Elephant Nature Park is an amazing, vast ethical park that is home to over 4000 animals - all of... read more
Elephant Nature Park is an amazing, vast ethical park that is home to over 4000 animals - all of... read more
The best way possible to interact with elephants. These are not wild elephants so it is possible to... read more
I have literally just returned from Journey to Freedom and wanted to provide a long review since it was hard for me to find information before embarking on the trip.
Summary: the week long Journey to Freedom is a fantastic volunteering experience. You will meet amazing people, learn about the Karen tribe culture, see elephants in various ways, and help contribute to some combination of the village, the elephant care, ENP, and nature. Nothing is glamorous but everything is soul-fulfilling.
Be sure to book directly. There are tour companies that offer the exact same experience for over double the cost(!).
If you read old reviews they will mention going to the Elephant Nature Park (ENP) but that is no longer the case - and that’s ok!
You will meet up at the ENP office which is well located in Chiang Mai near many hotels within walking distance. The drive up to the mountains is in an air conditioned van and takes about 3 hours with very very windy roads. I highly recommend motion sickness medicine! You will stop along the way at a market and also for lunch before switching to an open air truck.
Good news! The bamboo house has been updated with beds (no more ground sleeping). You get a great blanket, mattress, pillow, and mosquito net. Most people loved the mattress (I found it hard and was glad to have my camping mattress pad) but almost everyone hated the pillows. They felt like inflatable pool toys. If feasible, bringing your own pillow or equivalent is advised.
The bathrooms are well kept and as clean as the group keeps them. But there are bugs! The good news is one of the 3 showers is hot water so that was wonderful for washing hair. The other 2 are cold water only.
All vegetarian (it’s about the animals, right?!).
The park provides a western breakfast (for us, it was an amazing banana pancake with various egg dishes, fresh fruit, and one other side plus toast, corn flakes with warm milk, and various jams/spreads). Lunch is usually a couple options such as fried rice and fresh fruit. One day there was spaghetti marinara. Dinner is a soup (always delicious) and a couple dishes (such as pad Thai or green curry) and side and fresh fruit. It’s all good food, some of it is very good or excellent in fact. My sister is THE pickiest eater and was thrilled to have Nutella pancakes for breakfast, white rice, cereal, and the soups each day. Every one else are much better variety!
This changes weekly so nothing is in stone. I’m a huge planner but I liked the unknown. It’s well thought out for sure! Our group had 3 amazing walks in the mountains to see the elephants in the wild (one was a half day and the other were full days. The week prior it was 2 half days because the village had a special temple ceremony the group did instead. So, it really varies). We also got to meet the elephants twice at the camp - once for the family of 4 and once for a single elephant because she does not like being in the group. That was really spectacular too. We had cut grass (which was so fun!) earlier in the day to feed them along with feeding bananas and something I’m still not sure what it was but it looked like a big ball of mushy dates. The food we feed them helps give them a healthy diet with protein, etc., but most of their food is from them eating in the jungle on their own.
On other days we went to the village to meet with villagers and walk around. My little sister even got to try the blanket weaving that a grandma in the village was doing. It was awesome. Our particular group also weeded coffee (relatively hard work but only for about 2 hours at most), planted grass, visited the village temple, and on the last day is a blessing ceremony.
You MUST be physically fit enough to hike up steep hills in mountains and have the stamina for standing multiple hours. Otherwise you will be very uncomfortable and/or miss out on much of the weekend. As I write this, I was one of the least fit people and still loved it very much, but a sedentary 18 year old boy who was there complained very much of being tired. The park is very accommodating to your needs, but you don’t want to let the group down by not participating.
At night we enjoyed cold beers (or wine coolers if you bring your own) and played cards. Someone brought a great speaker and it made it so much more fun. We were lucky to have a dry day in the rainy season so we got a bonfire and danced around it - including the Macarana! Haha. It was really great fun.
You get a chance to meet people from all over. In our group (half full week) there were 2 teenage girls from Australia doing a gap year, 2 teenage boys from China doing community service for school, 1 young man from Kenya (by way of London) traveling for his summer off, 1 16 year old girl from China who was going it just for fun, and my sister and me - an 18 year old and 30ish year old from USA doing it as part of vacation.
The leader of our group was Joe and he was amazing. All of the others who worked/volunteered at the camp were also amazing. A wonderful spirit and presence among all of them.
