Our Unforgettable Experience with Chiang Mai Elephant Legend

Note from Editors: In view of the current situation, please avoid all unnecessary travel and try to stay home. Don’t worry, like all things, it will end at some point and you’ll be able to travel again. In the meantime, check out what you can do while staying at home.

The Indochinese Peninsula of Southeast Asia conjures up a lot of images when you think of it, from the rain-soaked jungles of Cambodia to the delicious street food of Thailand. The mystical pagodas of Myanmar and the intricate waterways of Vietnam. Multicultural Malaysia and the forgotten charm of Laos. But if there’s one HUGE thing they all share in common (apart from arguably the finest cuisine in the world) is that they’re home to those gentlest of giants – elephants.

Agness and an elephant
Agness making her elephant happy.

Many visitors to the region come from countries where the only way to see one of these majestic beasts is in a zoo, and that makes elephant sanctuaries a big tourist pull in these parts. We’d even go so far as to say a visit to these shores is simply not complete without hugging a Heffalump, and that is exactly what we were lucky enough to do upon our visit to Chiang Mai Elephant Legend in Thailand. However, before we regale you with our exciting experience, we must exercise a word of caution.

Choosing a Sanctuary

For many years, animal “sanctuaries” have been all the rage on the continent, attracting millions of visitors each year. Now, this is all very well and good, providing you enjoy the day out at a legitimate centre. Riding elephants is extremely frowned upon, as is taking photographs with drugged up tigers just to see how many Instagram likes you can get. And whatever you do, if you’re attending some animal performance routine – you’re doing it wrong!

Cez saying hi to an elephant
Cez greeting an elephant.

Take some time to dig up solid information on the sanctuary you want to visit. They should be all about love, care and respect for these animals, in a safe and comfortable environment. Food, shelter and support are paramount, and you should use your common sense in choosing an ethical sanctuary. If in doubt, ask at your hostel or hotel, or read more articles like this one! Word-of-mouth reviews are great for sorting the nice from the nasty!

Early to Rise

Our day began on the early side, with our host Pamela arriving at our apartment to pick us up at 8:00 – 8:30 am. As the experience lasts a money-worthy 7 hours, go easy on the partying the night before! We were joined on this adventure by regular travel companion Lydia and Agness’s colleague Remco, who had given up the day-job for four months to bounce around this amazing corner of the world. That’s what we like to hear!

Happy people during the elephant tour
Our epic crew: Pamela (on the left), a couple we met during the tour behind, Agness, Lydia, Remco and Cez!

We’d opted for Chiang Mai Elephant Legend as our animal sanctuary of choice, a relative newcomer on the scene having only been open around four months. For 1,900 Thai Baht (just under $60) you’ll have a day you will never forget with the beautiful Elephas maximus – the Asian species of elephant. And with the sanctuary being family owned and run, you’ll have a personal, attentive experience you might not find in the larger shelters.

Trunks! Trunks Everywhere!

There’s a moment of pure joy that happens to most travelers sardined into the back of a minivan when they first catch sight of a trunk. That’s the elephant appendage and not the back of an American car. Craning necks to have the first glimpse of our pachyderm companions for the day, there’s an audible squeal of excitement when we spot them – and that was just from Lydia!

Cez petting an elephant
Cez petting the baby elephant.

Arriving at the centre, we were met by a mother and her baby elephant – who were both extremely happy to greet us. That might have had something to do with the fact that they knew feeding time was near! An adult elephant can eat an astonishing 300 kgs of food a day and spend up to 18 hours doing so. Cez had finally met his match!

Hand Feeding an Elephant

As part of the tour, guests learn how to make a vitamin ball for the mama elephant. The vitamin ball is usually used for detoxifying old elephants’ stomach, especially when they have some issues with it. So we messily mash the banana-based concoction together and then hand-fed their greedy mouths while grinning from ear to ear.

Food for elephants
Serving food for elephants.

And it seems no matter how much vitamin ball you give to the mama elephant, it keeps on coming back for more and although the baby elephant shouldn’t be eating this food, it still craves the same food her mama enjoys.

