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.

Scuba Diving in Thailand: An Epic Solo Adventure

Up at sunrise and en route to the harbor, my stomach fluttered with both nerves and excitement.

I had booked an all-day boat dive through my hostel in Phuket, though I hadn’t been scuba diving in years.

Despite the quick refresher course I’d completed in preparation for the trip, I still felt unsure. I hoped I wouldn’t be a nuisance to my dive master or the other divers in my group.

You see, this was also my first solo trip and I was alone – no dive buddy to lean back on this time. Still, my worries weren’t enough to sway me. Nothing beats the feeling of breathing underwater… especially when the water happens to be crystal clear and a balmy 89° Fahrenheit. While the Thai island of Koh Tao is well known for its world class diving, I had no idea what to expect in Phuket. I simply wanted to revive my scuba skills and have a fun day out on the water, even if we didn’t see much sea life.

See also: Top Koh Tao Diving Sites

Arriving at the harbor, I was introduced to my dive master Praew (a local to the island), and another diver from Germany who would join us for the day. Praew briefed us on the dive sites we’d be visiting and patiently answered all of our questions. Approaching the first dive site and feeling just a tad queasy from the boat ride out, we slipped into our gear and (after a quick safety check), slid into the water.

Here goes nothing!

As we slowly and quietly descended, my pre-dive jitters melted away and my breathing relaxed. A whole world opened up before me. Schools of fish darted before my eyes, a turtle swam in the distance, a sea snake slithered above the sand and huge boulders formed mini underwater canyons to swim through. In the distance, my dive master pointed out a reef shark darting in and out of view. This dive was proving to be one of the best of my life. We caught up with a sea turtle and swam alongside it (at a respectful distance), and I soon lost track of time.

Before I knew it, our tanks were running low and we had to ascend. Back on the boat, we enjoyed fresh watermelon and fruit juice as we recounted all that we had seen while moving towards the next dive site.

Over the next two days, we encountered countless more turtles, reef sharks and fish, including my favorite – the batfish. I even swam through my first shipwreck and schools of sea life inched out of my way while I explored the various corridors.

It was, to put it lightly, the experience of a lifetime and one I’ll never forget.

After our final dive, Praew was kind enough to share his GoPro footage with us (free of charge!), and I now have hundreds of beautiful photos to remember the trip.

Back in my room that evening, I drifted to sleep exhausted, but ever so content and happy. I vowed to return to Thailand the following year for another solo dive adventure – and I did – this time in Koh Tao. I now plan to continue to return for years to come.

Scuba diving in Thailand offers everything one could hope for in terms of service, climate, sea life and diversity, and truly caters to all skill levels. In fact, there’s no better place to get certified if you’re interested in becoming an open water diver.

To book your own scuba diving adventure in Phuket, keep your eyes peeled for dive trips departing to Racha Noi and Racha Yai. Trips are typically all-day excursions and your chosen provider will pick you up directly from your hotel. In 2017, my trip cost $105 USD (3,700 Bhat) and included breakfast, lunch and gear.

Thailand girl massage a guest

Thai Massages in Thailand: Tips for First-Timers


When you travel in Thailand, the following scenes can be found everywhere:

small shops lined with comfortable chairs with footstools with visitors having foot massages, and inside, a line of comfortable chairs with footstool; many visitors, rolling up to their knees, are enjoying a special Service-Thai women are kneeling beside their feet and continuously kneading these overworked limbss.

A similar place, not too far away from that, many visitors are laying pleasantly on a comfortable mat and being pulled and stretched into pretzel shapes again and again by local women.

All visitors seem to be lost in such a state.

What is happening?

1. Thai Traditional Massage

The original Thai massage included the masseur massage subject’s back by feet as well as stretch the fingers and toes. But, it has been replaced nowadays. If you think the masseur’s intensity is too energetic for your taste, you can ask her to be more gentle. A superb Thai massage can relieve stress, relieve tension and stiffness in the muscles and joints, increase vitality and promote blood circulation. In short, it makes you feel great.

