As many parents of travelling teenagers will attest not much puts a glimmer in their eyes these days. But I can tell you a spark was lit when I told Willow we were going to visit Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai Thailand.
She decided to do some extra research and found you could spend the night stay overnight as well as do a short day trip. But was an overnight stay at Elephant Nature Park with kids a good idea?
Things were sorted very quickly though thanks to Marley. While Willow was crazy excited about the overnight stay at the Elephant rescue park this was not the same for her sister and staying the night at Elephant Nature Park was not for Marley.
Where is Elephant Nature Park?
The Elephant Nature Park is located in Northern Thailand about an hour out of Chiang Mai.
What is Elephant Nature Park?
Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai Thailand is an animal sanctuary where injured elephants are rescued and rehabilitated from a life of hard work or from being ridden. They have been found through many different channels and bought to the elephant park for medical attention or surrendered once they are unable to work any more.
It is here at the Elephant Nature Park where they get to live out their lives in peace and harmony without the hard life they have had in the past.
Elephant Nature Park was started in the 1990s by Sangduen “Lek” Chailert who was rescuing mistreated elephants or injured elephants and re-homing them on the property. Now the elephant park has 84 elephants to care for.
On-site there is also a dog shelter and a cat kingdom where abandoned, injured or hurt animals are returned to health by the staff and many volunteers that work there. They then spend their lives there unless they are adopted out to a family who will love them.
If you would like to see the latest documentary released on the park Love and Bananas click here
There is also an abundance of buffalo living there as well and they are so funny to watch, especially when they are under the sprinklers. They do like to get a little close sometimes too but there is nothing to be worried about!
How we visited Elephant Nature Park with kids
While both the girls love animals it is Willow that has a deep affection for them and they seem to connect with her just as easily. So it was decided that Willow and I would stay the night at Elephant Nature Park while Mark and Marley would do a short day tour to Elephant Nature Park, returning to our hotel that night.
Day 1 at Elephant Nature Park
Day one started with us being picked up at our hotel in Chiang Mai. As we had booked two different tours our guide was not happy that we would experience the park separately.
So, after a couple of phone calls were made and it was decided that the second bus that was to pick Mark and Marley up would also take Willow and me. We would be all going together.
Day 1 Itinerary
- 8.30 am pick up at the hotel
- Arrive at the park
- Feed the elephants on the common area veranda
- Walk to see the elephants through the park
- Check-in (for Willow and I)
- Walk to see elephants bathing in the mud
- Say goodbye to Mark and Marley
- Free time
- Meet the herd that we would be spending time with the next day
Our day was filled with feeding, watching and learning about the elephants and how they lived life before coming to the park. To hear stories of what they went through to finally get here is truly heartbreaking. There were times our group didn’t talk for a little while.
Things to do in your free time at ENP:
During your free time at the park you can sit on the common area veranda and watch the elephants roam, you can visit the cattery or you can help out at the dog kennels by walking a dog with a disability.
What is the accommodation like at Elephant Nature Park for the overnight stay?
As you drive into Elephant Nature Park there are some houses on stilts, these are the places you will call home for the overnight stay. They are absolutely beautiful and very spacious. They come with:
- A fan – there is no air conditioning
- Our room had a double bed and a single
- Mosquito nets over the beds
- A balcony to sit and listen to the Elephants trumpet after your day with seating
- A small couch
- Shower and toilet
We found the accommodation at Elephant Nature Park really good. There was plenty of room to sit inside and out. The balcony was a favourite of ours as the dogs seemed to want to follow Willow everywhere so they would sit on the balcony and wait for her to go out there and pat them.
*The only issue we had during the night was some of the dogs were really keen to get in and would jump at the door but they stopped after we turned the lights off. At one point they also had a great time chasing a poor cat around.
Day 2 at Elephant Nature Park
- 6.00 am wake up
- 7.00 am breakfast
- 8.00 am getting prepared for the first day’s activities a walk to feed the herd
- 8.30 am meet the herd and walk to their paddock
- 10.00 am watch the elephants bathe and feed them
- 11.00 am free time
- 12.00 lunchtime
- 1.00 pack up
- 2.00 free time/check out
- 3.00 departure time
How much is a night at Elephant Nature Park?
