Elephant Nature Park: An Ethical Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand

The Elephant Nature Park, located in the Mae Taeng Valley 60kms north of Chiang Mai, is an outstanding place to visit.

The Park operates as both a sanctuary & a rescue centre for distressed & sick Asian Elephants from all over Thailand. If you are interested in working with elephants, in a very relaxed, natural & ethical environment this is a great excursion for you.

Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Elephant Nature Park – photo from elephantnaturepark.org

A guide to visiting Elephant Nature Park

The Elephant Nature Park is just one hour’s drive north of the Thai city of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, and is located in the beautiful natural settings of the Mae Taeng Valley, which enjoys a scenic river running through it and is surrounded by the densely forested mountains of the area. The park operates as both a sanctuary & a rescue centre for distressed & sick Asian Elephants from all over Thailand.

The park, which covers a total land area of 800 hectares (2,000 acres), was founded in 1996 and was the brainchild of Sangduen “Lek” Chailert & her husband Adam. Lek (meaning “small” in Thai) grew up in a local village not too far away from the park, and it has been through the endless hard work of Adam & Lek plus the continued support of her family that the park has been able to continue to expand and become successful.

An ethical elephant sanctuary in Thailand

The “goals” of the Elephant Nature Park are very simple yet thought provoking: 

  • To offer a sanctuary to an endangered species – Asian Elephant numbers in Thailand have decreased dramatically over the last century from over 100,000 down to less than 2,000 animals left today. 
  • To help restore the ecological balance by rain forest restoration – the park is carrying out an aggressive programme of tree planting, with the aim to replant 25 acres of trees a year for 5 years to help re-introduce the rain forest & with it promote the plants & animals that rely upon it. 
  • To preserve the cultural integrity of the local community – by creating employment and purchasing agricultural products locally the park is helping the villagers to sustain their distinct culture. 
  • To promote the park as a means of education – for visitors, individuals, study groups, schools and interested parties, with the key focus being on the plight of the endangered local species presented in an entertaining yet meaningful way.
Ethical elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Family elephants in the forest – depositphotos.com

The elephants at The Elephant Nature Park

The elephants that live in the sanctuary of the Elephant Nature Park are mainly from private owners having been acquired by negotiated fees. Some of the majestic beasts merely “outlived” their usefulness to the Hill Tribe People who used them for logging purposes, as the use of the animals has diminished due to both mechanisation & much stricter controls on the management of Thailand’s forests, others were so badly treated that they became weak & sick, therefore useless to their trekking camp owners.

The park is now home to over 30 elephants of all ages from just one year old right up to “grand-daddy” at over 70 years old! The Elephant has a similar lifespan to humans, and form families of similar composition and duration. Some of the “youngsters” have mothers but all have “aunties”. There are elephants that help out, or have adopted them, even if not genetically related. There are a couple of older male elephants including the king of the clan.

There’s NO elephant riding here

Thailand as a country is FULL of elephant “experiences” available to tourists, you can ride them, watch them paint pictures, play drums, play football, do a trick or two for food, or lug supplies on trekking adventures, but this park is different because it does not allow ANY of these cruel exploitations.

It is home to elephants that have been abused in this manner or orphaned or rescued over the past ten years.

Activities at Elephant Nature Park

Most tourists visit the Elephant Nature Park as “day-trippers’, the park does also offer 2-7 day stays, & even “volunteer” stays of 14-30 days, there is something suitable for everyone.

After being collected from their Hotels or Lodgings in Chiang Mai, the first port of call for the visitors is to buy fruit at the Local Daily Market, an elephant can eat up to 200kg of food a day, so “wholesale buying” is the order of the day.

Arriving at the Elephant Nature Park you meet the other tourists, numbering on average between twenty & forty per day, dependent on the Time of the Year of your visit. Your guide for the day begins by introducing you to the various elephants and their relationships with each other and before long a dozen or so of them are sniffing around the visitors with their trunks, expecting lunch shortly.

Each elephant has its own laundry basket full of fruit made to order. One wants its watermelons peeled, another won’t eat bananas, and another won’t touch the cucumbers until the rest has all gone. Feeding doesn’t take long & there are enough elephants for every tourist to have their own to feed and you soon discover their individual personalities. There are cheeky elephants, nosy elephants, lonely elephants, greedy elephants, fast eaters and slow eaters.

