On the day that we chose, a van came to collect us from Tanita House at the early hour of 06:45 in order to get to the park before the sun became too much! In our van was a British family of four: a lawyer, his wife and two kids, a British girl from London, and ourselves.
When we arrived, we were led to an open dining room where we were asked to help ourselves to cups of tea, local coffee, and bottles of water. After introducing ourselves we were given the blue clothing of the Mahouts. A sort of denim button-up smock, some quarter-length trousers, a towel, and a key for our personal locker. Let me tell you, I looked ridiculously liked a fisher-woman, The Music Producer looked like a hospital orderly, and only “The Tall Young Gentleman” looked decent LOL!
Anyway, we were led to a group of gentle elephants by our guide – Vinai – who showed us how to communicate with the elephants, how to stroke, and how to talk to the elephants. We were also taught about the lifestyle and behaviour of Thai elephants, the basic commands for elephants (which I can no longer remember LOL), and how to ride on the elephant’s neck using different spoken techniques.
Then, and only then, we were allowed to get on the elephant. BAREBACK!
Let me tell you, it’s a little bit scary because the elephant is a huge animal and you need it’s co-operation before you can attempt to climb up. We were encouraged to whisper and talk to the elephants in a soft manner and then to leap on, by gently holding onto the back of the ears of the elephant. Yes, the ears!
One 20-something young man was so unconvinced, that he refused to get onto the elephant and decided to walk! Even The Music Producer had a few gulps before he went on the elephants back as you really are as free as the wind. “The Tall Young Gentleman” on the other hand took to riding the elephant as if he and it, were one. I also noticed that every now and then he would whisper to it. I’m very proud. Our son has always been an animal lover and was previously designated to look after his grandparents dog whenever he visits. He also rushes to the side of practically all our friends who have cats, mice, lizards and a giant Iguania!
Once we had the rhythm, we then went to feed the elephants.
That was so much fun! We carried huge baskets to where the other elephants were and fed them huge bunches of bananas and sugar cane. It was a little strange ‘cos some of the elephants would snatch the fruit out of your hands, or nudge you if you weren’t fast enough LOL! All in all, a great experience.
After all that excitement, it was time for our lunch, so we went back into the open dining room and had plates of Stir – Fried Noodle Thai Style or Pad Thai. The guides went around with bowls of Pad Thai until you were stuffed. “The Tall Young Gentleman” had three (3) plates!
After our delicious lunch, we each took an elephant and started our trek up the hills and the muddy forests, through the trees and branches and around the paddy fields. You could see all around and even some of the villages. The elephants were gentle and also quite cheeky as they kept wandering off to chew bamboo fresh from the trees and bushes! I had a few cuts and bruises from low-hanging branches that the elephants had pushed through and then had sprung back into my face, but I soon learnt to duck down before we got to them.
After about an hour of gentle trekking, we went to a small river and then the water fun began.
I don’t like cold water and I definitely don’t like dirty water so I abstained from getting into the river and just took personal photos. The Music Producer and “The Tall Young Gentleman” however, were in their element and had lots of fun, washing, stroking, brushing, scrubbing, standing, and generally falling all over the elephant, and each other. Our son had made a friend of another British boy of similar age, so they frolicked about with buckets of water and rapid screaming of delight!
Altogether the trek took about 1.5 hours and then we returned to base to shower as we were all enormously filthy and full of mud, dirt and elephant smells!
The showers were lovely and warm and the towels were clean. Most people had brought extra clothing and footwear with them and so went home quite clean and enormously happy. A really lovely day.
Here’s the info:
WHAT IS THE BAANCHANG ELEPHANT PARK?
The Baanchang Elephant Park is a conservation park dedicated to providing elephants with the highest quality-of-life possible.
WHAT IS A MAHOUT?
A Mahout is the caretaker of the elephant. Each elephant has two or three Mahouts and is extremely connected to that person. The Mahout is like a spiritual brother and lives in partnership with the elephant and taking care of the elephant’s welfare with a lot of love and care. The elephants do likewise and are connected to those who treat them with love and are kind. An elephant never forgets!
WHAT IS THE BAANCHANG ELEPHANT PARK ABOUT?
It is against the practice of separating baby elephants from their mother and accepts, and provides care, for orphaned baby elephants. They are located in Mae Taeng about an hour away from Chiang Mai and their goal is to teach visitors about the importance of elephant preservation. The Park also provides a home, and a purpose for domesticated elephants, with the generous support of visitors who take advantage of the once-in-a lifetime opportunity for an elephant training course.
