The Day My Dreams Came True

baan chang elephant park chiang mai

I apologize in advance for the ridiculous amount of pictures in this post from Baan Chang Elephant Park. But who doesn’t love adorable little elephants?

When planning our trip to Thailand, there was one thing that was consistently on the top of my list of activities I wanted to do. See elephants. How could we resist when we were in one of the few countries in the world that they are native to? It wasn’t so much a question as to if we would do it, but where we would do it. There are elephant camps and parks in every brochure stand around Thailand, especially in Chiang Mai. I had researched several and admit that I was more than a little picky about where we went. I know everyone has different personal opinions but for me personally, I just couldn’t bear the thought of going and seeing elephants in ‘shows’, seeing them paint, watching them play soccer or riding them with large harnesses on their backs. I wanted to experience them more naturally and give my money to a place that cared for the elephants and helped rescue them from harsh environments.

baby elephant at baan chang elephant park chiang mai
The one baby on the property loved to give kisses.

After much research and a high recommendation from friends, we chose to sign up with Baan Chang Elephant Park, translated as Elephant Home. They are an organization that rescues elephants from abusive industries such as elephant begging and the logging industry (the logging industry is prevalent in the northern part of Thailand and abuses the fact that elephants only need about four hours of sleep a night. They will make them work hard labor for the other 20 hours of the day). Their goal is to teach others about the importance of elephant conservation through proper eating, sleeping, bathing and exercising methods and also to preserve a natural habitat for these rescued and abused animals.

up close and personal with elephants at baan chang elephant park in chiang mai
baan chang elephant park chiang mai

We arrived to Baan Chang Elephant Park at an excruciatingly early hour of 6am. We were told that with most animal visits, to go early in the morning when they were first waking up and had not been around people all day yet. After driving for about an hour through the country side, we rounded the corner into the property and were immediately greeted with the site of about a dozen elephants.

feeding elephants at baan chang elephant park in chiang mai

Our first order of business was feeding the elephants. We were provided a large bucket filled to the brim with bananas and large sticks of sugar cane. We walked through the clusters of elephants with their trunks grabbing at us along the way, eager to get their treats.

You may be wondering about the chain around their feet; that was my first thought too. Every elephant sanctuary has to chain up their elephants for people’s protection and their own. This particular company takes in any abused elephant that they find. Meaning, some are very aggressive from being abused and living in extreme conditions. They need time to become docile once again, and for the company to work with them in hopes of a full recovery before people can be near them. This is also to protect the elephants. If they go unchained, they can leave the sanctuary which raises the risk of someone taking them back into harsh conditions or worse, the elephants can plumage local gardens and farms. If this happens, the farmers will often shoot the elephants.

baan chang elephant park chiang mai
After the feeding was finished and all the buckets lay bare, it was time to train. Since there were no harnesses on their backs, we would ride them through the jungle bareback. We were taught in Thai, how to tell the elephants, to go, stop, turn and lay down in order for us to mount their backs.
Turn: kuay
Stop: how
Go: non long
Lay down: pai
riding elephants at baan chang elephant park chiang mai
riding elephants at baan chang elephant park chiang mai
rescue elephants at baan chang elephant park chiang mai
baan chang elephant park chiang mai
Feeding him some sugar cane
After we felt confident of the commands, we set off for an hour trek through the jungle. Not only is this for our benefit but also the elephants. The mahout (an elephant trainer that lives with the elephants. Each one has only one elephant to care and look after) determines how much exercise their elephant needs and will continue to take them on this route until the elephant is satisfied and well exercised. Therefore, all the elephants are used in cycles and some more than others depending on their individual needs.
We were paired up with an older elephant by the name of Don Coon. You could tell he knew the trail well since his mahout wasn’t even guiding him. But instead of sticking strictly to the trail, he would slowly veer off every once in awhile in search of a snack. Who could blame him?
trail at baan chang elephant park chiang mai
baan chang elephant park chiang mai
The back is not as comfortable as it looks! I was sore for days after this!
The last part of the day was probably my favorite. After the hike, we led our elephants to a large pool of water and were given a scrub brush and bucket. We proceeded to wash all of our elephants while they relaxed and played in the water.
washing elephants at baan chang elephant park chiang mai

baan chang elephant park chiang mai
If you’re ever in Thailand, I would highly recommend spending a day with the elephants at one of the many Elephant Sanctuaries.
Some other great places to spend time are Patara Elephant Farm and the Elephant Nature Park. When we go back to Thailand (because let’s face it, we will go back) we want to check out the Elephant Nature Park which is more intensive on their care and conservation of the animals.

  • Isabel McKenzie

    Hi Chelsea! I just stumbled upon your blog earlier today and am SO glad I did. Your stories of all your travels and adventures are so incredible and inspiring!! This post in particular- Ah! I feel like I now absolutely have to spend a day at one of these elephant sanctuaries. I’ve fallen in love with your blog and your travels– best wishes! :)

  • Caitlyn de Beer

    Had to comment even though I know you are away :) We just booked our day at this Elephant park – your info was so helpful! I CANT WAIT!! Thank you <3

    • Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      Ahh! I’m SO excited for you! I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

  • themosbysinchina

    Wow! That is amazing! I love that you got to bathe them!!! Soo fun! That makes me want to go to Thailand, like, NoW!

