thailand elephant nature park volunteer work conservation elephant rehabilitation field hut thailand

Photo Story: Ten Memories Captured at the Elephant Nature Park

thailand elephant nature park volunteer work conservation elephant rehabilitation field hut thailand

I remember specifically the first elephant I saw in Thailand. She was walking right past our minibus as I made my way to the Elephant Nature Park for the first time. On her back, she carried a heavy metal seat with tourists perched on top. Most people know of riding an elephant’s back as a popular tourist activity. More often than not, they aren’t even aware of suffering these elephants are put through. They don’t realize the heavy seats can cause permanent damage to an elephant’s back, or that it is incredibly painful for an elephant to crouch down to enable people to climb on top. Or, worst of all, the way these elephants are taken away from their families as babies and tortured until they cooperate. It is honestly heart-breaking that this is the memory I have of the first elephant I saw. But it served as a good reminder as to why I was volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park, what brought me to Thailand. If you want to know more about the abuse of Elephants and other animals in tourism you should have a read of National Geographic special report on “The hidden cost of wildlife tourism”, or explore the Elephant Nature Park’s website, they summarize it much better than I ever could.

national geographic elephant with flower in her ear rescued in elephant nature park chiang mai thailand with mahout infront of mountanous jungle valley

This has to be one of my absolute favorite shots of my trip. The majestic Jan Peng (full moon) stands with her mahout, who would adorn the hole in her ear every day with a freshly plucked flower. The hole was caused by her last mahout who, like too many others, hit Jan Peng with a bull hook on the ear to scare her into compliance whilst she slaved away in the logging industry. Daily fresh flowers have since been replaced by a faux, bright orange one that will never wilt. Transforming this injury, a painful reminder of the abuse and trauma of a past life, into something beautiful and emblematic of the new, peaceful one she has found at the sanctuary. She is now visited by loving guests from all over the world and even got some attention from National Geographic!

thailand elephant nature park Kabu volunteer work conservation elephant rehabilitation field hut thailand kabu injured rescued elephant scratching himself with stick

thailand elephant nature park volunteer work conservation elephant rehabilitation field hut thailand kabu injured rescued elephant broken leg orphaned

I never intended on having favorites at the park, I was there to help all the elephants, but Kabu quickly changed that. Taking a short break from cleaning out enclosures, a group of us were stood around her, quietly watching. Out of nowhere she started walking… right toward me. She stopped with her face right in front of mine, close enough for me to touch her, and that was that for me. I was in love. Her mahout, a kind and funny man, exactly the type of person you’d hope she’s being looked after by, told me about her history. Kabu had been rescued from the jungle where she and her mother were forced to work in the logging industry for years. Her life before the sanctuary was nothing but abuse and exploitation. The hairs on her tail were cut off to make bracelets to sell to tourist and her front legs broken from a logging accident, so much so you’ll often find her leaning on beams and tree trunks for support. I can’t imagine how or why anyone would put such a smart animal through such pain. And smart she is, I saw her mahout pass her a little stick which she held in her trunk and used to itch around her neck. Thankfully she now gets to live out her days in a safe new home where she gets all the freedom, food and medical attention she could ever need.

vivid greenry surrounding hut in elephant nature park during rainy season jungle living vegan

The view at the Elephant Nature park was something I’ve only ever witnesses through nature documentaries. A grass field with a few trees, paths and enclosures scattered here and there take up the valley, stretching right out to the base of the mountains where the jungle begins. Clean mist covers the mountain tops and fades into the rainclouds above. But despite the rain, it is still bright and the surrounding greens are more vivid than anything I’ve ever seen before. Dense greenery surrounds every path and every building. Rescued elephants, dogs and cats wander freely around the park so you’re always surrounded by nature.

rescued elephant in elephant nature park field with mahout in thailand chiang mai rainy season

One elephant had earned herself the nickname “Drama Queen”. She was one of the few elephants we weren’t allowed to approach as she can be quite unpredictable. We were told she had been rescued from a circus where, because of the abuse they put her through, she had tried to kill five of her past mahouts. At the sanctuary, she has finally found a mahout who looks after her and eventually learnt to trust him. The bonds formed between an elephant and their mahout really stood out to me. These men spend all their time simple trailing behind their elephant to keep an eye on them.

baby and mother elephants recued in elephant nature park chiang mai thailand

This cheeky baby elephant stuck close to her mother at all times, which is very common as elephants have some of the highest levels of maternal care seen in the animal kingdom. At one point, she got a hold of some bamboo and started waving it around. Ignoring all her mahout’s demands telling her to stop and giving the volunteers a good laugh.

candle making children at small village school learning skills for tourism in the jungle near chiang mai thailand tea pot candle making candle mould candles souvenir

 children at small village school making and selling candles learning skills for tourism in the jungle near. chiang mai thailand

During my time in Chiang Man I got the opportunity to visit a small, remote school, nearby the sanctuary. Here, alongside traditional subjects such as math and English, students are taught trades that would help them find jobs in the tourism industry. Braiding bracelets with visitors, dance performances, Thai massages, serving food and even candle making (shown in the pictures) are all part of their education that allows them to make a little cash whilst learning. They had set up all these activities for us in the playground. During this time, a lot of students were running around playing. I watched intently as I tried to figure out the rules of their made-up games.