But be warned – you won’t get out of this exercise without a lot of elephant drool and “snot” on your hands!

After the elephants have had their lunch the tour groups will have theirs, the food is actually very good, it’s a buffet so there is something for everyone, even including vegetarians which for Thailand is quite unusual. Once lunch is over it is time for the next highlight of the day.

The elephants are bathed twice a day at around 1pm and 4pm, and it is without doubt their favourite times of day, and certainly by the time its bath time they are usually completely covered in a mixture of mud, dirt and flies. Everyone heads down to the river for the washing ritual and it is one of the funniest things you could ever see. These giants of the jungle like nothing better than splashing around & playing in the water, rolling over and over. At times they totally disappear under the water only to re-appear and trumpet water over anyone & everyone within range.

With buckets and scrubbing brushes the visiting group sets to work cleaning, much to the appreciation of the elephants. After the elephants have been bathed, if Lek (the founder) is available, she always appears to greet both the tourists & to say hello to “her family”, as she approaches, all of the elephants come over to greet her and it is very clear she has a special affinity with them.

Bathing elephants in Thailand
Bathing elephants in Thailand – depositphotos.com

Learn about where the elephants came from

The groups are also informed about the individual elephants & the sorry tales behind each of them, one of them walks like an invalid this is because her legs got broken in various logging accidents. Another one is totally blind because the mahout (handler) stabbed her eyes out with arrows in order to get “obedience” from her.

Yet another was shot because he threw some tourists off his back whilst undertaking a dangerous ascent up a narrow jungle path, even “The King” of the elephants had been a victim of ivory poachers. Every elephant has a different story, but the common bond shared between them all is that they have suffered abuse at the hands of us humans! As the sun starts to set, the day trippers leave & the “boarders” watch some of the very gentle training that is used to keep the elephants happy & contented.

Dinner is equally as delicious as lunch, and we have chance to meet & chat with the volunteers, some of whom have been at the Elephant Nature Park for weeks some even months!

The accommodation is somewhat on the “basic” side, but the beds are comfortable, and it’s surprising just how tired you get during your day with the elephants. The nights though are far from silent, as apart from the 31 elephants there are well over 50 other “pets” ranging from dogs, cats, water buffalo & cows, not to mention the frogs, and millions of insects throughout the park.

All round it’s great fun & the experience of living & working with the elephants is something that provides fabulous living memories for many years to come! For more information please visit the Elephant Nature Park Website.


Dresden mit Blick in Richtung Sachsische Schweiz

Dresden Elbland: Where Baroque Meets Urbanity and Nature Abounds

 

After something new? A city hard to resist? And nature not to be missed?

Look no further than Dresden Elbland: the embodiment of culture, relaxation and active holidaying in one.

With world-class architecture and art wherever you look, the superlative culture on show in Dresden has few peers. And while the list of must-visits in the Elbe metropolis is long, pride of place goes to classics such as the Frauenkirche cathedral, the Semper Opera, the Zwinger and the Royal Palace.

Amid innumerable architectural highlights, the Frauenkirche is among the very finest protestant church buildings of the Baroque era, while the Semper Opera is one of the most beautiful opera houses anywhere worldwide.

Meanwhile, the Fürstenzug (Procession of Princes), Stallhof and Brühl’s Terrace are no less worthy of your time and attention. The Procession of Princes, for example, is the world’s largest porcelain painting, with 23,000 Meissen porcelain tiles and 102 metres long. The epic-scale cavalcade depicted showcases the 34 Wettin dynasty margraves, dukes, electors and kings who ruled Saxony between 1127 and 1873. An absolute must-see!

Few pleasures in life could beat a leisurely stroll around the old town area and its visual feasts.

And speaking of feasts – why not recharge your batteries en route with some fresh regional delicacies and specialities at one of the many cafés and restaurants? Then continue your enlightening tour past the Catholic Court Church and a stair climb up to Brühl’s Terrace, nicknamed the “Balcony of Europe”. Completed by 1551 and before a key component of the city’s former ramparts, its military importance gradually declined. It has since regained a new lease of life alongside the Academy of Arts and the Albertinum as one of the tourist and architectural highlights. In its shadow, remnants of the former Dresden Fortress, the oldest building in the Elbe city, remain to this day.

