Chiang Mai ethical elephant experience
17th - 18th March 2018
A 'must do' whilst in Northern Thailand and in particular Chiang Mai is to experience the native Asian elephants.
This was high on our bucket list whilst planning to travel as neither of us have ever come face to face with these incredible animals! We knew we wanted to experience this in Asia as we loved the look of the Asian elephant, with their light pink speckled faces and vast trunks. We also knew that elephants often get mistreated at these 'camps' and so called 'sanctuary's' so we knew that we had to do our research and pick the right place. Metal chair rides, not enough space, abuse, overworked, mistreatment were all things we wanted to make sure we were not funding. It is hard to believe that in this day and age things such as this continue to happen to animals but sadly they do and all so often. Only we as customers and tourists have the power to change this, so lets make sure we do all we can.
We came across Chai Lai Orchid while doing our research and it stood out to us due to their 'sustainable ethical eco trekking packages'. What they offer is humane elephant experiences that provide intimate and natural interactions in their habitat of the jungle. Alongside interacting with the elephants you can hike through lush rice terraces and leafy trails to secluded waterfalls in the mountains. This sustainable jungle trek is led by knowledgeable Karen Hill local tribe guides which helps create jobs in the community. The treks reflect their core values of respecting nature and indigenous culture. After generations of their families living in the Northern Thai mountains they can share their knowledge about the many uses of jungle plants for food and medicine. This was one of our favourite aspects of the trip.
8am hotel pick up from Chiang Mai town - 1hr drive up the mountains to the jungle
Welcomed with a fresh coconut to drink which the elephants will finish for you as you meet them for the first time roaming around the camp
10am drive to the start of the trek (2hr trek). You will encounter jungle, waterfalls, elephants, rice fields
Lunch stop halfway through with the local Karen tribe that they have freshly prepared
Time to interact with the tribe and see where they live
Hop on a traditional bamboo raft and relax down the lazy river until you arrive back at the camp
Grab a bag of bananas and head up into the jungle to feed the elephants
This is a little overwhelming to begin with. You cannot gage the true size of an elephant until you stand face to face with one. The two of us were greeted by a family of 4 hungry elephants; grandma, mum, sister and baby.
These giants eat 250kg of fruit and vegetables a day! Once we ran out of fruit and they spread out to eat the surrounding vegetation we relaxed a little as we made our way down to the jungle with them, our guide and their 2 trainers.
Walk down to the river with the elephants... its BATH TIME!
Spend time watching them play fight in the river, wash and swim with them
Watch out they are rather cheeky!
After all of this we were pretty tired, it was time to relax and have dinner. The food was great, we opted for a delicious traditional Pad Thai as we sat and looked over the bridge at the sun setting over the elephants who were also resting. It was so beautiful it felt as though we could be in a film scene!
We then crossed the bridge back into camp and had a couple of beers under the stars and fairy lights before heading to bed with big smiles on our faces. The accommodation is perfect; a simple little bungalow with en suite bathroom which was lovely and clean.
Living a life where you wake up before your alarm as you can't wait to start the day is one that we try to lead. This is exactly what happened here! It was breakfast time and we were surrounded by elephants eating their breakfast roaming free in the jungle. It was magical.
8:30am breakfast time
9am we were picked up for the 1hr drive up into the mountains
Completed a 4hr jungle trek which was beautiful! Saw one of the best waterfalls we have ever seen and learnt lots from our local guide who explained all the herbal medicines in the jungle that we even sampled there and then. A long hike but not an intense one
Lunch stop today was halfway through and again delicious
The hike finished with picking fresh passion fruit and strawberries
A sleepy drive back to camp left us saying goodbye to the elephants and hopping back on the truck to our hotel in Chiang Mai, arriving around 6pm... It was time to rest.
(2 days 1 night)
Leave luggage in Chiang Mai hotel if possible, it makes life easier with less luggage to carry around.
Water is provided 24/7
Some snacks. Sugary things for the trekking
Athletic cool clothing x2
Swimming towel (bath towel provided)
Change of clothes for evening
Underwear and socks
Toiletries incl suncream and insect repellent (shampoo and bodywash provided)
Plasters and small basic medical kit
Travel journal and/ or laptop - great place to write
The main reason we chose Chai Lai Orchid is because all proceeds help provide rescued elephants with a happier, healthier environment to live in. But what makes it so special is that this organisation is so much more than just an elephant sanctuary. Chai Lai Orchid was created to stop the exploitation and sex trafficking of the young girls from the surrounding tribes by empowering those at risk.
The mission of their charity; Daughters Rising is this - 'each year, young mothers and at-risk girls participate in our program attending English, Thai and computer classes and seminars on women’s health, trafficking and their rights. Because the trainee women are living below the poverty line, they cannot spend their days attending classes when there are mouths to feed, so we pay each one a fair wage in addition to education expenses, medical supplies and providing food and housing. 100% of our proceeds fund Daughters Rising Programs.' You can find out more about this incredible mission here.
From the minute we crossed the swing bridge into the Chai Lai Orchid camp we knew we made the right choice.
View our journey here...
With love from the globe,
Isabelle & George x
Currently in Sri lanka.
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