The Best Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary Information
Asian elephants are on the rise to becoming endangered, due to habitat loss, poaching and increased tourism. And while awareness about elephant riding camps has spread over the years, some tourists simply have no idea that it’s harmful or that there’s a better alternative.
Most of the elephants getting rides from tourists all day in nature parks are actually separated from their mother at a very young age. They are then put through a process describes as “crushing” where they are abused into submission using inhumane training methods and painful bullhooks. This torturous method ensures that the elephants will be able to carry humans on their backs at riding camps. Growing up and working at riding camps, logging companies, and even circuses, these gentle creatures are continuously abused and overworked.
This is why my friend and I did our research on ethical elephant sanctuaries in Thailand prior to choosing Maerim Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai. While there are a number of ethical sanctuaries you can visit in Chiang Mai, we learned that the main goal of Maerim revolves around elephant welfare. Their hope is that travelers can learn as much as possible about Asian elephants, and why it is so important to protect them.
My hope for this article is to educate travelers on a more positive, ethical and FUN way to meet the Asian elephants in Thailand. So let’s get elephant ecotourism out there in this world and become better travelers together!
MaeRim Elephant Sanctuary Information
Mae Rim Elephant Sanctuary (not to be confused with the Mae Rim Elephant Home) is located roughly 30 km from the Chiang Mai Old City (which is about a 45 minute journey by car). We chose the half-day morning visit for 1600 Thai baht. There are two half-day options: Half-day morning with pick up at 7:30 A.M. and drop off at 1:30 P.M., or half-day evening with pick up at 2:30 P.M. and drop off at 7:30 P.M. You can also opt for a full-day visit with lunch (a Thai cooking class) and snacks included in the 2000 Thai baht price. Full-day visit includes pick up at 9:30 A.M. and drop off at 5:00 P.M. The sanctuary visit includes feeding the elephants, walking with them, and giving them a mud bath. Although we opted to schedule our own transportation, Mae Rim offers pick-up and drop-off from your hotel or accommodation. And while we brought our own cameras, Mae Rim does offer professional photography of your visit for a small additional fee (500 Thai baht for professional DSLR photography).
There are currently 7 elephants residing in the sanctuary: ‘Bun Lai’, ‘Champu’, ‘Duang-Jan’, ‘Is Sa Ra’, ‘Set Thi’, ‘Wong Sa’ and ‘Heidi’. They were all rescued from various locations and environments: logging companies, riding camps and the circus. The mahouts (the traditional term for the elephant keeper or caretaker) half-jokingly named the baby elephant ‘Set Thi’, which translates to “rich man”. Set Thi was rescued from the circus in 2017, and he was the most expensive elephant rescue that Maerim had ever made. The elephants at Maerim were purchased from their abusers at various amounts, but elephant rescues typically range around $40,000 each. This is one of the many reasons why it is so important to support ethical sanctuaries!
Mae Rim doesn’t offer elephant riding because it is extremely harmful to the elephant’s back. An elephant’s back is not as strong as people may assume: riding the elephant can cause extreme long-term damage to it’s body.
At Mae Rim, elephants will never be tied up to chains as they are in most elephant parks. They do have rope collars for guidance throughout walks, but they are otherwise free to roam and play. The mahouts rotate shifts to watch over the elephants 24 hours a day. We were told that the elephants tend to get a bit more aggressive during the nighttime, so there must be enough mahouts present in the sanctuary.
Maerim Elephant Sanctuary Tour
Upon arrival at Maerim Elephant Sanctuary, you are given a snazzy little blue ensemble to wear (Some might complain, but I actually found it to be quite trendy and extremely comfortable). The traditional mahout clothing is given to visitors because elephants can only see two colors, one of which is blue.
After changing, each sanctuary visitor was invited to fill up a bag of bananas to feed the elephants. This was such a fun experience- the elephants would literally snatch the bananas right out of our bag! Just a heads up: don’t be surprised when the elephants eat your entire banana- peel included. We also fed the baby elephant, but we had to be a little more careful. The baby elephant’s trunk was so small that it couldn’t grab an entire banana, so we picked the smallest bananas out of the bunch and removed the peels for the baby. You can have a look at the adorable Mae Rim baby elephant in the photo below:
After feeding time was complete, we walked alongside these beautiful creatures over to their “playground” to watch them roam. During playtime, the mahouts would stand near the elephants, while still allowing for plenty of space to wander and enjoy the sand baths they would shower themselves with.
Although we opted for a half-day (due to time constraints), the full-day offers a wonderful experience for sanctuary visitors. Once the first half is complete, you are invited to come give the elephants a mud spa/bath and play with them in the sand. You can then cool off in the swimming pool before learning how to make your own traditional Thai noodle soup (a simple yet supposedly delicious Thai noodle broth). You are taught how to cook the Thai noodles, and you can choose which ingredients you’d like in your dish.
Final Thoughts on choosing an Ethical Elephant Sanctuary
If you are interested in visiting the Chiang Mai elephants, I would highly suggest choosing an ethical sanctuary over any location where elephant riding is offered to visitors. If you love these gentle giants as much as I do (the “Ellies", as I like to call them), then please help them: do not ride an elephant while visiting Thailand. Instead, visit an elephant sanctuary and enjoy your time interacting with and learning from these wonderful animals.
Visit Maerim Elephant Sanctuary to find out more about this amazing organization and how you can help put a stop to elephant abuse by supporting ethical sanctuaries.
Best Elephant Sanctuary Chiang Mai
While I highly suggest visiting MaeRim Elephant Sanctuary during your visit to Chiang Mai, there are a number of other ethical sanctuaries in the area. While you will always want to do some research of your own, here are a few of the most ethical elephant sanctuary tours offered in the local area:
Have you visited any of the ethical elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai, or Thailand in general? I would love to hear your thoughts on elephant welfare and about your experience with the sanctuary! Feel free to drop a comment below and I will get back to you as quickly as possible- I look forward to hearing from you!
Hi there! I’m Fallon. A Florida native who, after receiving my masters degree in the U.K., decided to nix the 9-5 path in search of something more. Now, I run my graphic and web design business straight from my laptop, all while traveling the world. I’ve now traveled to over 25 countries and have knocked some pretty big adventures off my bucket list… and I’m just getting started. Follow along my journey as I present tips, guides and resources on solo female travel, photography, videography, entrepreneurship & the crazy lifestyle of a digital nomad.