The Museum Festung Dresden (Fortress Museum) reopened its doors with an exhibition entitled “Celebrations, Dramas and Disasters – the Like of Which you’ve never Seen”. Stunning 360-degree projections combine with the latest audiovisual technology to give visitors unforgettable hops back in time. And its setting – apparently subterranean – will entice all those keen to explore Dresden from a new perspective.

In fact, Dresden is heaven for museum-lovers and stands on a par with London, with more than 50 venues to enjoy. The Old Masters Picture Gallery, for example, home to countless masterpieces by Rubens, Rembrandt and Canaletto, not forgetting the famous Sistine Madonna by Raphael. And treasure troves come no richer than the world-famous Green Vault, which is also one of the oldest museums in Europe.

If whiling away time more actively on the water ticks your box, why not enjoy relaxing on a rubber dinghy or canoe tour on the River Elbe, as the beautiful old town scenery unfolds before your eyes.

Or perhaps on a paddle steamer of one of the oldest and largest steamship fleets anywhere in the world, en route to Loschwitz, where the beauty of Dresden’s most famous bridge, the Blaues Wunder (Blue Wonder), awaits.

Yet more reasons to visit this part of town – as if you needed them – are the lazy alleys and colourful boutiques, magnificent villas and their sumptuous entrances and decorative half-timbered homes.

This is also the point where the funicular railway bound for the Weißer Hirsch district and the suspension railway to Oberloschwitz came into service over a century ago, offering an Elbe valley view that will take your breath away.

Another must-stop for Elbland holidaymakers is Pillnitz Park and Castle further east – nowhere else in Europe will you find a finer example of a Chinoise palace complex.

In every sense, Dresden and all its myriad facets constitute a collective work of art bursting with life, colours and exuberance right to the core.

Casual lifestylers, meanwhile, should look no further than the city’s alternative scene, most of which unfolds in over 150 Neustadt bars, clubs and studios. Street and experimental art abound and pride of place goes to the Kunsthofpassage, an ensemble of connected backyards, with the individual courtyard facades each embracing their own design theme.

But dreamlike Dresden, beautiful enough to earn the nickname “Florence on the Elbe”, is not the only jewel this region boasts.

Equally visitworthy is the “Saxon Switzerland” mountain range with its epic rock formations, while wins for wine-lovers are the castles, palaces and magnificent landscapes of the Dresden Elbland region, the epic greenery of which deserves a special mention. You will find no better place in which to enjoy healing alone time amid beautiful nature, whether walking or pedalling along.

The hikers among you will be equally happy with the extensive range of tours and unforgettable views they include, in the cleanest of air and far from the normal stresses and strains. Days filled with nature and encounters beckon. We recommend working up an appetite exploring the castles, parks and gardens of the area, strolling romantically along to your gourmet venue of choice and enjoying the finest regional dishes and specialities.

In Dresden Elbland, you are never too far from a welcoming vineyard, and the numerous rustic wine taverns at the heart of the Saxon Wine Route are likely just minutes away. This may be one of Germany’s smallest wine-growing areas, but the exclusive tastings and vineyard tours it houses will create a lasting memory.

Visitors to Wackerbarth Castle can enjoy the first wine-themed adventure estate anywhere in Europe, which promises to be just as unmissable as nearby magnificent Meissen. Dating back more than 1,000 years, this city rose to global fame when production of Meissen porcelain – the first anywhere in Europe – got underway in 1708.

Top of the list for visitors should be a stop at the Porcelain Manufactory Meissen. Live workshops on show here give visitors an inside look at how Meissen porcelain is hand-crafted using the finest in traditional techniques. Right to this day, the intertwined Saxon swords are synonymous with porcelain of unrivalled quality and exceptional craftsmanship.

Another attraction you shouldn’t miss before heading home is the late gothic Albrechtsburg Castle, perched high above the Elbe. It is considered to be the first castle of its kind throughout the German-speaking world and the cradle of Saxony.

