentioned here are on a howdah - a seat or platform for 1 or 2 people. The all-in package tours are quite cheap but many tours include elephant parks where elephants are treated quite badly. Don't try to do everything possible in one day; a long drive, river rafting, a so-called "hill tribe" village visit, elephant park etc. will be a very hectic day with just a lot of rides and gimmicks. So beware of cheap all-in tours; these are targeted at the "Package Tourist" and you have to wonder: are you the package or the tourist?
The show parks are usually cheaper than the sanctuaries but some mahouts expect a tip for photo's, and a professional photographer may ask 200B or more for a framed picture. The banana's for the elephants are sold for about 40 baht.
- MaeSa Elephant Camp - The oldest elephant park situated in the Mae Sa valley with 70 elephants. Has elephant shows, rides and they paint pictures. One of the better camps.
- Maetaeng Elephant Park & Clinic - This is the only elephant park in the Mae Taeng valley that has an elephant clinic. All-in package type park: Elephant show, ride, painting, bamboo rafting, oxcart ride, long-neck women display. Does not get very good reviews; the mahouts are mainly from Myanmar and are not enlightened about animal cruelty. Busloads of Chinese tourists.
- MaeTaman Elephant Camp - Mae Taman river, just east of Maetaeng Elephant Park. All-in package type park: Elephant show, ride, painting, bamboo rafting, oxcart ride, "hilltop tribe" experience.
- Chok Chai Elephant Camp - Mae Taeng valley, part of Chokchai tours. Painting elephant show, elephant ride, ox ride & bamboo river rafting. Cheap All-in package but questionable treatment of their elephants, geared towards Chinese tourists.
Other parks (not on the map).
- Karen Tribe Native Elephants - Good reviews, owned by Karen hill tribe people.
karentribenativeelephants.com - (Not part of ENP's Karen Elephant Experience). About 2 hours drive west of CM, Samoeng district. Daily health care, learn how to make herbal medication, training, bareback riding.
- Elephant Discovery Chiang Mai - Good reviews, small groups but remote, 2 hours driving over rough terrain. Karen Tribe, 6 elephants, bareback riding, river baths.
- Yogi Mahout - Be a mahout for a day. Very mixed reviews.
- Dumbo Elephant Spa - Small mud spa, no riding. Six elephants - 4 adults and 2 babies. The two baby elephants saw us coming up the little hill and their excitement got the best of them! They started bouncing and running towards us, their trucks rubbing and grabbing onto us.
- Elephant Life Experience (E.L.E.) - Mae Taeng valley. Good reviews, bareback elephant ride across the river and into the jungle. There is a show of elephants lifting tree trunks and playing football.
Other day tours to elephant camps (not on the map).
- Blue Elephant Thailand Tour. All-in package tour in Mae Wang/Doi Inthanon, 2 hours drive. They use several elephant camps like Makha Elephant Village and Blue Tao Elephant village near Doi Inthanon. These do only bareback rides. Also Zipline, Tiger Kingdom, white water rafting, etc. Not cheap but gets good reviews; a private 1 day trip costs 6,000 baht per person.
- the Chai Lai Orchid resort in Mae Wang is next to the Phutawan elephant camp; but it is primarily a resort that sends their guests to local elephant camps. These can be very different types of parks, from a sanctuary to a "riding camp" like the Phutawan camp.
- Panda Tour & Trekking - This is more of a trekking tour with a visit to an elephant camp as just a part of it; but the reviews of the tour are not very good.
Chinese tourists feeding elephants
How to choose the best ethical elephant park?
What is an Ethical Park? Personally I'm not against tourism to parks but it's a very complicated question. If you visit any elephant park, even if it is the most ethical where the animals are pampered all day long; you are supporting the elephant industry.
On the other hand, domesticated elephants are here to stay and the future of Asian elephants may be for a large part in elephant conservation camps. The fact is that elephants are losing their natural habitat in Thailand; and though it would be ideal for all elephants to be in the wild, I'd rather see them in the hands of competent and respectful people rather than enslaved in the logging industry.
When choosing a camp to visit it is best to support ethical parks and sanctuaries that put the welfare of their animals first. Some people avoid parks with "elephant shows," and others avoid riding elephants altogether. If you’re going to ride an elephant, the best way to do so is on the elephant’s shoulders - bareback. The Mahout Parks only do bareback riding; sitting just behind the elephants' head.