This is a trip truly in the jungle. Bring bug spray! And after-bite is recommended too.
You also need sunscreen and long sleeves/long pants. For the rainy season, the clothes help protect you from leeches as well as mosquitos and from sharp grass. They have laundry (by hand) but everyone just wore dirty clothes if needed. There are no toiletries so be sure to bring shampoo, soap, a towel, etc. Also, for rainy season a simple plastic rain poncho is a must. And tall boots or rubber shoe covers (I found some on amazon that worked a charm. They just snapped over my sneakers) will make you very happy on the muddy farmland and rainforest. Bringing cards or games for the evening is great too. You will have plenty of free time between/after activities. I thought it was a good balance. Some others wanted more hard work and less free time. But you can be as busy as you wish.
It’s a really wonderful experience. You feel like you are contributing but also learning and growing yourself. The people who run it are incredible and I highly recommend this project!
The name of the camp where we went is ‘Sunshine for elephants.’ It was a bucket list experience. As many reviews point out, it can be a life changing experience to feed, bathe, and walk with elephants. These are animals rescued from abusive situations such as being trained to carry people on their backs (painful and stressful), perform or beg and do tricks, haul logs, and do other hard labor. They are learning to trust humans. We were with 3 very sweet females. Don’t miss this.
NOTES: you will get in the river up to chest level so be sure to empty pockets and bring a full set of dry clothes including underwear.
Picked up at our hostel in an air conditioned van. 12 people in our group, all very friendly and fun to get to know. Our guide, Bobby Jay, knew so much about the elephants and was very willing to take lots of pictures. You started with a hike with the elephants while feeding them bananas and sugar cane, then had a vegetarian lunch on a cliff side patio, then make the elephants rice balls and chopped watermelons and jackfruit. You then feed the elephants (again) and take them bathing in the river (we got so wet! but it felt great). Then you raft back to the main camp. It was a lovely experience with 3 female elephants, and they were committed to very ethical treatment. This trip is for people who are able to hike without issue.
We chose this trip because I liked the idea of supporting people through ethical tourism so that they wouldn’t have to make money with elephants in other ways. We did not go to ENP but rather a plot of land in the forest owned by a local Karen and lived on by the mahout. The trip exceeded my expectations! It was intimate with only about 12 of us, our guide Meow, the mahout, and the caretaker of the elephants (I don’t remember his name). The most fantastic part was spending all day with the four month old elephants Heng Heng who was a spunky little lady who could be a little naughty at times. Also there was her mom and her “nanny.” It was beautiful to see the love and connection between the three. Nothing the elephants did seemed pressured. They were coaxed to the water area by some treats, but then seemed to be in heaven splashing around in the water and later in the mud. Meow was a phenomenal tour guide and was always able to answer any question she was asked and provide lots of interesting details. You can tell that all who were involved truly love the elephants. I wasn’t feeling very well due to some adventurous eating the night before and both Meow and the caretaker took time to check in with me and offered me an electrolyte drink to help me feel better. Book this trip! You will not be disappointed!
We booked a Elephant Trails course, one of their saddle off programs, through ENP and the entire experience was breathtaking.
We were lucky to feed, walk, mud bath and regular bath with four beautiful elephant ladies ranging from 5 years to 45 years of age. Despite having a life of difficulty the elephants were so cheeky, gentle and absolutely adorable; it is so nice to support a program that encourages former riding experience to embrace more natural way of tending to their elephants.
We left muddy and so content to have shared such a special day with such magnificent creatures it was definitely an experience we would recommend.
I really enjoyed my visit here. The park is a little over an hours drive from Chiang Mai (depending on traffic) and is well worth the trip. It is really heart warming to see how they have helped not only elephants but also dogs and cats. It was a fantastic experience to be out near the elephants, we were brought out twice into the park once in the morning just after we arrived and then after lunch. You get to see the elephants been feed (and you get the opportunity to do this when you first arrive) and then see them play in the mud and in the local steam. There are also buffalo wandering around the park, they are from local villages and help keep the grass under control. The majority of the elephants are rescued and you can see what a toll their hard life before arriving at the park has taken on their bodies and for a few also the physiological impact. The one that impacted me the most was the elephant that had stepped on a land mine. The staff there were excellent and brief you very well in what to do and not to do and each elephant had a guide as well so they can give you extra instructions. Overall a fantastic experience and definitely a highlight of my visit to Chiang Mai