There are so many elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai, how do you know which ones are real sanctuaries? Do your research! Some elephant sanctuaries claim to be rescuing the elephants but what they really do is put them to work. I found a lot of excellent reviews on Elephant Nature Park and Patara Elephant Park but I didn't want to go to the places most people go to. When I came across Ran-Tong I decided to give them a try. They have many certificates of excellence and great reviews also on Tripadvisor.
Before coming to Thailand I was completely ignorant when it came to the unethical treatment of Elephants. I had previously taken a trip to Kuala Lumpur and had booked an elephant tour where I watched elephants doing tricks with mahouts (elephant trainers) on their backs and painting. For elephants to do these 'tricks' they need to be broken. They are starved, beaten, shackled, etc until their spirit is broken. Without realising it you can unexpectedly be contributing to elephant cruelty.
That being said, with these elephant sanctuaries you can choose a 'full day' or a 'half day' tour. I chose half day because the full day tours were a bit pricy for me. Any tour you chose they will pick you up from your hotel/hostel. At Ran-Tong they do allow bareback riding which is different than riding with a chair on the elephants back, which is what I did. Anyways, now to the fun stuff!As I mentioned before I paid for the half day with the elephants which cost 1600 THB ($60cad). I was picked up from my hostel around 1:30pm and got to Ran-Tong around 2pm. Once I arrived I changed into mahout clothes. Then I got a briefing of some of their rules and learned Thai commands I would use to tell the elephant which direction i'd be going. Then I finally got to meet my elephnat. Her name was May-Noy and is 18 years old. As you can see she is adorable!
I struggled to get onto May-Noy because she is obviously rather large! Riding an elephant is not as full as I expected it to be. It is very uncomfortable and scary because you don't really have anything to hold on to and you ride up and downhill. I probably will never do it again! Plus I hate being dirty and elephants love to cover themselves with mud to stay cool, so you are bound to get dirty. I tried to give May-Noy directions but she didn't really listen to me so I just let the mahout tell her where to go. The first place May-Noy went to was a little mud puddle. While here she sucked up mud and threw it on her back which got on me. Yuck!
We did a little course up hill which was quite nerve wrecking. Once we got on the other side of the grounds we went into the pond to wash May-Noy. It was actually hard work, I'm not used to working that hard.
Once May-Noy was all clean, I hopped back on her and we went back downhill to the elephant area. Then I had dinner (which is included in the price). For dinner I had yellow curry with rice and mango with sticky rice for desert. The food was pretty good, I was full. By the end of the day I was sore, tired and full!
So I actually got lucky because the three other people in my shuttle bus were done with their half day because i was the only rider so I finished early. My guide brought me to another area to meet a baby elephant. He was such a little poser! I can't remember his name but he was only 7 months old, his mother is right behind him.
This baby elephant is extremely social and actually enjoys sitting on people. He will go infront of you and then back up into you, so you gotta be very cafeful. I actually got to interact with a couple other elephants and got some slimy, muddy kisses.
Overall, I had an amazing day. I am really happy with Ran-Tong Elephant Sanctuary and I would recommend them! If you want to learn more about Ran-Tong and what they are about click here for their website.
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I’m Hilda, the writer behind Herxtravels. Here you can find travel guides, reviews and tips. Find out more about me here.