Take it from us – the narrow-gauge railway from Radebeul, the heart of the Saxon Wine Route and the home of Karl May, wending its way along the beautiful Lößnitzgrund valley to Moritzburg is more than worth your while.

Visit the former hunting lodge and summer residence of Augustus the Strong, one of Europe’s most picturesque moated castles and having now earned cult venue status thanks to the German-Czech film adaptation of “Three Hazelnuts for Cinderella”. And if you need more Moritzburg motivation, look no further than its dense forests, pond landscapes of loveliness and Saxony’s smallest castle, the Fasanenschlösschen.

World-class art & culture, beautiful landscapes and pristine nature reserves, picturesque vineyards producing excellent wines, great hiking trails and gourmet treats galore!

Whatever facet you unveil at whatever time of year, Dresden Elbland remains an irresistible draw.

 

Malmö West Sweden from the top

Nature Experiences in West Sweden

 

Just a short journey outside the city of Gothenburg is the wildnerss of Dalsland,  the unique Bohuslän archipelago with its beautiful smooth granite shoreline against the open horizon, and the scenic plains, hills and forests of Västergötland.

Here’s our roundup of how to discover West Sweden’s nature at its best:

Canoeing in Dalsland

Experience nature close-up, wild and genuine with a Dalsland canoeing trip. Feel like an adventurer, find serenity and experience privacy even though you are only 180 kilometers from Gothenburg. This is by far one of Europe’s finest lake systems, rich in nature with clean air and fresh water. More than 1000 lakes, Dalsland Canal and water is so clean and clear that you can drink it!

Kayaking in Bohuslän

All the way from the Gothenburg archipelago in the south to the Koster islands in the north, is a paddler’s paradise of marine national park, nature reserves, deserted isles, fishermen’s huts and clear blue waters. This is Sweden’s first marine national park and takes in the Koster Sea and the Koster Islands; above and below the water line some 12,000 species live here. The Bohuslän coast and its islands is one of the top 10 last great wilderness areas in the world, according to CNN. You find more than 8 000 island, no tide water and kayaking rentals or guided tours along the coast.

Hiking

Hiking in Sweden’s western regions is a nature experience like no other. You get the best of the wonderful coastal scenery, magical forests, endless lakes and historic landscapes rich in culture. Combine your walk with charming accommodation and food from the area.

The Gotaleden is a walking trail close to the city of Gothenburg, which has been divided into nine stages covering a total of 71 kilometres. Proximity to train stations on the different stages makes it easy to adapt the walk as you want. Natural landscapes along the trail are varied and beautiful, with lakes you can swim in, fantastic viewpoints and undulating countryside.

Making a pilgrimage is an ancient tradition that occurs throughout the world. Two of Sweden’s most beautiful pilgrim paths run through West Sweden’s primeval forests and historic cultural land. Adventurous walkers sought the peace and tranquillity of the countryside as early as the Middle Ages, until Gustav Vasa banned pilgrimages in the mid-16th century.

The Kuststigen is one of the most scenic hiking trails in West Sweden. It stretches from the island of Tjörn in the south, all the way up the west coast to Oslo. Some of the stages are on islands in the Bohuslän archipelago.

Bohus Path in West Sweden is a classic long-distance footpath that stretches from Strömstadin the north to Lindome in the south.

Seafood safaris and experiences

Fish and shellfish from West Sweden are as good as any in the world. In the cold, fresh, salty waters off the west coast there are prawns, langoustine, lobster, mussels, oysters – and fantastic fish, of course. So if you love seafood, the west coast offers the finest available, as well as a wide range of wild experiences.

72h cabin in Dalsland

Swedish nature helps you become less stressed, according to a new case study from Sweden. By spending 72 hours in glass cabins on an island of their own, five people with stressful jobs got to experience the Swedish ‘close to nature’ lifestyle. “The participants decreased their stress levels with almost 70 percent”, says Walter Osika, Researcher in Stress and also Associate Professor at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. Now, Sweden invites the rest of the world to wind down in nature like a Swede, making the glass cabins available for everyone to book for a 72 hour stay.

