Do you want to see elephants in Thailand? But do you want to see them at a sanctuary that puts the elephants first? Enter Elephant Nature Park. This place is not like all the others and I think that’s a good thing. Do you want to interact with the elephants and learn about the rescue work the center does? Do you want your money to go to a place that is actually doing good? Then the Elephant Nature Park Overnight Trip may be the perfect way to get the elephant experience you’re looking for.
What to Expect at Elephant Nature Park
My overnight trip was the last thing I did in Thailand before heading home and it was the perfect way to end my trip. But it’s important to note, up front, that Elephant Nature Park is not like the other sanctuaries.
Elephant Nature Park is a rescue and rehabilitation center first. The needs of the elephants come first. And the park is trying to provide a natural environment for their elephants. And though you can visit (and volunteer) at the Park, the needs of the elephants always come first.
So if say an elephant doesn’t want to be touched excessively by hordes of tourists, the Park will not allow you to excessively touch an elephant. If the elephant gets bored and wanders away from you, the keepers will let them leave.
And, not surprisingly, most elephants don’t actually like to be touched excessively by humans. Some don’t mind it, but others don’t like it.
Let me paint a picture for you first so you can know what to expect. Elephant Nature Park picked me up with a group of day trippers. Once we got with the park, I hung around with them for about 30 minutes until the rest of the overnighters showed up and then I switched groups. But before I did, I overheard the conversation between 3 of the day trippers.
They were very displeased by the lack of interaction with the elephants. They wanted to touch, hug, take selfies with, and generally get much closer to the elephants than what they realized would happen. And they were complaining about this quite loudly.
If you would be this person, if you want to hug a baby elephant or wash one in the river, then the Elephant Nature Park is probably not for you.
So, with all that being said, there is less human to elephant interaction here than there is at the other sanctuaries. I think that’s a good thing. I think that’s probably best for the elephants.
But it’s important to know that up front.
Now, I wanted to go to Elephant Nature Park, but I did want more interaction than the average day tripper. That’s where the Overnight Trip comes in and shines. If you want both, you can have both. You can learn and interact (to a degree – more on that below).
My Itinerary for the Elephant Nature Park Overnight Trip
I was picked up from my hostel at about 8:15am in Chiang Mai. The van had a couple of more stops along the way but I quickly discovered that I was in a van with mostly day trippers. They immediately reassured me though that they knew I was an overnighter, but that picking me up with this group made more sense.
During the ride we watched an introductory video about what to expect at the Park and why they do what they do. The video explaining how people “break” elephants and then abuse them is a little tough to watch. I knew about it and had seen similar videos so I knew. But just a heads up that they do show this.
There was also a pitstop on the way as well. The ride is only about an hour or so long so I’m not sure why we had a pitstop, but alas it was only like 15 minutes.
Once we got to the park, I paid the remaining of my deposit and then met up with my overnight group and guide for the morning and afternoon.
Our first activity though quickly got underway when we fed the elephants from the viewing platform. Fun fact! Elephants love watermelons (and bananas too if the melons are all gone). It’s crowded along the platform as the day trippers do this as well. But there is plenty of fruit to go around. You do have to stay behind a line and let the elephant extend its trunk to you…but it was awesome.
Especially when the baby elephant showed up.
After the feeding we went on our morning walk out into the Park. Our guide would take us around to the small groups of elephants. Because even though the Park has lots of elephants, they group themselves into little family units. With anywhere from like 2-10 elephants in each family.
One of my favorite families was called “Double Trouble” by our guide since it had two baby elephants and, well, baby elephants cause trouble.
The guide used this time to talk to us about the center and the elephants’ stories both before they came to the Park and after. Most of these stories were heartbreaking.
Like the one elephant who stepped on a landmine while being used for illegal logging.
Or the ones with a broken hip (also from illegal logging) where you could see their back leg swinging in its broken state.
Or the one whose leg broke but then healed improperly before it came to the park. And now when it walks the whole leg seems to shift painfully. (But we were told it would be worse to try to fix it now since they would have to re-break it.)
Or the countless elephants who were blind because men had purposefully blinded them to punish them or to scare them.
Or Dalha in the pool everyday because her front leg was hurt so bad that the men the Park bought her from said she would die. And to heal her front leg (where most of an elephant’s weight rests), she has to stay in a pool for hours everyday so she can reduce the pressure.
These were some of the rehabilitation stories we heard over the weekend. Of the elephants that come to the Park. Of the ones they try to rescue and bring back to life. And then to see these elephants healed and now enjoying life was uplifting to say the least.
Okay but before I run away with myself, the morning tour. Day 1 was mostly informational as we toured the Park and learned about the elephants. But our guide did see the two old ladies (pair of elephant BFFs) making their way to some hay and he brought us over.
And these elephants didn’t give two shits how many people touched them while they got their hay on. As our guide told us, elephants get a lot more chill as they get older.
It was elephant time.
After the morning tour, it was lunch and then another afternoon tour. It started first up on the separate viewing deck. Then we headed back out into the Park to watch the elephants get their afternoon bath on.
A very important note here. The Park no longer lets visitors bathe the elephants. Before there was a bathing experience included where visitors would go into the river with the elephants but this is no more.
Instead you get to watch from the bank and snap pictures to your heart’s content.
Okay so you’re probably wondering why baby elephants are so…troublesome. Well for one they are big and don’t realize they are big and so want to play. But the second and biggest reason are the other elephants in their family. They are…protective to say the least. And you don’t want to touch a baby elephant for fear that their mom or auntie will take offense.
Now the elephants that don’t get to go to the river (because some families monopolize it and don’t allow others to approach), still get their bath on either from the mud pits or from their handlers.
After the afternoon tour, we checked into our cabins and then had a chance to visit the cats and dogs the Park also rescues. Or we had some free time till dinner.