Why not spend a bit more money and go to a sanctuary where the animals are treated well. The higher fees for the ethical parks will promote the well-being of these magnificent animals, so choosing your destination carefully is important. You don't have to go for one of the large, popular parks; the smaller sanctuaries can be a more intimate experience, and sometimes cheaper as well.
Ethical elephant parks cost more.
Minimum and maximum fee for day tours to all types of elephant parks.
Whether you want to go to a Mahout Park, a sanctuary, a rescue park, a Karen tribe supported park; it's all up to you. If you put in the effort of doing some research before deciding where to go, you will not be disappointed and your money will be well spent and go to a good cause.
Wrinkly Weaving Jumbo's.
After visiting quite a few parks I noticed that some elephants display a rocking, swaying motion - so-called weaving. Animals in the wild are active day and night looking for food and water; in captivity they get bored and start a monotonous movement like pacing or swinging their head. Lions, tigers and large cats in cages behave the same: they start pacing back and forth in their small cages to vent energy and frustration. Asian zoo's are quite backward and usually have very small cages for animals; for example the Jogjakarta zoo has a tiger in a space the size of a garage. The poor tiger stuck in there hasn't even the space to pace up and down. If you are an animal lover you should avoid going to Asian zoo's at all cost, or suffer a shock at seeing the caged large animals.
Weaving is a type of movement caused by boredom and frustration. Once a bored elephant starts "weaving" it is difficult and usually impossible to stop this behavior. Elephant parks should create enough space and activities to give their elephants a meaningful life. Let's be straight here, they are not going back to the wild or to logging trees, there is hardly any wilderness left and no trees to cut or move; those times are long gone.
A large, majestic bull elephant.
And one more surprising statistic from: www.nytimes.com/2016 :
Logging is arduous. But elephant experts say hard work is one reason Myanmar’s elephants have remained relatively healthy. A 2008 study calculated that Myanmar’s logging elephants, which have a strict regimen of work and play, live twice as long as elephants kept in European zoos, a median age of 42 years compared to 19 for zoo animals.
The riddle ... a rumble in the jungle?
The word on the street is "don't ride an elephant because you'll damage his spine". Is that a fact or a Rumble in the Jungle? I'm not quite convinced by that myth. Horses are perhaps less suitable for riding than elephants, but people still ride horses and back and spine damage can occasionally occur. Should we prohibit all horse riding or use proper training, good saddles and have good veterinary care?
Shan howdah, the green area is where it rests on the elephants' ribcage
(between howdah and elephant is more then 10 cm thick padding)
If a proper howdah (saddle) is used with thick padding an adult elephant should hardly be bothered by 2 people on it's back. Two people weighing 150 Kilograms together on the back of a 3000 KG elephant is just 5% of its weight (150/3000 = 5%). For a human of 80 Kilograms a comparable backpack would weigh just 4 KG. The howdah is a lightweight wooden or bamboo saddle which rests on the ribcage of the elephant and does not touch the spine at all! Riding an elephant bareback is even less of a strain. (elephantconservation.org)
A note on the howdah's used nowadays: some parks don't use lightweight wooden or bamboo saddles but rather crude metal frames; which are heavier than necessary and do not fit very well.
A Shan howdah in the Chiang Mai National Museum.
A quote from Elephant Stay in Ayutthaya: Before jumping to conclusions about the effect of the elephant riding, consider the facts and make an informed decision. Facts and simple mathematics show that elephant rides are neither strenuous nor damaging to the elephant’s back or spine. (www.elephantstay.com)
Fact: The average weight of a full-grown riding horse is 500 to 700 KG. An Asian elephant weighs between 2600 and 5000 KG. Roughly speaking adult elephants are about five to seven times heavier than the average horse. Consequently we can deduce that for 1 or 2 people on an elephants' back:
When riding and elephant; your weight is quite irrelevant.
Elephants in loei province, 1898.
The Riddle is ... for more than a 1000 years captive elephants have been used for logging, transporting people and even warfare. Where is the evidence on the damage to elephant spines or vertebrae when riding them? Where are the photo's? When this "spine damage" is so common why is there no information about it anywhere on the internet? Elephants can suffer many diseases; for example foot disease and arthritis are quite common; they are often caused by standing on the concrete floors. The only mention of "spine damage" however is on some Elephant Parks' leaflets; actual spine damage occurs only very rarely.