  • Elba Valverde

    Hi Jeremy and Chelsea! I Found your blog through the blog hop and I feel in love. I’ve only been there a few minutes and I found so many great pictures and adventures to check out. Your blog is so fun and inspiring!
    Xo, elba

  • Treasure Tromp

    this is so incredibly amazing!!!!

  • Christelle

    Such an amazing adventure! How awesome to spend time with elephants in their element!

    • lost in travels

      it was beyond words, i’m so grateful that i was able to have this experience.

  • Elora Shore

    Wow, that’s so awesome! I’ve always loved elephants, and wanted to see one in a more natural habitat. I got to see some at San Diego zoo, (the closest one promptly turned around when the people arrived and did a doo-doo–you should have heard the comments from the guy behind!) but of course they were in their pen. I’ll definitely check out the sanctuaries if I’m ever in Thailand!

    • lost in travels

      oh my goodness! i can’t imagine! i bet everyone lost it!

  • M and L

    What an amazing experience. I literally feel better after reading that (not that anything was wrong, it was just a great story). How wonderful!


    • lost in travels

      glad i could brighten your day : )

  • Sarah Burton

    This is amazing! I just watch Water for Elephants again last night and was struck by how beautiful elephants are! I -have- to do this at some point. They are such incredible animals!

    • lost in travels

      you should try to! this is one of my favorite travel experiences!

  • a bird`s daily life

    This just made me tear up!
    It`s so great you chose a place,where the elephants are well treated!


    • lost in travels

      i tink it’s so important because there are so many that are mistreated and forced into harsh environments. i’m just glad that there are companies like this that take care of them!

  • itbritt

    Wow, what a cool day.
    I went to Africa in last September, but didn’t see a single elephant.
    Riding them may have been just too much excitement for me to bear. Would’ve passed out on top of the elephant and probably retained injury.

    Officially following, and living vicariously through you.

    • lost in travels

      oh no! i would love to go to africa and see the african elephants. our guide told us that they are MUCH larger than the asian elephants. i can’t imagine not being able to see any! just another reason to go back : )

  • Corinne

    This is absolutely AMAZING! I’m so jealous and have added this on my bucket list. I love how you chose where to go as well, I would definitely have wanted to do the same.

    • lost in travels

      do it! it’s been on my bucket list for awhile now and i’m so excited that i got to cross it off!

  • Christina Morley

    I found you through the Monday Meet Up. I think that was an awesome experience. Thanks for explaining all the interesting details. I have taught English to Koreans, but not at the moment. They come to South Africa to learn English and to do missions. I’m now following your blog with Bloglovin.
    Tina – American mom raising 4 kids in South Africa

    • lost in travels

      hey! i’m so glad that you stopped by! that’s so awesome that you get to teach and teach Koreans, I didn’t realize there were a lot in S Africa. Have you ever thought about teaching abroad?

  • Setarra

    Ahhhh! This is just amazeballs! Rescued elephants AND they gave you a pretty snazzy outfit to go along with it!? Supercool :)

    • lost in travels

      haha the outfits were sexy huh? but after putting them on we didn’t want to take them off! so comfy!

  • Allison

    Wow!!! This is so cool! I love that you got to ride one and then play in the water too! Such an incredible experience.

    • lost in travels

      we just had to be careful that they didn’t roll over on us in the water! it’s one of my favorite travel experiences!

  • Helene

    this is amazing!!!!! so cool! and i love that they rescue them. wow!

    • lost in travels

      me too! i’m so glad that there are several great companies like this one that help to save the elephants and spread the word

  • Ashley @

    I’m so jealous!! This looks amazing! I can’t believe you got to ride an elephant :-)

    Found you on Monday Mingling! New follower :-)
    The Darling Redhead

    • lost in travels

      so glad that you decided to follow along! we absolutely loved this experience, it was so much fun!

  • jackie jade

    this is so amazing! i love that you guys went out of your way to find a place that rescued abused elephants and worked hard to treat them well. as someone who is a big advocate of rescue animals, this was really touching! i loved seeing how happy they look splashing in the water. love this story!!

    • lost in travels

      there’s so many companies that take advantage of these animals, i’m just glad that we found a place that CARES about what happens to them!

  • Lauren Roerick Miller

    Oh My Gosh! This looks amazing! I have always wanted to do this! It looks like you two had a wonderful time and got to spend some quality time with the animals :) I’m glad you did your research too, I know a lot of those are just big money suckers that don’t care about the well being of the elephants. Looks like you did well though.
    Can’t wait to see more of your trip.

    • lost in travels

      Is there anywhere in Taiwan that you can see them? Seems like you guys have a lot of exotic animals around you, at least more than we have in Korea!

  • Lindsey Norlander

    This is brilliant! I also was in Chiang Mai last weekend for the second time, but have never heard of Baan Chang! I’m right there with you though, I won’t go to any of the zoos or tourist attractions that condone the painting/soccer/circus tricks. Beautiful pictures, I’ll have to check this place out next time I’m up there.:)

    • lost in travels

      How awesome that you have been able to go several times! It’s a place that we really want to return to. Baan Chang is an excellent organization and there are also so many other great ones to check out!

  • erica @ to the sea

    This is awesome! We’re actually planning a trip to Thailand for our next vacation and this is def something I wanna do.

    • lost in travels

      You should! There’s so many great places to go to for a unique and amazing experience. I can’t wait to hear about your trip when you go!