Tums Elephant Santuary Tour in Chiang Mai is Worth Every Baht

Donna and I knew we wanted to see elephants in Thailand, the problem was finding somewhere ethical, we didn’t want to ride an elephant but we did want to get close, riding an elephant is one step away from using them as circus animals and it’s cruel as fuck, they’re beautiful intelligent creatures that deserve our respect. The problem in Thailand is that farmers still use the elephants to pull machinery to harvest crops, which I can understand and Thailand will naturally grow out of it just as westerners grew out of using horses and buffalo to pull machinery.

Being a tourist you have a responsibility to ensure your money isn’t being used to perpetuate cruelty for entertainment, this is especially clear if you are considering coming to Thailand to pet a Tiger, there’s no feasible way to do that without funding animal cruelty, either the Tigers are drugged out the whole time or they have been beaten into submission by the handlers, Tigers aren’t domesticated animals, fuck you and your tiger selfie.

If you want to get close to magnificent creatures that are naturally gentle to anything not trying to eat them, I highly recommend the “Chiang Mai Tum Travel” company to do it. They’re a smaller company than their competitors but for a lower price than the other elephant tour companies they also include white water rafting, bamboo rafting and a trek through the rainforest to a waterfall as part of the days activities, most of the tour companies are around 2,500 Baht to just hang out with the elephants, the Tum Travel company was 1,800 Baht for half a day with elephants and half a day rafting and trekking which equates to around £32, it seemed daft not to book with them.
After messaging them on Facebook they will pick you up from your hotel the following morning and drive you an hour and a half north of Chiang Mai into the mountains where the elephants live, they pick you up in one of Chiang Mai’s unique taxi bus things and stop off at a market on the way for supplies.
When you arrive at the elephant camp, you are given a brief safety talk about not pissing off the elephants with selfie sticks (they think iPhones are food apparently) and then handed bags upon bags of sugar canes and bananas, elephants love sweet food and they’re much more likely to act nicely to strangers if they’re offering them something sweet and delicious.

They have three elephants that they own, and a sick one that they’re looking after for a local farmer,  the elephants were rescued from local farms and a local riding company. To buy a single elephant you’re looking at spending 1 million Baht, or around £200,000. Knowing this, you can see why you can’t really let an elephant out into the wild and expect it to stay wild, plus if you want to “save” an elephant, you have to buy it, then you have to feed it and elephants eat A LOT, so there are running costs meaning that without relying on government subsidising or external donations, you have to set up a business in order to help the elephants. Fortunately the Tum travel company seems to have nailed it, they have travellers pay for the privileged of taking on some of the labour of looking after elephants for half a day and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a morning.

Feeding the elephants is a pleasure, they clearly enjoy their sweet treats, they were very gentle with the way they removed food from our hands, they grab the food with the tip of their trunks and curl them into their mouths, kinda how you would expect, but it gives you a chance to feel their tremendous trunks which had surprisingly thin skin and were quite soft.

The guides (Nana and Korn, pictured below) mentioned that if you give an elephant something sweet they will remember you for a couple of years, yet if you gave them something sour and disgusting, they will remember you for up to five years, because they will remember to avoid you.  it wasn’t clear whether the elephants were gentle because of their treatment previous to their adoption from the sanctuary or if they simply understood that we meant them no harm and wanted to enjoy their company, either way they seemed pretty content.

Nana in the black top grew up with elephants and understands that they each have their own personalities that require special treatment on an individual level.

After feeding the elephants a ton of sweet stuff we went back into the hut and made natural medicine using tamarind which flushes their stomachs of parasites and sea salt which boosts their appetite, the tamarind is quite sour so we coated the salt and tamarind in sticky rice to make it more palatable.

After playing an elephant version of doctors and nurses we made natural soap by bashing some wood, when soaked into water it created a soapy smell and foam, we used the wood to scrub the backs of the elephants in the river.


Having said our goodbyes to the elephants, we went white water rafting, the down the river that we had scrubbed elephants in and it was slightly disappointing, we went during the dry season so the water was quite shallow, we kept getting stuck on boulders on the way down and really struggled to get out each time. There were parts of the water which were had strong currents but it would have been better had the whole trip down the river been exciting rather than frustrating. Following the rafting in a dingy we boarded some bamboo rafts and I was one of the lucky ones to control the ship, a little like the guys on boats in Venice where you use a stick to push against the bottom of the floor I managed to get us from one point to another in shallow waters without getting too stuck.

After a brief break we jump back in the taxi bus and end up deeper into the mountains to begin our trek, the forrest was thriving and on the trail we passed small huts where locals were staying, one of the huts had recently had puppies which are always a bonus when trekking through the rainforest. 

After passing some huts and a failed hydroelectric project you arrive at a waterfall, it’s nothing compared to the waterfalls in Cairns but it’s worth a look and worth taking a dip after a hard day of being a tourist.

All in all I would highly recommend Tums Travel Company, partly because of the budget price but mainly because of the way they treat their elephants, when we left them to go water rafting, they were being led back up the mountain where they like to stay, surrounded by trees and protected from poachers.  Anybody who normally reads my blog may find this post to be strange, this isn’t sponsored content in any way, I just really appreciate what they’re doing for their elephants as a small sanctuary and figured I’d give them a tiny boost in exposure, plus the pictures are nice.


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