There are no seats. No reins. No buckles. Just you and the natural rhythm of an elephant stride.
DO I NEED TO UNDERSTAND THAI?
These tour are in English. If English isn’t your native-language not to worry, as most of the Mahout training course is dedicated to enjoying your time and experience with the elephants.
WHAT DO I NEED?
A pair of good shoes and flip-flops, a pair of sunglasses, a hat, toiletries, a camera, mosquito spray, sun-cream, and a huge smile!
Yes. This one day elephant Mahout training course costs 4,200 Baht or $130 for an adult on a single elephant joining a group, and 2,400 Baht or $75 for two adults sharing a single elephant joining a group. Children under 10 cost 3,500 Baht or $109 on a single elephant and 1,500 or $47 for two children sharing a single elephant. It’s a little pricey but was well worth the price and goes to pay for the upkeep and protection of the elephants.
And yes, they’ll take photos, so don’t worry if you forget your camera or choose not to take it whilst riding, due to bumps, rain, and mud!
A wonderful day. We really learnt a lot about how to ride elephants in a natural way, how to look after them, and how to play and feed the elephants.
Everyone should volunteer or visit a conservation programme of sort every now and then, if only to make sure that your money goes to where you want it to.
WHAT IF AN ELEPHANT MAHOUT TRAINING COURSE ISN’T MY CUP OF TEA?
Keep reading my blog. There is more to come!
For more information about elephant Mahout training courses please contact: Baanchang Elephant Park.
This article is not sponsored and even though I received a discount, all opinions and the simple Pad Thai I gratefully ate, are my very own!
I have so much to share with you so for the month of September only, I will be writing about our adventures in Thailand, Indonesia, and Qatar and at the same time, keeping you posted as to the fantastic things going on in my wonderful city of Berlin.
In October I will be writing about the British National Theatre LIVE production. The next production coming up at Cinestar Berlin – Original is:
A Streetcar named Desire on: 02.10.14.
Skylight on: 30.10.14.
Frankenstein – Original Cast on: 13.11.14.
Frankenstein – Reversed Cast on: 27.11.14.
I’ll be participating in An Eat-the-world food Kreuzberg walking tour on 18.10.14.
DANIEL SLOSS – Live! with very special guest Jack Woodhead – is going to take place on 21.10.14 at the Quatsch Comedy Club in Berlin.
In November, Berlin will be celebrating and marking the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.
Following a smash-hit tour of the UK and Ireland, LET IT BE will descend on Berlin with a six (6) day exclusive showing of a celebration of The Beatles from 11.11.14 – 16.11.14 at the Admirals Palast.
October is going to be a marvellous month.
Have you been on an elephant training course? What do you think of riding elephants at a conservation park?
See you in Berlin.
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such great post – bravo
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Thanks very much Kmihran.
P.S. I “liked” your FB page last week!
Thank you so much, I appreciate it!!
You’re welcome. 🙂
Great post! I have been to a few elephant parks, and some have been excellent, others horrible.
I like that you pointed out that elephants here in Thailand are working animals. They are the horses, oxen, tractors that we use in the western world. When choosing an elephant experience you definitely want to choose a place that treats their elephants humanely, but it is important to remember that they are working animals not pets. Although I would love to have a pet elephant. 🙂 if only I could afford it. 🙂
Thank you so much @andthreetogo! It’s true. Elephant parks do tend to vary, just as zoos do. It is nevertheless important to realise that the Thai relationship to elephants is totally different to ours. We see cute baby elephants. They see a potential working partner.
I’m not quite sure I’d like a pet elephant, perhaps a pet giraffe, or a pet wolf that wouldn’t attempt to eat me in my sleep LOL!
Wonderful post! So glad to hear that you enjoyed your experience as much as we did. I look forward to reading more about your adventures in Chiang Mai.
And, thank you for the mention. 🙂
You’re very welcome. I should be thanking YOU! 🙂 I really enjoy reading your blogs and it was such a shame that we never got to meet each other. I’ve got one more post to write about Thailand then I’ll be shifting back to Berlin, as there’s loads going on. I hope to write the posts about Bali in November or December when things quieten down (do they ever?), and the thought of summer fun brings a smile to people’s faces LOL!
Reblogged this on Meandering Family and commented:
The British Berliner visited the Baan Chang Elephant Park, a place we very much enjoyed, and were kind enough to mentioned our experience in their post. Be sure to read about their adventures in Chiang Mai.
