Not all elephant parks in Thailand are created equal—in fact, the popular activity can sometimes lead to deplorable conditions for these gentle giants—but at Bannchang Elephant Park and Day Care, some 45 miles north of Chiang Mai in Mae Taeng, you can feel good about your visit. A nonprofit rescue center, the site takes working and orphaned baby elephants out of unsavory conditions such as logging camps and circuses to give them the new job of teaching visitors to respect and help conserve wild elephant populations.
Courses and tours here last either one, two or three mostly-full days and teach visitors the work of a traditional mahout or elephant caretaker. Regardless of length, each visit includes the opportunity to feed, bathe and bond with the elephants, but longer courses can incorporate knowledge of commands, communication techniques and the chance to ride an elephant bareback on a jungle trek through the park’s property and to a small area waterfall. All funds generated by mahout and day-care courses are funneled back into the rescue and care of more elephants.
Day trips depart Chiang Mai at either 6:30 or 8:30 a.m. daily and return at 2:30 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. respectively. Multiple-day mahout training courses include overnight accommodations and evening campfire chats with the staff mahouts. The park recommends bringing extra clothes, sunblock and insect repellant.