In Dalsland you find 3 locations for the glass cabins: Dalslands Aktiviteter, Happy Celery Glasscabins and Henriksholm. Each of them is a unique experience.  Dalslands Aktiviteter is great for those who love outdoor activities and adventures.Happy Celery Glass cabins offers vegan food, meditation, yoga and life coaching (NEW for May 2020). Henriksholm is the island where you can find the 5 original glass cabins.

 

Gothenburg

Nature Break Spots Close Gothenburg, Sweden

 

Gothenburg (Göteborg), is Sweden’s second biggest city. Visitors can explore the beautiful coastal city, magical islands and some of the best seafood in the world.

Located on the west coast of Sweden, Gothenburg has a city pulse with nature on its doorstep.

Go cycling

Rent a bike and explore the city with brand new rental bikes from Styr & Ställ. Styr & Ställ has launched more than 130 stations and 1,750 bicycles around town during summer 2020, which can be rented via a new app-based booking system. Single-ride passes start from 20 SEK / 1.70 GBP.

For those who want to head out of town, the säröbanan route awaits. Ride from Gothenburg down the old railway line to Särö and experience spectacular views of the sea and beautiful nature along the way. The last train to Särö departed in 1965. But that doesn’t mean that the old railway line no longer attracts visitors, in fact it’s quite the contrary. Today, Säröbanan is a highly popular bicycle route, taking you from Linnéplatsen in central Gothenburg to Särö, passing the cliffs, beaches and natural areas along the coast.

Swimming

Delsjön is one of Gothenburg´s most central swimming and nature areas. Here you can take a relaxing walk in the nature reserve, go on a canoe trip, take a delightful swim at the beach Delsjöbadet or from the surrounding cliffs. At the beach you find jetties, playgrounds, a barbecue area and a beach volleyball court. In addition, Skatåts fitness centre offers a number of running tracks.

Alternatively, head to The Sauna Frihamnen. The sauna is situated in the park Jubileumsparken which is part of the city’s quatercentenary. It was created by German architect collective Raumblabor Berlin and in large parts it’s constructed from recycled material.

Climbing

The rock climbing in and around Gothenburg is considered some of the best in Sweden. Visit the crags of Utby and you’ll soon realise why. Or get a boat to the island of Hönö and go bouldering in a unique environment. If you’d rather stay indoors, there are several challenging indoor climbing walls to try.

Discover parks and gardens

At Gothenburg botanical garden you’ll find around 16,000 species of plants in the different greenhouses and the rock and herb garden. The Botanical Garden offers a vast and impressive collection of plants and flowers and is a great place to visit all year round. With over half a million visitors a year it’s one of the most popular attractions in the region. Although you can still find your own spot or path.

Änggårdsbergen Nature reserve, within walking distance of the city centre, is a popular spot for outdoor activities ranging from strolling through the woods to downhill mountain biking. The varied ecological environment and fauna contains several examples of nature typical of Western Sweden, such as heathland and moorland. Änggårdsbergen lies next to the Botanical Gardens and stretches from the green parks of western Gothenburg towards the nature area Sisjön, south of the city of Mölndal. Forest bathing is a must for those who really want to get back to nature.

Slottskogen is Gothenburg’s main park. Take a stroll along the winding paths lined with leafy greenery and you’ll see why Slottsskogen is the locals’ favourite place to unwind. You’ll also be able to see elks, Gotland ponies, Gute sheep and other Nordic animals in the park zoo. In Slottsskogen you’ll find large, open spaces, perfect for children to play in or for outdoor activities. There are also volleyball courts, miniature golf, outdoor gyms and playgrounds. One of the popular playgrounds is adventure playground Plikta. On the other side of the park is the exciting playground Naturleken that uses nature to create a fun environment for children. The observatory Slottsskogsobservatoriet is located in the northern part of the park, on the top of the hill, and it’s a great spot to visit if you want to learn more about stars and planets.

Vättlefjäll nature reserve is one of the larger open-air recreation areas in the region. Here you can go canoeing or fishing in the many lakes, hike along the trails Bohusleden, Vättlefjällsleden and Pilgrimsleden and enjoy the moorlands, forests and hills.

Explore the northern archipelago

The Gothenburg archipelago – with several islands within short distance of each other – is perfect for a weekend trip.