30 Jan The Mae Wang Elephant Home, Chiang Mai
The Mae Wang Elephant Home is a small and very well managed elephant home located in the Mae Wang valley about an hour’s drive from Chaing Mai.
It was established in 2016 as a way to take elephants out of trekking and riding activities, and instead allow them to enjoy a more natural and relaxed life, while still allowing visitors to learn about and see them in a safe environment.
The home is a small operation with just 6 elephants and the owner has made the decision to limit the number of visitors each day. The small and personal nature of the sanctuary ensures that the elephants are not exploited, have very focussed care and that their daily lives are not negatively impacted by tourists in any way.
Heading up the project is Noom who comes from a family that has kept elephants for generations, working them initially in the surrounding jungles and then in the tourism industry, offering elephant back safaris. That was up until two years ago when he decided that he had to make a change for their sake, and took a giant leap of faith in the spirit of doing the right thing and stopped all those activities to retire his elephants to a life of relaxed play and special care as family and friends.
It was driven by two Spanish guests who had booked an elephant trip with Noom, and when arriving at the camp burst into tears at the sight of his then neglected elephants standing in the heat with no shelter. They spoke to Noom and asked him why he wasn’t taking better care of his elephants, how he hadn’t considered their discomfort and why he never recognised them as an extension of his family that need taking care of.
This was a moment of change for Noom and after an in-depth discussion with these guests he made an immediate decision to stop elephant back safaris, starting the evolution to the Mae Wang Elephant Home by building a safe shelter for his elephants and beginning to plan a transition from elephant riding camp to an educational protective sanctuary.
He speaks about the impact this decision has had on him personally, as well as how his closer relationship with these special animals have changed his philosophy and ethos, also how much happier and healthier the elephants now are. Even though there is no more elephant riding, the hungry herd does need looking after and as a paying visitor or volunteer you are contributing positively to the project, their upkeep and Noom’s vision to bring about change in the valley.
After an introduction and lunch on your visit, you will walk down to the river together and watch them at play in the water. After a swim with the elephants, you’ll be offered the option of jumping on one of the locally run bamboos rafts and floating gently down the river, before being transferred back to the home to freshen up.
A visit here is likely to change the way you think about elephants and will certainly demonstrate how they can be protected and looked after free of tourism driven exploitation. It is an interesting time for elephants in Thailand and Noon is certainly leading by example.
The primary focus is to care for the elephants and mahouts that are part of the programme. However, Noom also hopes that by showing other ‘camps’ in the local area that there are ways to support the expensive upkeep of the elephants without offering elephant riding, that over time others will follow this example and consider change.
What to expect on a visit
– On arrival all visitors are given a talk about the history of elephants in the region and the role they play in Thai culture, also how and why the home was established and it’s long-term goals and plans.
– There’s a general introduction to the elephants – their name, age, personality traits – a lesson in their eating habits, general up keep and the dynamics of the group. There is a new baby that you may be allowed to meet too.
– Once the elephants have been fed, you will walk with the elephants and mahouts through the surrounding countryside to the local river and bathing pool, where you are allowed to swim with the elephants and even assist the mahouts in washing them.
– Important to note that at no time does anyone ride the elephants.
– The visit includes a delicious home-cooked meal with Noon’s family that is served at the centre before you head down to the, river. Vegetarian meals are available on request.
Where to find the Mae Wang Elephant Home
Mae Wang is a district of Chiang Mai province about an hour outside of the city. The drive there takes you up into the hills, through stunning rural countryside. You may want to make a day of your time out this way with rafting on the Mae Wang river, trekking in the National Park, a visit to the rice paddies, time at the waterfalls and even in one of the Hill Tribe villages.
There isn’t a central village in Mae Wang, but you can visit Ban Kat for an ATM, shopping and restaurants. Along the side of the road as you head out are many craft stores and coffee shops that overlook the river, with kiosks selling sarongs, t-shirts, souvenirs and even traditional Karen tribe clothing.
Useful Information for Visitors
Given that you will be interacting with the elephants, feeding them, walking down to the river together and even swimming with them, it is recommended that you wear a bathing suit and bring a towel and fresh change of clothing. You can expect to get muddy, so there is no need to wear your best outfit.
The home is open nearly every day of the year and you can either head out on your own or book a day trip with The Tuk Tuk Club who will take you there.
NOTE: The Mae Wang Elephant Home should not be confused with the Mae Wang Elephant Camp, which is a different organisation that does offer elephant riding and follows a different philosophy.