best elephant camps in chiang mai

How to choose the best Chiang Mai elephant tour

If there’s one animal that comes to mind when you first hear or read the word “Thailand,” it’s the elephant. So it’s no surprise that elephant tours are some of the most anticipated activities for travelers visiting Southeast Asia. With over 70 elephant camps in Thailand, and the majority of these located in the North, you may feel like you are spoilt for choice.

You will soon realize, however, that not all camps are equal, and a little bit of research is needed to ensure a pleasant experience for you, as well as the elephants. Fortunately, we have done the hard work for you, so if you are eager for a once-in-a-lifetime experience with these gentle, majestic creatures then take the next few moments to learn more about what exciting adventures await you on your Chiang Mai elephant tour, and read our tips on how to select the right tour for you.

Browse our elephant tours and join us in an experience of a lifetime.

1. No Riding at Hug Elephant Sanctuary

Elephant No Riding

Highlights of this no riding tour include:

  • Learning about the history of elephants and their behavior
  • Feeding, touching, and playing with elephants with NO RIDING
  • Bathing in a local river and taking a mud spa with the elephants
  • Visiting a Karen hill tribe village

Hug Elephant Sanctuary was founded by a small group of local people to improve the quality of life for the elephants they have rescued from all over Thailand, and the people of the local community.

This truly memorable tour focuses on the safe and sustainable practice of interacting with elephants without riding them. You and your family can look forward to a personal experience as you spend the day learning about each elephant’s unique story followed by feeding and playing with them in the beautiful jungle.

After a scenic drive through Chiang Mai’s countryside, you’ll take a short walk through the local forest to a Karen hill tribe village and meet with a local English-speaking guide. He will briefly talk about the general history of Thailand’s elephants and then provide you with traditional Karen clothing to wear over your outfit.

Next, you will be introduced to each elephant in small, private groups. While you feed them their afternoon snack of bananas and sugarcane, the guide will share stories about each elephant. As you get to know them better, you’ll begin noticing their different personalities. Some are relaxed and shy while others are playful and curious!

After dining on a traditional Thai lunch and taking a short rest while overlooking the nearby hillside, the afternoon continues by reuniting with your elephant friends near the local river. Don’t be afraid to get wet because the elephants love to cool off with a midday bath. With the help of water pails and big scrub brushes, you can help wash the elephants before assisting them with an elephant mud spa.

Mud Spa

Elephant Bathing

Before the tour comes to a close, rinse off upstream and change back into dry clothes. Don’t forget to get those last few pictures of the elephants before heading back to your hotel in Chiang Mai. 

What are you waiting for? Check out more details or Book the No Riding Tour Now!

-> Book a Full Day : 2500 THB per person

-> Book a Half Day Morning : 1700 THB per person

-> Book a Half Afternoon : 1700 THB per person

2. Bareback Riding at Thai Elephant Home

Thai Elephant Home Chiang Mai

Highlights of this tour include:

  • Feeding elephants fresh tropical fruit
  • Learning how to give commands and riding elephants through jungle trails
  • Swimming with elephants in a local river

The half day bareback elephant riding tour is the ideal choice if you aren’t available for a full day trip or prefer a short but memorable experience with elephants while you’re visiting Thailand. This tour is available either in the morning (6:30am hotel pickup) or in the afternoon (1:30pm hotel pickup) and is roughly five hours long. Keep in mind that these pickup times are approximate and depend on the number of people who require pickup services in your tour group.

A typical half-day tour begins with a scenic drive into the mountains directly north of Chiang Mai City. Along the way, your group will stop at a local market to grab snacks for the elephants and then you will receive a light Thai breakfast upon arriving at the Thai Elephant Home.

To prepare for your ride, first you’ll be provided with a traditional elephant trainer (mahout) uniform to wear over your clothing and then you will be given a brief but informative talk about the history of Asian elephants. A local English-speaking mahout will teach you the proper way to safely approach an elephant, give you the commands that will be used during the ride, and show you the proper way to sit on an elephant so that you and the elephant are both comfortable.

Next comes the most exciting part! You’ll be given fresh fruit to feed the elephants and win them over before taking them for a ride through several scenic fields. Take a break from riding and allow the elephants to refuel on bamboo and grass (they eat A LOT) before continuing to the river to give them a bath. Don’t forget to bring a waterproof camera!

So which half day tour best suits your travel plans - the early morning half day elephant ride or the let-me-sleep-in afternoon half day elephant ride?