For our overnight stay at Elephant Nature Park, it cost us: 8700 baht for both of us.
Adults are 5800baht each and children 2-11 years are 50%
This included all of our meals in a vegan buffet style in the common area, our transport to and from Elephant Nature Park and our overnight accommodation.
What do I need to take with me to Elephant Nature Park for the overnight stay?
There are a few things you should take with you on your overnight stay at Elephant Nature Park. There are places to leave a bag but you must take your valuable items with you at all times until you are able to check-in. We suggest you take:
- A good hat for everyone in the family
- Good sturdy shoes for walking in
- Insect repellant
- A change of clothes
- A towel
- A small back-pack to keep everything together
On our things to take to the Elephant Nature Park list, it says a towel and toiletries but when we arrived they were in our room to use. Take some with you just in case.
What can I buy at Elephant Nature Park?
There are plenty of things you can buy from Elephant Nature Park to remember your time there. There is also a coffee shop and a little store where you can get drinks and ice-cream during the day
|Drink bottle holder||120 baht|
|Long-sleeved top||300 baht|
|Elephant plush||250 baht|
|Ice-cream||from 25 baht|
|Wine Cooler||30 baht|
|Soft drink||20 baht|
Some extra things you need to know
- All meals served at Elephant Nature Park are vegan
- Coffee is made with almond milk or soy
- It is not recommended that you go to the local town for meat dishes as there have been some cases of food poisoning
- The food was extremely good. We are not vegans but I can tell you we thoroughly enjoyed the food
- There is a little shop on site where you can buy things. It shuts at 9.00 normally but on a Sunday night they shut at 5.00
- There is no fridge in your room
*Just one more tip. If you are going out there take some smaller notes with you for small purchases especially if you are staying the night at Elephant Nature Park for a few beverages after a long day.
My favourite parts on our overnight stay
There were so many but I have put down the ones that have really stuck
- Watching my daughter in awe of these amazing animals
- Wondering what all the yelling is about and then see a small elephant running towards the water with his Mahout running full speed behind him trying to keep up
- Meeting everyone from our group and learning about where they came from
- Meeting a lady Meg, who was doing her second stay at the dog rescue centre and hearing her story
- Going to sleep at night listening to the elephant’s trumpet
- Knowing and seeing that these animals are well looked after but most of all now safe and extremely loved
- Being a Mahout for the day and taking bananas to the herd. Also making food for the older elephants who no longer have teeth was brilliant and messy!
Other experiences offered by Elephant Nature Park
Another thing I really loved is that there are so many more opportunities at Elephant Nature Park other than just the Eles! We loved hearing about how they are trying to expand to help so many more animals too.
There are a couple of different options to volunteer with the elephants. One is where you can care for the elephants at Elephant Nature Park and also have interactions with the local villages giving you a broad experience there. This is a 7 day experience. The cost if this experience is $15,000baht
The other is where you care for the elephants on a daily basis at Elephant Nature Park taking in all the daily duties that they need to live a happy, healthy life there. This is also for 7 days and it will cost $12,000baht to be a part of.
*Both of these programs start on a Monday and run for 7 days but you need to be there the night before to start work on the Monday morning. Meals are provided and accommodation is basic.
There are many dogs that have been abandoned and live at the Nature Park as well. You will work from 8 am to 5pm every day for a minimum of 7 days. There are options for you to extend your stay but they must be booked separately. All meals and basic accommodation is included.
You will help care for the dogs, feed them, walk them and clean the areas where they are kept. This is not a ‘holiday’ you are there to work and care for the dogs. This experience will cost you $7000 baht and you must be over 16 to participate.
The cat volunteer program is very similar to the dog one but it was still under some development when we left. It is due to open in the near future.
Is Elephant Nature Park ethical? Our opinion
Going to any animal experience these days can be a worry for anyone. The growing recognition that animal parks, zoos and conservation centres are not all created equally or have the same ethos is a worry for many people wanting to do the right thing. We wanted to do the right thing, learn about the elephant and support a cause that was indeed ethical.