Thank you so much @meanderingfamily. That was awfully nice. 🙂 It really was a lovely, exciting day. I’ve just read your posts about Malaysia and I failed to mention that those artists are enormously talented. Whenever I get to Penang, we’ll be doing one of those urban water-colour painting courses. In fact, one of my blogger friends is in Georgetown right now with her husband and toddler. Perhaps you might have tips for each other! You can find her on http://andthreetogo.com/.
That last picture of the tall young gentleman is perfect! He looks quite at home on the elephant. Nice family photo, bunny ears and all, and you also looked like an orderly, just like the music producer..lol! Brave and adventurous , you lot! Glad you had fun, l couldn’t do it though. Too chicken, draw the line at horses 🙂
Thanks kemkem! “The Tall Young Gentleman” is a funny guy and it’s so him so of course, I included the photo. We’ve got many of the same….LOL! He had a great time and was very comfortable. I just know that he’ll be part of the generation that will do their best to protect and support vulnerable creatures. He once left a snail in his pocket (as a gift to me), and he forgot it, so it died a slimy death. He was awfully upset so we had a burial and “sent” the snail to it’s family in snail heaven!
Tell me about it kemkem. I looked awful. I also stank of elephant poo. Thank goodness, I was smiling! No interest in elephants? Shame. Maybe next time. When you finally get yourself and your Italian husband to the edge of the Asian continent. Turkey perhaps? No elephants though. 🙂 🙂
Ha! Horses. All I can say is: Raw bottoms!!
This is a great post.
As a vegan, I often get a lot of flack for visiting zoos and aquariums. I believe that visiting these sorts of institutes that are about animal conservation and research, and promote these ideals is actually beneficial to animals, rather than harmful. Monterey Aquarium and the California Academy of Sciences are perfect examples of marine conservationists and scientists working towards these goals.
But the vegan community is not one always known for it’s ability to look at the shades of grey in situtations!
So I did really appreciate the part where you quoted Turner Barr saying “make up your own mind”. Because it really does come down to doing your research, and deciding whether the animal enclosure etc is helping or harming the animals.And in this instance, I’m really glad you’ve been to a park that looks really devoted to animal protection and I can safely visit!
Thanks so much Jessica! I hoped that I could write a post noting and acknowledging different opinions, and then adding my own. That is how things are done in a democracy. Accept differences!
Yep, the vegan team. Oh my! I’m a great supporter of “the alternative” but again, just because a person visits zoos and aquariums, or doesn’t tally with a life-style as a vegan or a vegetarian, doesn’t make that person evil! I mean, they’re not going to eat the penguins, they’re going to visit them. And short of going to South Africa (they are beautiful there) or Antarctica, I can’t see how else they would do otherwise LOL! 😉
Doing research will hopefully, teach you of the problems out there and what you can do, or where you can go, to support the institutions that are trying their best to change. I personally believe Baanchang Elephant, along with a few other conservation projects that you can find in Northern Thailand, is one of them.
Get out there. Find it out. Then make YOUR mind up. I’m not here to tell YOU what to do. My blog is there to tell you what there IS to do. And quite frankly, what I did for myself and family. I can live with that. The question is: Can you?
Good luck my dear. 🙂
Elephants and Tigers and Dolphins! Oh my!!!
Weeeeeeee’re. Off to see the elephants. The wonderful elephants of Thaiiiiiiiii! 🙂 🙂
I’ll get you my pretty! And your little…erm….massive pet, too!
Ooooooooooooooh! Oh no, you don’t! Let’s all just follow the yellow brick lane to the elephants!!!!!!!!!
This looks like it was an amazing experience. Such great pictures too. Such beautiful animals.
Awwwwww. You’re making me blush Phil! It was awesome mate! I’ve been on elephants before, but I’m glad the family got to experience them the “right” way. 🙂
Riding an elephant is one of my dreams – and it looks just SO great! Are the elephants playful? Did they try any pranks on their human friends/passengers?
The music producer looks PAINFULLY white – is he allowed in the sun? Does he bathe in sunscreen before he goes outside?
Riding is a lovely experience. I hope you get to do the same one day. I rather think that the elephants were allowed to be cheeky but not in a circus-like way. Just in a “natural” way such as eating when they felt like it and nudging you if you didn’t do things their way. A little like horses I can imagine. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” type of thing!
Yeah, The Music Producer has green eyes. He probably, should have been a red-head! Is he allowed in the sun? Probably not. I think he’s trying to be all German and stoic ‘cos I bought him Factor 50 and he turned it down for Factor 30. And yes, he later got a little burnt on the arms, around the neck, behind his ears, …. you get the message. 🙂
Chiang Mai looks and sounds fun! I wouldn’t go into the dirty water to scrub the elephants, but maybe riding them is something I would do..encountered a group of elephants at Ayathuyya ruins close to Bangkok, but I was so amazed that I just touched them, and didn\t ride them, I missed out huh?