You really haven’t lived until you’ve hand-fed an elephant though, as there is something insanely giddying about it and you won’t stop laughing. There’s this look of delight in their eyes too while you’re loading them up with tasty grub, and you cannot help but burst with love for them. Why would anyone want to harm such an extraordinary creature?!

Bath Time!

As if feeding wasn’t enough of a highlight, you’ll then escort the elephants to their favourite mud-bath and get as mucky as you like before helping to wash them off in the river. It’s arguably one of the most fun and unique spa experiences you’ll ever have in your life! How many people can say they’ve helped exfoliate an elephant?!

Bath with elephants in Chiang Mai
Time for a bath!

You’re going to get soaked through, so be warned – these guys take no prisoners! You can tell they’re in their element here instead of lumbering heavy tourists around in scorching conditions. You’d certainly never get this opportunity in a zoo!

The Mae Wang Waterfall

In the afternoon the tour takes you to the Mae Wang waterfall to spend some time enjoying the beautiful Thai countryside. It’s possible to swim there as well, but after all that elephant feeding and swimming action our own hunger kicked in.

Mae Wang waterfall
A beautiful view of Mae Wang Waterfall.

Pamela and her team laid on a delicious lunch of beef pad Thai, dried bananas and watermelon. They even catered for Angess’ no-rice diet and made her a veggie omelette. They’re lucky that elephants are not as fussy!

Totally Shattered

By the time the day drew to a close we were exhausted, but it was easily one of the most memorable experiences we’ve ever had in this country – or anywhere for that matter. Our whole crew thoroughly enjoyed themselves (read Lydia’s review here) and will forever look back on this day and smile. Trust us – it is well worth it!

And to cap it all – is just how much love Pamela and family have for these animals. It’ll bring a tear to your eye and melt even the hardest heart. Most importantly, it is their welfare that is the priority, and it’s an incredible feeling having a day such as this while supporting a wonderful cause.

Group picture at the river with elephants in Chiang Mai
This picture summarizes our experience!

So, don’t delay – hug an elephant today!

Your mission is to help raise awareness for legitimate animal sanctuaries around the world – and tell us your experiences!

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Agness Walewinder
Agness Walewinder
Travel freak, vagabond, photography passionate, blogger, life enthusiast, backpacker, adventure hunter and endless energy couchsurfer living by the rule "Pack lite, travel far and live long!"
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9 thoughts on “Our Unforgettable Experience with Chiang Mai Elephant Legend”

  1. These elephants are really cute! You guys are fortunate to have met them. I’d love to experience something like this for sure. I’m glad that these cute animals are being well taken care of.

    1. Agness Walewinder

      Hey, Renuka! This was an ultimate and truly astonishing experience. We are also glad that they take a good care of the elephants. ;)

  2. I heard feeding and cleaning elephants is way better for them than riding them. I think that’s right! It’s awesome you got to experience this. Nice matching shirts by the way. Love it.

  3. Doing accurate research is definitely key Agness. I recall visiting Tiger Kingdom after an expat who worked there around the clock said she never saw drugging. That was enough for me because I never saw the person who drugged the tigers admit it LOL. But I definitely get doing what vibes with you is the best way to do animal travel.

  4. Rolands Ratfelders

    Hi there,

    Thanks for a great article. It was very interesting to read it as we had a very similar experience recently. Chiang Mai is an outstanding place in Thailand and it has the finest cuisine in the world indeed. As for the elephant tours, being a conservationist with 20 years of experience, I still have a kind of dual feeling about these experiences. First, they are definitely a much better choice than riding elephants. Yet as of my experience, it is not only how etic the elephant sanctuary is but also how responsible their visitors and guides are. Your group looks really awesome. We were unlucky to get on a (well rated) tour with a large group of super loud Spanish tourists. While the sanctuary itself was nice and elephants looked treated well the loud bunch of visitors definitely leave a negative impact on the animals. Some were smoking all the time and were not ashamed to smoke very close not only to us but also to the elephants (with some stupid jokes pretending to give a cigarette to the elephant). To be considered really sustainable such tours must: 1) be limit the number of visitors per day, 2) have very strict behavior rules and 3) be more educational in terms of conservation issues.
    Thank you for your great article again. I just wanted to point out the importance of sustainable travel to all the readers.
    Warm regards,

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