-> Full Day at Thai Elephant Home: 4900 THB per person

-> Half Day at Thai Elephant Home: 2500 THB per Person

NOTE: Morning tours will be provided with a light breakfast after arriving at the Thai Elephant Tour but before the elephant activities begin; afternoon tour groups will be provided with an afternoon snack after the activities have finished but before heading back to the hotel.

3. Elephant Caretaker at Baan Chang Elephant Park

Baan Chang Elephant Camp

If you’d like to go bareback riding and spend a full day with elephants, the Baan Chang Elephant Park has two unforgettable Elephant Mahout Training tours from which to choose.

The first full day tour option is a classic elephant safari that begins with a professional mahout guide teaching your group special elephant riding commands. Afterward, feed the elephants their favorite snacks of bananas and sugarcane and get to know them better before going out on the trails. After eating lunch and taking a brief rest, apply what you’ve learned during the morning’s training session and go riding on your very own elephant. Enjoy a peaceful journey through the jungle on a trail that eventually leads to a local river. Here you can wash your elephant and watch as it playfully swims in the water.

The second full day tour at Baan Chang Elephant park focuses on the more personal aspect of taking care of elephants. This is also a family friendly activity and people of all fitness abilities are welcomed to join in on the fun. During this tour you’ll work closely with an elephant and its trainer to learn essential riding commands. You will also go shopping at a market for ingredients before cooking a special herbal medicine that keeps the elephants healthy.

Once you’ve been taught the basics of riding, it’s time take a gentle ride through the jungle and down to a local river. Don’t be afraid to get wet since the elephants love their bath time! Swim with and wash the elephants and cool off in the refreshing river.

Do you prefer the classic riding tour or would you like to be an elephant caretaker for the day?  Click either link and book today!

-> Baan Chang Elephant Park Caretaker Course 1 Person / 1 Elephant : 4900 THB

-> Baan Chang Elephant Park Caretaker Course 2 Person / 1 Elephant : 5800 THB

4. No Riding at Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary & Trekking

 Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary

Highlights of this tour include:

  • Learning about the history of Thai elephants
  • Giving the elephants a mud spa
  • Swimming with elephants in the local river
  • Trekking along a scenic jungle trail
  • Floating down the river on a bamboo raft

If you’re looking for a trip full of elephant activities and jungle wonders, this tour has two memorable tours: one that includes trekking and one that does not.

A typical day begins with a picturesque drive through Thailand’s countryside toward Mae Wang, a district about an hour and a half southwest of Chiang Mai City. Depending on the arrival time of your group and its size, the order of the day’s activities will be adjusted accordingly.

Once you’re arrived at the Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary, you’ll meet your local hill tribe guide, who will teach you about the history of Thai elephants and how these gentle giants came to be at the sanctuary. Afterward, put on your mahout (elephant trainer) clothing because it’s time to meet the elephants!

Elephants love getting dirty, so the first things you’ll do with them is give them a mud spa. Slather cool, smooth mud on their massive bodies because it helps protect their skin from the sun and insects. Next, accompany these amazing animals to a field by the forest where they’ll graze on grass and bamboo leaves. Once the elephants have had their lunch, it’s time to take them to a local river where you will give them a bath and take a refreshing swim.

Afterward, say goodbye to the elephants and sit down for a satisfying Thai lunch in the jungle. Once you’ve rested, go on a short trek through the cool jungle. End the day with a relaxing trip down the Mae Wang River on a handmade bamboo raft before changing into clean, dry clothes and riding back to Chiang Mai.

If you prefer a less strenuous day, you don’t have to go on the trek or the bamboo raft ride. Instead, spend more time with the elephants feeding them their favorite snacks and learning how to make a special Karen hill tribe herbal medicine for the elephants. Whichever tour you choose, you’ll have an incredible experience!

Book Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary with Trekking: 2,000 THB per person
Book Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary with no Trekking: 2,000 THB per person

5. Bareback Riding at Patara Elephant Farm

Patara Elephant Farm

Highlights of this elephant camp include:

  • Learning about the history of the Thai elephant
  • Understanding the importance of the elephant in Thai culture and Buddhism
  • Learning about training techniques, health care overview, and daily life routine
  • Creating a respectful relationship with elephants
  • Feeding, washing, and riding elephants

This tour is well-known for offering an unforgettable opportunity to develop a trusting relationship with an elephant for an entire day. In fact, it’s one of the most popular tours in Chiang Mai because it’s a once in a lifetime chance to deeply connect with one of Thailand’s gentle giants.

