I have no official figures, but suffice it to say that if anyone is going to Chiang Mai and likes BuzzFeed animal listicles (this piglet thinks YOU are deliciously handsome), they are probably going to take a tour to visit some elephants.
I managed to slip in a reservation for two to the Elephant Nature Park for a day of feeding and baths. It didn’t offer elephants rides like other parks did, With that, I could make the case to Kiwi that the animals aren’t being exploited, that we could have a fun day with the elephants.
We spent the day with the elephants!
The day-long tour at the park started with small groups feeding various elephants some watermelon, pumpkin and bananas. The humans had to stand about a meter away from the elephants; their trunks would clear the distance and take the food out of your hands.
Then, a guide would walk us around the grounds to observe groups of elephants doing elephant things. The first group was two ladies covering themselves in mud. The other group were three elephants having a feed by the river.
At middday, we stopped for lunch buffet that the park provides and had some free time to just observe the elephants across the whole park.
I did see a mahout ride an elephant across the river. Elephant didn’t look guided or in distress, it just looked like a guy on one of two elephants across the river. When I asked our guide about it, her response was that the mahout has been with the elephant for 20-some odd years. It is someone who has a connection with the elephant, not a tourist on a joyride; but seeing this registered mixed signals to me (Kiwi disagrees with me on this):
Later on, the guides lead elephants to the river for their bath, which consisted of the tourists splashing water on the elephants while they ate. Elephant poop floated by as we splashed the elephants. Lots of good photo ops regardless.
Our guide led us two more areas to view elephant prides. In one instance, one baby took some liberties running away from grownups, like rambunctious toddlers do. In the other instance, the two babies (TWO BABIES OMGZzz) would quarrel with one another when they weren’t chasing a shibe-looking dog — Elephant Nature Park also has about 400 dogs on the premises as well. (A picture of two baby elephants chasing a shibe would break the Internet, magazine editors/web editors/Reddit)
The day ended with a visit to the newest elephant, elephant #42, who was being treated for something before being introduced into the park; and another feeding of elephants from a meter away.
We left the park with probably a couple hundred photos that we were eager to slap on the Internet. Break the Internet, elephants!
Squee over elephants in the comments. Photos by Kiwi and Tina.