Last update: Nov 22, 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 40 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.
Ethischen Elefantenpark Karte 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 Ran Tong 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
Chiang Mai Elephant Park Map (ethical parks are green)
Finding a good park 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. Located in Mae Taeng valley; about 60 km north of Chiang Mai and 1,5 hour's drive. 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
Another example is the Elephant Freedom one-day program which is in the Mae Wang area close to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary camps.
- 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, 90 minutes drive from Chiang Mai. Run by a Karen hill-tribe. 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 which gets very good reviews; about 1.5 to 2 hours away over a curvy mountain road. Has a few camps, one of them is a bumpy ride through the jungle and a good 20 minute walk. 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.
togethertowherever.com Independent description: what to expect during a visit.
- Elephant Rescue Park - An ethical park between Mae Rim and Mae Taeng, about 1 hour 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. Feeding and mud baths in the river. One of the cheaper parks at 2600Bt for one day.
- 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.
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; 7 elephants. Mahout training, mud spa, river bath. About 2500 baht for one day.
"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 - West of Mae Taeng town, about 1 hour drive. Has 49 elephants, bathing in river, also mahout training.
Baanchang Elephant’s Paradise is an offshoot park just north of BaanChang park: http://www.baanchangparadise.com
- 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) - 12 elephants. This park seems to be downsizing. 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?
- 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.
The show parks are usually cheaper than the sanctuaries but some mahouts expect a tip for photo's, and a professional photographer may ask 200 Baht or more for a framed picture. The banana's for the elephants are sold for about 40 baht.
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 between 5000 - 6000 baht.
- 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.
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.
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, elephant parks are here to stay and the future of Asian elephants may be for a large part in 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 working in the logging industry. It would be nice if we could release a few hundred elephants - for example in Myanmar - but they suffer from deforestation on a large scale and have their own problems with jobless logging elephants.
In fact; the new 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 Myanmars nature and forests but a major problem for the 5500 captive logging elephants.
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.
Chiang mai Elephant map
Chiang Mai Thailand elephant Park map. Mae Taeng elephant map. Karte von Elefanten Parken rund um Chiang Mai. Kaart van olifant parken rondom Chiang mai (olifantpark).
The Wikipedia information is done by volunteers and can be quite subjective.
- 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' best stories and his first anti-colonialist essay, situated in Moulmein, Burma. More entertaing than "Burmese Days".
- 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)
bytelife.altervista.org/elephantfacts.htm - The cost; numbers and background of the elephant camps.
bytelife.altervista.org/aboutme.htm - Background about the author.
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 Rolf Schierbeek