Oh, it so was @africanagirl! Elephant riding in a responsible way is such a thrill. Without the cold, dirty water of course! 🙂 🙂
I couldn’t ever ride an animal, it’s just not fair for them to carry my burden; but that’s how I’ve made my mind up, I guess we all have to do that once we’ve looked at all of the facts and made an educated decision.
It’s a shame that I can see some hooks/sticks in the hands of some of the mahouts which are weapons of torture for the elephants, also, in one picture there is an elephant wearing a cord around it’s next; this is covered in sharp edges and is pulled if the elephant is disobeying. Lastly, the ears of the elephant are actually one of the most sensitive parts of its body so any touching of them can lead to severe pain for them.
Did you consider Elephant Nature Park as an option before booking in here? Their hands off approach is the closest to real conservation is one I highly support, especially after spending a month there getting to know the realities that many other elephants are still going through.
Thanks so much Franca. It’s always nice to share different opinions as that is what the world is about. Of course, I am aware of the discussion on whether riding an elephant is right or wrong, and I made my informed decision, as you have made yours. 🙂
I admit that I wasn’t comfortable with some items that I saw, but neither am I happy to see a horse whip or a bit between a horses teeth, and let’s not go down the line of the animal whip at a circus, or the tightening of a dog leash, or even putting clothes on a dog! I don’t like that one bit, but neither would I want anyone to be injured by an animal that is not a pet. No “wild” animal is. And until the category of the elephant is categorised as “wild” rather than “domestic,” then we can talk again. The fact remains that in Thailand, an elephant is a working animal and must “work.”
I explored many an organisation with the information that I had and of course, I would like to choose this one or that one. If not all, but I can’t! I am nevertheless convinced that Baanchang Elephant Park is one of the better organisations doing what it can to educate, inform, and protect. We each must choose where to put our money, and where to support. And I did!
Elephants are my favourite animals on this planet. Now I feel really bad as I went for an elephant ride in Sri Lanka over 2 years ago. That was so irresponsible :(.
Don’t feel bad my dear. Be informed and support responsible tourism. 🙂 🙂
I think for the most part we’re on the same page and as I read from your article you were fully aware of the discussion around these activities that has been led by several key focal point bloggers before making your decision which I have full respect for.
Here’s hoping that more organisations continue to push better education both locally in Thailand to eventually return the status of these amazing animals back to ‘wild’ (though why shouldn’t animals have the freedom of choice that humans so desperately cling on to) and away from their ‘domestic’ tag and usage.
Maybe one day we’ll no longer be looking at these activities asking “should we be doing this?” but rather, “WHY did we ever do that?”.
Agreed! Thank you Franca. 🙂
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Enjoyed this post.
I don’t have issues with bareback elephant riding. Elephants as you say were always working animals – which is not right but at the same time lets deal with the realities of the present world. Are you going to evacuate a village of people to provide a forest for wild elephants? As much as we want you know that won’t happen in a 3rd world country.
And I love the way vegans always point at Elephant Nature Park. Yes, it’s ideal, but I wish the celebrities like Meg Ryan would endorse other places as well so THEY could provide what ENP has. They charge a ridiculous amount of money for a tour and as well as for “volunteering” (ie a chance for vegan bloggers to go and tell the world what wonderful things they’re doing). ENP is the exception, other places have shut down because of lack of funding. If a foundation helps elephants but requires financing from tourist activities then it’s for the greater good. The reality is that riding an elephant is appealing to many people (not me) and that it serves the greater good of providing land, medical care and safety for elephants. Might not be perfect but you don’t see the Thai govenment picking up the tab for these foundations. I think some people have to get off their high moral horse.
Thanks very much Frank! 😀
So true! It’s important to use common sense on how to look after these great beautiful beasts in as “ethical” a way as possible. And yeah, national governments won’t put in a penny, as they know perfectly well how international tourists think.
p.s. I didn’t know about the Meg Ryan thing but it’s a slippery slope when you endorse just one place and not the others. Isn’t it better to encourage all to have the same qualities via education and funding, rather than to finger-point those that don’t?
pps. I’m not easily swayed with my opinions. Here’s another one: https://thebritishberliner.wordpress.com/2018/05/05/i-went-to-romania-it-didnt-wow-me/