Elephant Nature Park is a must for anyone visiting northern Thailand. Founded in 1996 by Lek Chailert, the 250-acre rescue and rehabilitation center in Mae Taeng, 40 miles from Chiang Mai, is home to roughly 44 elephant “refugees”—overworked, abused, or otherwise abandoned in their former lives as loggers, trekkers, street beggars, and tourist props. Their backstories are heartbreaking. Some have lost feet to landmines; others were so overbred their backs broke. But to see them now—free-roaming and lovingly tended to by dedicated mahouts—is inspiring. No, you can’t ride the elephants or watch them do silly tricks here. But you won’t want to after learning more about these beautiful, intelligent creatures.
Basic day visits start at 7:40 a.m. and end at 5:30 p.m. and cost 2,500 baht ($70 USD) for adults. Activities include feeding and river bathing the elephants. The fee covers a generous vegetarian buffet lunch with Thai and Western options, as well as roundtrip transportation via passenger van from Chiang Mai. Specialty day tours are also bookable, starting at 6,000 baht ($168); click here for details. Day visits should be booked at least one month in advance.
Travelers with more time to spare might consider an overnight stay for 5,800 baht ($162), meals and transport included. Guests sleep in clean private huts with attached bathrooms and mosquito net bedding. There is no A/C, WiFi is sloooooow and only available in common areas, and cell phone service is limited. BYO towel and toiletries and try to reserve six months in advance.
Weeklong volunteer stints are also available, ranging from 12,000 to 15,000 baht ($335-$420). Tasks include cleaning shelters, harvesting crops, building fences, and prepping elephant meals. Some volunteers opt to focus on ENP’s Dog Rescue Project, walking, feeding, and socializing the park’s dozens of rescue dogs. That program costs 5,000 baht ($140). All volunteers share twin rooms and bathrooms.
209/2 Sridom Chai Rd., Chiang Mai, Thailand; +66-53-272-855.