This was a question I took a lot of thought over. I am a huge animal lover and I wasn’t sure if I felt comfortable with the idea of 'petting' these beautiful animals, as they are not on this earth to please humans. On the other hand, the money raised from tourists allows domestic elephants to have a greater quality of life and I frickin' love elephants, so I was torn.
There are tonnes of options in Chang Mai, so it can be daunting knowing which place to pick! I looked at about 20 different leaflets from the hotel and got recommendations from friends, but I made my final decision based on a local’s recommendation about this particular sanctuary, and boy am I glad I went!
The place I visited was the Chang Mai Elephant Home, nestled in the mountains an hour north of Chang Mai, the location is beautiful. They only allow two tours per day and the maximum is 15 people per group - there was only 8 on mine. I was advised to visit the North because this is where the elephants live in their natural habitat. Six elephants live here (soon to be 7 in a few months as the oldest female is pregnant) and they are completly and utterly pampered.
With access to a mud bath, lake, tall grass lands and shelter, they live my dream life of being a lady of leisure and living in a spa. A bit like Bubbles DaVere from Little Britain. If you haven’t seen it, google her (hopefully I won't end up looking like her). Anyway, I digress, back to the ellies! The experience completely surpassed my expectations, they seemed really happy and were all good with being feed, bathed and scrubbed!
I did the half day option which cost 1,500 baht; make sure you book directly in the office not through your hotel as you get a 10% discount.
The afternoon started with a buffet lunch, then we changed into traditional clothes and made nutritious snacks for the elephants which consisted of banana, turmeric, brown sugar and rice. Next, feeding time! Elephants eat A LOT and they each guzzled a bucket of sugar cane and lots of grass. Then onto a scrub in the mud and a bath in the river. Basically we were the elephants' slaves for the afternoon, and I am so down with that. I amend my previous statement, I will be a part time lady of leisure and a part time elephant slave.
So, my answer to this question is yes visit the elephants it's an amazing experience and one I will never forget. Just make sure you do your research, pick a small tour in the north where the money goes to the elephants welfare and make sure riding and chains are not tolerated under any circumstances. Otherwise, you will have the best time! My heart was so happy afterwards.
Oh and one more tip, don’t get drunk the night before like I did as it’s an hour on the back of a truck to the location and the roads are very bumpy so I was as sick as a dog when I arrived.
Will I ever learn!?