How to Do Traditional Thai Massage

You only need to wear a relatively loose casual clothes but without essential oil.If you are facing any health problem, such as back pain or knee pain, you need to tell masseur in time. Relieve yourself as undergoing massage and work with your masseur.

2. Massage on the Beach

You will find flock of masseuses, who usually appear on the beach in November and stay until the end of April. They looks like a cuddly auntie, waiting below the shade with pillows and mats and offering you traditional Thai massage service to help you relieve yourself. Besides, in Patong beach, you can experience foot pedicure services, including removal of dead skin and other items, but for girls, nail services will be provided. Specilists will help you remove white hair, making you feel young.

3. Spas

Phuket is one of the world’s top spa venues and masseurs are born with excellent massage techniques. Few people can withstand this temptation-enjoying a full suite of luxury treatments at one of Phuket’s top SPAs.

Either franchise SPA or hotel SPA, the service will amaze you, so many visitors try their best to get the most affordable spa in Phuket. Usually, when you stay at a resort with a high-end spa, you can take a multi-day course and turn the experience into a life-enhancing event. Many hotels in Phuket are as luxurious and elegant as the Roman palace, and its interior décor will leave visitor a deep impression.

4. Foot Massage in Phuket

Foot massage can be seen everywhere in Phuket-in the shop, in the hair salon, by the beach or even in the shopping mall ad much more. Foot Massage, renamed as reflexology, firstly originate from China. Many Chinese believe that each part of human body corresponds to a acupuncture point on foot. If we can message the spot precisely, it will bring a great of benefit to our body health. Anyway, there are many theoretical doctrines, such as it can stimulate the nervous system to get through the veins, which can release endorphins and promote lymphatic reflux. But who cares? In fact, nothing is more than to do a comfortable foot massage to restore strength after shopping all day long.

How to Do Foot Massage

Firs, soak feet with warm water. The masseur smudges body lotion or essential oil on your feet, one foot wrapped with a towel and the then the next one. If you fell part of pain in any spot, it is said there must be a problem with the organ connected to related part of the feet. It helps relieve yourself though you don’t face any health problem.

5. Naughty Massage in Phuket

Many visitors never try therapeutic massage as they worry about some traditional masseurs offering massage on untouchable body parts. You should not come inside if masseurs are massaging for others.

-It is dark inside with curtains blocked the light.

-Young and beautiful masseurs dress sexily, but a professional masseur will always dress properly or formally.

-there is a young girl yielding in front to attract you to come in. Most will ask you: would you like a “special” message?

6. Fish Spa or Dr Fish

As a newcomer, you may feel surprised and stop to see such a scene-people put their feet in the fish tank, but what are they doing? Dr Fish, also named fish spa, or other nicknames, such as nibble fish, kangal fish, physio fish, and doctorfishen. The Garra rufa love to sip dead skin. When people put their feet into warm water, Dr fish will flock to eat the dead skin softened by warm water. This little fish can survive at a water temperature of 43 degrees Celsius.

7. Massage for Pregnant Women

For most pregnant women, a nice back massage is a great experience. Many pregnant women find that they sleep better and have less paining both neck and back and less stress and discomfort. Of course, you need a choose a masseur from some perspectives-her knowledge, care and gentleness. In fact, massage should not be provided during the first three months of pregnancy. If you need a skilled physiotherapist, please consult the island’s well-known spa. Most of them have a lot of experience in pregnant women massage.

Some tips:

If your masseur does a good job, the may hope that you can give them some tips. In fact, masseurs who works in some big SPA or five-star hotels, they will get no salary. Instead, they share massage fee with their bosses. For beach masseuses, they need to pay for the place they rent, so if they can earn 300 baht at once, they can get 150 baht so tips therefore makes a difference. It is reasonable to pay about 50 to 100 baht for a comfortable massage.

Where Should You Go? And How Much It will cost?

Most traditional Thailand massage are simple without too much decoration or promtion. An ordinary massage lasts about 2 hours and consumes 300-500 baht, but a foot massage is about 40-50 minutes and costs 300-400 baht. Of course, it is more expensive if you massage at any five-star hotel – the price can be triple, or more. If you massage on the beach, it will cost you 300 baht per hour.