Bamboo Elephant Family Care Review
I spent a chunk of time researching a good elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai as my friend and I wanted to have a once in a lifetime experience with the animals. We ended up choosing Bamboo Elephant Family Care for our day and this is my review.
Which elephant sanctuary?
Like choosing a cooking class in Chiang Mai, there were also plenty of Elephant Sanctuaries. This new brand of “voluntourism” continues a welcome trend where we’re not exploiting our animal friends, but celebrating them. It’s reasonably clear that a lot of these former elephant ride operators have converted over to this style of operation. At our hostel there were over a dozen different operators – all offering very similar dayplans and at similar prices. So there’s plenty of choice and that’s mudded by the lack of universal standards.
After researching for hours, going through pamphlets and Googling the hell out of all the elephant sanctuaries’ names, my friend and I decided on Bamboo Elephant Family Care. Not sure it’s that easy to decide, most had alright reviews and all the shady stuff is hard for us tourists to spot.
Our first choice was Elephant Nature Park, but we were happy to support a smaller one, the former already sounded plenty popular. I had read about the Elephant Jungle Park video where that company had chained up elephants overnight so I kinda of don’t think that’s a good one. And the rest – all very similar names and all hard to decipher.
We had a great day at the Bamboo Family Elephant Care sanctuary – the creatures were well cared for, very happy, and displayed plenty of normal elephant-like behaviours. The day started off a little shaky (in the literal sense) as we were ferried by songthaew to the sanctuary. It’s actually quite far, maybe an hour or so of driving before we get there. It does feel like a full world away. Make no mistake, this is the jungle.
Our experience was with three elephants (there was three of us in the group) and they were all very healthy, happy and well cared for. Surprisingly gentle, and you can get up real close to them. I don’t think this would be the case if there wasn’t ethical treatment. They have personalities – the older ones were very gentle. The baby one, Tong, is ridiculously adorable, but incredibly naughty!
You get to spend the whole time with the elephants, so there’s no shortage of photo opportunities. The staff even take some for you too! Activities include feeding them, making them medicine balls, bathing them and generally getting to interact with them under the team’s watchful eye. It’s a perfect balance of freedom and safety.
The hike in the jungle portion was a little bit forced, but fortunately wasn’t too long. And we get a lovely lunch of (appropriately) vegetarian Pad Thai and fresh fruit. Other sanctuaries all offered the same activities.
Like a few of the other elephant sanctuaries, the day includes an activity – for us the choices were white water rafting or visiting the Karen tribe. When I first saw these in pamphlets I was kind of against it, as I wanted maximum time with the animals. But after spending the whole morning with them I had changed my mind. They need a break and so do you. So a half day works out in my view. There was no shortage of interaction with the folk at Bamboo Elephant Family Care.
Of the two activity options we choose the experience with the Karen tribe, which I did with a somewhat heavy heart. I’m not such a fan of “human tourism” and have read conflicting reports of their treatment. After my time there I feel much more comfortable. They’re lively, happy and keen to share their culture just as much as you are to learn it. Do know the time in the village is largely souvenir shopping (not my thing) so it’s not that exciting. If you’re wanting pictures with/ of them, please politely ask them – though I don’t doubt they are used to all sorts of tourists.
The staff at Bamboo Elephant Family Care were great – Chai was our main guide but they look after you and there’s a very cool family-vibe to how they run. They always have your back and they want you to have the best day possible.
This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience to be up close and intimate with elephants, so it was a very worthwhile day out. The bonus t-shirt is a cool touch and overall, I would highly recommend this experience for anyone else in Chiang Mai.