For us, our research led us here to Elephant Nature Park and our opinion is that it is ethical. The elephants are not ridden or bathed by tourists here. They are fed by tourists but at any point, if they want to move away they are free to do so, which some did during the day.
You are not allowed to wander freely around the park you must have a guide with you at all times and at any time if the elephant is not happy you are urged to move on.
The community Elephant Nature Park has created
What I also liked to learn is the sense of community that Lek has created there. A Mahout is assigned to each elephant. That Mahout is chosen by the elephant themselves. Three Mahouts are to spend time with an elephant and the one the elephant connects with the most is then given the job to care for them.
Being a Mahout at the Elephant Nature Park is a tough job. You must sit with the elephant and move with them when they go. The Mahout has to make sure they are happy and have everything they need at all times.
Every two hours over night the Mahout will come back to check on the elephant to make sure they are ok during the night. It is a job that is so full of love and commitment to making the best life for the elephant.
I also love that when the Mahout is chosen they are able to bring their family to live close to the park. This opens up a lot of opportunities for the entire extended family. The wife can work at the park and the children can go to school which has been opened there by Lek.
For me this was another reason for me to believe we had picked the right place to see these beautiful animals
Event though we had different experiences (Marley was very happy with her short day visit) we all walked away with a huge amount of knowledge about these amazing animals and the hard lives they led until the day they came here.
I feel that our money was well spend in both situations and I am glad that Willow and I stayed the night as we got such a brilliant small group experience the next day. We were comfortable, well-fed and we loved our overnight stay at Elephant Nature Park.
Where to stay in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is very popular with backpackers and budget travellers. That being said you can find everything from hostels, apartments, villa’s and hotels in Chiang Mai.
How to get to Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai International Airport serves Chiang Mai and surrounding Provinces in Thailand. It is a major gateway to Northern Thailand, and currently the fourth-busiest airport in the country.
Buses arrive daily from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Locally there are buses from Chiang Rai and surrounding areas. Buses from Bangkok take 9-10 hours while Chiang Rai is 3 hours away.
A popular way to travel from Bangkok is via overnight sleeper train.
The highway between Bangkok and Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are new, modern and in very good condition for driving. You can book a hire car from major cities and airports
Money in Thailand
The official National Currency in Thailand is the Baht and it is the only currency used within Thailand. You will find coins of 25 and 50 satangs, 1, 2, 5 and 10 baht. The banknotes come in denominations of 10 baht, 20 baht, 50 baht, 100 baht, 500 baht and 1,000 baht.
Currency Exchange and ATM’s in Bangkok Thailand
We had no problem withdrawing money from ATM’s. One thing about Asia is there is an ATM on every corner just about. Try and withdrawal multiple days worth of money at a time. It was costing us $5 (Australian) in withdrawal fees.
We do suggest you take money with you to Elephant Nature Park as there is no ATM on site our there but there are credit card facilities.
Do I need a visa to enter Thailand?
Yes, you do. If you’re only staying in Thailand under 30 days you will get a visa on arrival at the airport.
If you want to stay 30-60 days you will need to apply for a visa in your home country at the Thai embassy or you will need to do a visa run.
A Visa run is where you leave Thailand by land or plane and then re-enter thus renewing your passport for an extra 30 days. If you are planning on volunteering at Elephant Nature Park and then spending some time travelling ion Thailand you may need to check how long you will be in the country for.
Visinting Elephant Nature Park with kids is a truly amazinf experience. I enjoyed it and so did my family. Willow is planning a visit back there to be an Elephant Nature Park volunteer when she is 16. Not only will she plan to spend time with the elephants but with the other animals there as well.
I hope that the great work the staff at Elephant Nature Park do will continue for years to years to come.
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More about the Author
Bec Wyld is a mother, wife and once reluctant traveller. Bec has been to over 30 countries across the globe. I have planned and stressed in all of these places. Becs writing can be found on Wyld Family Travel and as a guest poster and contributor on many other travel websites including Lonely Planet Kids