My husband and I went to Chiang Dao Elephant Camp in October 2012. We chose this camp based on the price and on travel advisor reviews as we did not want to go to an elephant camp where elephants were mistreated.
We thought about booking online but our taxi driver said to book it there. Online, the price included transport, watching the elephants bathing, an elephant show, an elephant ride to the Lisu tribe and back, lunch, and bamboo rafting down the river. When we turned up we booked and thought we were paying for the same trip (minus transport and for a similar price), but found after watching the elephant show that it only included the washing, elephant ride and bamboo rafting and we were followed and asked to pay for watching the show (which i would have prefered not to see). We felt a little ripped off that that when we discussed it with the worker, he wasn't clear about what was included. I suppose the language barrier didn't help.
-The bathing of the elephants was great to watch. A great experience.
-It wasn't good to a couple of elephants in the pens rocking back and forth, obviously bored, on too short a chains and in need of some stimulation. It was a bit upsetting to see.
-The show was ok and good to see how the elephants can work together but it did feel like a bit of a circus act and was repeditive and would be boring for them to repeat each day. Also, I don't have a problem with elephants painting pictures but I didn't really like that it was taught to draw a tree, grass etc and there were many more pictures I saw afterwards exactly the same. I feel like they should have been allowed to use free thought instead of being taught one picture and it would be far more stimulating for them.
-The elephant ride was good and I really enjoyed it but I really hated seeing the big hole/gash in the back of the elephants ear. It was very large and deep and was missing a lot of skin around the hole. It had purple stuff (probably iodine) on it so at least it was being treated. It was obvious that the elephant had done something the mahout didn't like and had given it a hard hit with the pick axe like instrument they use. He also used it whacking the elephant on the trip to get it moving and although I didn't like it, it wasn't hit too hard. And the mahout did at least seem to have a good connection with the elephant and talked and sung to it.
(I also saw an elephant with a healed scar on its forhead where I assume it had also been hit hard. Being a boney area, this would have really hurt)
-It was interesting going to the Lisu tribe but I do wonder whether anyone actually lived there or if it was just for show.
-The bamboo rafting was really hot but the guy rafting us down was friendly and it was a really nice experience. It was tranquil and fun spotting wildlife along the way.
This trip would be great for lots of people but we just didn't have the best experience regarding communication about cost and although I'm sure that compared to some other camps, the elephants were treated well, we felt uncomfortable seeing any unhappy or hurt elephants.
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