I spent the time walking a dog, showering in my cabin, and enjoying my back deck that looked out over one of the elephant barns. Dinner was followed by a small show by a local school and then others in my group sprang for massages.
Breakfast was very early the next morning (7am or so if I remember correctly). And was followed by another walk out into the park. We met different elephant groups, got to touch one more old lady elephant, and met the oldest elephant in the park.
After our return to the main building, we had about 45 minutes or so to do some souvenir shopping and pack up our cabin before heading to a separate location for lunch. Located just a few minutes away and up a hill, this location looked out over the park and was beautiful. We also found out most of the volunteers lunch here to get away from the crowds.
Then came my favorite part of the whole trip, the elephant feeding. We grabbed a couple of crates of bananas and headed to the river where three elephants were waiting for us. They made their way to the shore to get their banana on.
But only one of them ended up wanting bananas that day, and it was the blind elephant at that. But boy was she hungry! She ate every single banana from both crates. The best part was that you could touch her trunk as she turned it towards you for the banana.
And she knew her name! When you called it, she would turn towards you and reach out with her trunk for you to place the banana under it.
I sat by that bank until every single banana was gone.
After leaving the river, we went back to the main building and this time made some elephant food. A combination of rice and other stuff, we shaped these into balls before heading back out again into the park. This time on the lookout for the older elephants.
We quickly found a handful who were interested in the rice balls and before long those were gone as well.
Then, sadly, it was over.
We headed back to the main building, said our goodbyes, and headed back to Chiang Mai (getting in around 5 or so).
where you stay
Overnight visitors get to stay in pretty nice cabins. I was expecting something very rustic, but my expectations were blown away. The cabins are rustic-ish in that they are fan-cooled (no A/C). But the nights are cool so opening the windows was extremely refreshing.
The beds both have mosquito nets (so you can sleep with the windows open) and the bathroom had a very nice shower.
Oh and did I mention that my balcony overlooked the elephant barn? Because that was awesome.
One thing to note here is that if you are a single (like I was), you may have to share a room. I did not since we just had 1 group of overnight visitors (2 is the max). But this may happen to you if you book by yourself.
what you eat
The food is amazing. All meals are vegetarian and they are served from a buffet. The choices are endless. Want to try lots of Thai food? You got it. Need some Western food? It’s there as well. Plus salads, fruit, vegetables, tea, water, and more.
You will not go hungry.
what to bring
You’ll be allowed to bring one day pack and one carry-on piece of luggage. Some people in our group had more than that (and bigger luggage) and they were not thrown out of the park. But try to keep it reasonable as you will be traveling to and from the Park with others in a van.
You’ll obviously need:
- Cash for remaining cost + souvenirs
- Bug spray
- Rain jacket (if visiting in the rainy season)
- Towel (bedding is supplied but bring an extra towel just in case)
How much does it cost?
The cost for the overnight trip is 5,800 baht (about $175). You’ll pay a deposit when you book online and then pay the rest in cash upon arrival.
How do I book?
You can book the overnight trip online here.
You can also visit their office in Chiang Mai, but I had no issue booking the trip and paying the deposit online.
What’s included in the cost?
Admission fees, your guides, overnight accommodation, two lunches, one breakfast, one dinner, and transportation to and from the Park from Chiang Mai.
Should I bring cash or credit card?
You should definitely bring cash. The remaining deposit must be paid in cash upon arrival. I would also have cash for tips (for your guides) and souvenirs. The gift shop does take credit card, but during my trip a storm had knocked out the power line and it was down for the whole second day (when I was planning on buying things).
What time is pick-up and drop-off?
You’ll be be picked up between 8am-8:30am from your Chiang Mai accommodation and dropped off again at 5pm the next day. Your drop-off does not need to be the same place, but specify this in your registration form. They can drop you off at the airport.
Also be sure to arrive in Chiang Mai the day before the trip starts. If you are delayed, they will not wait for you.
Should you bring your valuables?
Hmmm, this is a hard question. The cabins themselves lock, but you don’t get access to your cabin until about 3pm or so on the first day and then you check out at about 10am on the second day. The rest of the time you leave your bags in the open area of the main building.
This didn’t bother me since I carried my camera and passport with me everywhere, but others had laptops they didn’t want to lug about the Park. They left them with the bags and nothing happened, but it is a consideration. Keep this in mind when packing for the overnight trip.
One thing I did was that I didn’t check out of my hostel for that night I was gone. So even though I paid for a bed I didn’t sleep in, I also didn’t have to bring all my bags with me. This also meant I had my valuables securely locked away in a locker at my hostel while I was gone.
This wouldn’t work for everyone, but it is an idea.
What are the other people booking the Elephant Nature Park overnight trip like?
I had an amazing group. Most were in their 20s and 30s, and were very outgoing and adventurous. And most were in Thailand on a holiday or vacation with their friends, family, or partners. I was the only person by themselves.
This was very different from the rest of my trip. I had been staying in mostly hostel and meeting tons of solo travelers. But as soon as I jumped up a price point, the clientele definitely changed with it. Not a bad thing, but something to expect.
If you can afford it, you should definitely do the Elephant Nature Park Overnight Trip. It was worth every penny and I loved it. You get to learn more about the Park and it’s good works. And you get more chances to interact with the elephants via 3 Park tours and 3 feedings. Plus the cabins are nice and the food is delicious.
There are also only 2 overnight groups max. And though there are volunteers around, it feels almost…exclusive after the day trippers leave. Much more intimate.
And to see the rehabilitation work the Park has done and to hear the stories was simply amazing. They have saved so many elephants over the past 20 years. I have no regrets going to the Park.
This was the elephant experience I was looking for. And it is one I’ll never forget.