Is the solution to put them in a retirement park and let them do nothing? One of the most famous parks was evaluated in 2011 by Elephant Aid International.
They found that Elephants who spend all day standing in one area with little activity have seriously overgrown and decaying nails and pads. Many elephants had serious foot health issues. The straightforward report with recommendations is here: Enp_Report2011.pdf.
The number of Daft Dumbo tales that are being told is quite amazing. My point is that the "Don't ride an elephant" argument is somewhat narrow minded; one has to look at the bigger picture. That bigger picture includes the treatment and health of the elephants:
The first point - unchaining them - is relatively easy to fix. The last point may be more difficult to implement - elephants in parks have no meaningful occupation and don't have to search for food and water.
- Are the elephants chained all day or just at night?
- Are the mahouts experienced and well-trained?
- Do the elephants get good medical care?
- Do they have room to move around and interact; can they take a stroll?
- Do they have some occupation to prevent boredom and "weaving"?
We do not approve of elephant abuse.
(stop elephant riding cartoon)
The future for asian elephants.
The asian elephant may be going the way of the tiger: there are globally more tigers in captivity than in the wild. In Thailand the captive elephant population is 3500 to 4000; the number of wild elephants is between 3000 and 3700. In the 1800s it still had around 100.000 elephants!
In Southeast Asia the majority of elephants are captive and used for logging or tourism parks and camps. For example in Laos less than 1300 wild elephants remain. Whether we like it or not, the future of asian elephants may be for a large part in elephant conservation camps with some kind of entertainment for tourists; and an occupation or activity for elephants as well.
Elephant population in SE-asia.
In Vietnam the captive elephant population has declined over the past 25 year from about 600 in 1980 to 165 today. Because wild elephants are so close to total extinction; the government of Vietnam has started a National Elephant Action Plan. In Cambodia the estimate of the wild population is between 400-600 elephants.
Burma’s wild elephant numbers have dropped dramatically over the past 50 years and appear to still be in decline. Here elephants are still used for logging; the Myanmar Timber Enterprise (MTE) employs around 4000 elephants. The new semi-democratic government of Myanmar has set a temporary national logging ban in 2016 and a 10-year logging ban in the Pegu Yoma region. It is good news for Myanmar's nature and forests but a major problem for the 5500 captive elephants.
In 2004 the Smithsonian convened a workshop of elephant experts in Myanmar; their conclusion was that possibly less than 2000 elephants remain in the wild. (Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute report: http://nationalzoo.si.edu/SCBI )
There's not just bad news, mistreatment was far more prevalent in the logging industry than in touristic elephant parks. In Thailand many tourists are prepared to pay more for the rescue and conservation parks. The larger parks let elephants roam around or trek, and ENP is now building an enclosure to keep elephants at night without chains.
Elephant crossing. In Chiang Mai elephants have always right-of-way.
Facts, Facts and more Elephant Facts.
Here are some links to scientific reports and factual information on elephant health and rehabilitation. This is no info or promotion from elephant parks but research by independent organizations. The Wikipedia information is done by volunteers and can be quite subjective.
Mae Taeng elephant clinic.
This clinic is run by MaeTaeng elephant park.
Reports and statistics on elephant health and welfare.
Reports from elephant parks.
Blogs, news and information on elephants
Tripadvisor reviews of parks.
Chiang mai elephant map
Karte von Elefanten Parken rund um Chiang Mai. Chiang mai elephant Park map. Kaart van olifant parken rondom Chiang mai (olifantpark).
- Elephant Bill by J. H. Williams - The tale of Billy Williams, who used elephants to help defeat the Japanese in Burma.
- Elephant Company by Vicki Constantine Croke. About Elephant Bill.
- Shooting an Elephant and other essays by George Orwell. One of Orwells' first anti-colonialist essays, situated in Moulmein, Burma.
- Travels on My Elephant by Mark Shand - Mark Shand bought an elephant named Tara and rode her over six hundred miles across India.
Burmese elephant drawing (1910)
Any comments or improvements? Please mail me at : bytelife AT gmail.com
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DISCLAIMER: No responsibility is taken for the accuracy and reliability of the information provided. I am not connected to any elephant park or organization.
All foto's and text Copyright © 2017 R.Schierbeek