children at jungle village remote small school play fighting outside in the jungle near chaing mai thailand

children at jungle village remote small school playing and running outside in the jungle near chaing mai thailand handmade toys

locals planting elephant grass in jungle elephant conservation effort thailand

One of my days at the park was spent planting grass. Creating new fields for wild animals to browse on to keep them away from farmers and local populations so no harm will be done to them. Our guides made the work look as effortless as planting a little herb garden in your back yard. As it turns out, it’s not that simple. It’s fidgety and tiring work, especially in the rainy-season’s humidity. Luckily there were some dogs running around to provide a bit of entertainment and to keep our spirits up.

wild dogs keeping locals and volunteers company while planting fields in the jungle elephant conservation project

wild dog lay down in mud keeping locals and volunteers company while planting fields in the jungle elephant conservation project

Those are just a few of my favourite memories from solo-travelling through Thailand! Let me know if you enjoyed this and I might share some more.

Have you ever been to Thailand? Would you want to? What are some of your favourite travel memories? We’d love to hear in the comment below!

More Thailand posts:
A Perfect Day: Scared and Alone in Chiang Mai City
A Night in Chiang Mai City


18 thoughts on “Photo Story: Ten Memories Captured at the Elephant Nature Park

  1. Thank you for reminding us of the elephants’ journeys to being rescued. Beautiful pictures – sweet, yet majestic elephants – it makes me wonder how anyone can be so cruel to such an intelligent being…… I love animals, especially elephants so much more than I care about my fellow man – sad but true. I wish I could go to Thailand and Elephant Nature Park to see an elephant up close in that beautiful environment but I’m in poor health with no money. I plan to be surrounded by elephants in heaven some day…… More pictures, please with more of your story. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment 🙂 It is a sad story but one that must be told if we are to protect elephants as a species. I hope you will get the chance to experience ENP for yourself one day x

      I will be sharing more pictures and stories soon. You can follow the blog or the Facebook page if you’d like to be updated on future posts. hopefully you’ll enjoy them as much as you did this one!


  2. My son (who lives in Thailand) and I visited Elephant Nature Park October 2019. It was my third sanctuary and by far my favorite. I met two other America women while there who will be friends for life, as well as a local woman in Chiang Mai City who I still stay in contact with. Lek Chailert’s efforts in saving elephants gives me renewed faith in humans. Love, Denise

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Denise, that sounds like a wonderful visit! And you are right, the people there are as amazing as the animals themselves. I too have made many friends during my stay at ENP 🙂 And Lek is so inspiring!

      Hopefully we will both get the chance to go back one day x


  3. I love your post with lovely photos!
    I went to Elephant Nature park 2 years ago and if was a wonderful experience one of the happiest day of my life!!
    They do an amazing work, many of the Elephants have a sad history in the past but they are now happy thankd to this amazing people.
    I hope one day to go back.
    I love this place❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Patricia, thank you for your sweet comment 🙂
      I’m glad you got the chance to visit ENP and hope you will return soon x


  4. Sophie,
    Thank you for your article. I visited ENP in November and fell in love as you did. Since my return home I have been trying to think of how to share my experience and education with others via FB. I want to share eloquently – without pointing a finger, without ranting – but that isn’t always my style.
    But it is yours.
    I would love to share your article on my FB feed as a beginning to my story there. Would that be alright with you?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I worked as a volunteer at ENP too in 2018. I love all of them but I felt a deep connection with a couple of very old ‘ladies’, one of whom has died in the meantime. Although I love Kabu very much, my favorite has always been Faa Mai. One afternoon as I was leaving the infirmary after a visit, I heard this strange noise that I couldn’t place and around the corner came Faa Mai careening straight at me. I had no time to think, I heard shouts and screams behind me, I simply turned and ran. I saw this lady shouting at me, keeping a door open for me. I ran inside and she banged the door shut behind me. Both shaking, we listened to Faa Mai creating mayhem outside. My concern was that she might break the door down and then what would we do? I was a bit in shock, I realized what a close shave this encounter had been. When things calmed down we sloooowwwly opened the door to peek out to make sure she had left. And sure enough, this highly spirited gal had moved on leaving a wreck behind: she’d amused herself with a big bench and some chairs. She was just in search of sthg to play with and I had nearly become her toy. I thanked the kind and courageous lady who saved my life while the elephant was rushing toward me, and boy I can attest to the fact that elephants are fast. Faa Mai is highly spirited, a spirit born in freedom and she’ll let you know it. She’d give her poor mahout the run around each evening before retiring, grabbing and swishing twigs here and there while shaking, always seemingly smiling. And nothing or nobody could stop her when she was in such playful mood. I used to watch her so often and just enjoy her antics with her. She is full of love and compassion, always welcoming the new elephants, making friends with even the most difficult ones, always kind. She is the great peacemaker at ENP, and I trust that she will have a blessed life at the sanctuary where she will probably lead a herd if she doesn’t yet.


  6. This is such an interesting post, looks like you had an amazing time in Thailand, I have not yet been there but it’s on my bucket list, at least I can relate to planting grass, I did that for my lawn like a whole day on a small area and it never grew 😀 . Anyway, lovely pictures, thanks for sharing!
    Cheers, Elna


  7. This is such an interesting article, seems like you had an amazing time in Thailand, I have not been there yet but it’s on my bucket list, at least I can relate to planting grass, I did that to grow my lawn like I spent the whole day planting individual grass and it never grew 😀 anyway thanks for sharing!
    Cheers, Elna


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