The Patara Elephant Farm tour begins with a short talk about the history of wild and domesticated elephants, their anatomy, and their life cycle. This introduction also provides educational information about the long-lived tradition of domesticated elephants in Thailand’s culture, the country’s repopulation program, and the mission of Patara Elephant Farm.

Next, you will get an up close and personal look at how elephants are cared for and the intricacies of training and giving commands. Since building a trusting relationship is key during this tour, you will learn how to interpret an elephant’s body language to better understand its mood, learn about the safe way to interact with elephants, and how to keep them healthy and happy.

Once you’ve been paired with your very own elephant and have become acquainted with him or her, the excitement continues by going on a scenic trail ride through the local jungle to visit waterfalls or temples. Along the way, use the commands you’ve learned back at the farm and have a friendly competition by encouraging your elephant to spray water on fellow group members along the trail.

Take a midday break with a picnic lunch of traditional Thai food and enjoy short rest.  Afterward wash your elephant in a local river, brush it, and go swimming together.

-> Full Day: 5800 THB per person

Which Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai Will You be Going To?

Although there are many contenders for the best elephant camps in Chiang Mai, which one sparked your interest the most? Whatever you decide, the experience will be something you will never forget! View all the Elephant Tours in Chaing Mai

Provided on the Tour

  • English speaking guide
  • Driver and transportation
  • Local Thai meal
  • Mahout clothing
  • Hotel transfer (within 3 km of the Chiang Mai City Moat)
  • Accident insurance

A meal will be provided on full day elephant tours and will feature local Thai cuisine. Visitors participating in half-day tours will receive light snacks and refreshments only. If visitors have any special dietary requirements such as eating vegetarian or halal meals or have food restrictions or allergies, please let us know prior to your trip. Bottled water will also be provided.

Responsible Tourism

Many people who visit Thailand agree that riding an elephant is the ultimate bucket list activity. However, some travelers are concerned about an elephant’s wellbeing and are hesitant to participate in activities where an elephant is outside its natural jungle habitat.  

Tourists’ increasing concern about the health and happiness of Thailand’s elephants has created a demand for more ethically responsible elephant camps. Today, visitors can participate in gentler, less stressful activities with elephants such as swimming in the river with them, feeding them their favorite treats, and giving them mud baths.

If it’s a dream of yours to ride an elephant, the best method is to ride bareback. This involves a single rider sitting on the elephant’s neck (behind its ears) without the assistance of a chair or saddle. Contrary to popular belief, an elephant’s spine is not strong enough to safely support the weight of several people on its back.

Additionally, responsible elephant camps in Chiang Mai make sure that their gentle giants have shorter, less strenuous days trekking through fields and jungles and get plenty of water, food, and rest throughout the day. This helps to keep the elephants mentally and physically healthy so that people can continue visiting them.

Packing Essentials

Because the climate in Chiang Mai, Thailand is generally hot and humid, we recommend that all guests who sign up for an elephant tour should wear breathable, comfortable clothing such as cotton short-sleeved shirts and shorts.

Wear a pair of shoes that are comfortable, safe to walk in on uneven surfaces, and easily cleaned. Additionally, since some areas along the tour are muddy, bring shoes that can get dirty. Although flip flops or thongs are not the best choice in shoes to wear, you will still be able to complete all activities if you choose to wear them.  

During the tour you will have the opportunity to swim and bathe with the elephants in a local river, so we suggest wearing a bathing suit under your normal clothes to stay comfortable if you get wet. Thai culture is modest, so it’s best to keep your t-shirt on over your bathing suit.

Don’t forget to pack an extra pair of dry clothes to change into before riding back to your hotel. Alternatively, pack a light towel to dry off after your adventures. It’s a good idea to do this especially if you visit during the rainy season, which generally takes place between July and October. Rain showers typically last between one to two hours, but you can prevent getting wet by packing a lightweight rain jacket or a thin plastic poncho. Rain or shine, the tour will go on as scheduled.

Additionally, pack a small ziplock bag with small bottles of sunscreen and mosquito repellent as well as wet wipes or soap. If you have any necessary prescription medications such as asthma inhalers or epi pens specific to your medical needs, don’t forget to pack them either.

Choosing the Best Elephant Camps in Chiang Mai

On first glance, elephant tours may look like they all offer the same experiences. On the contrary! Here are five elephant camps in Chiang Mai that come highly recommended by past visitors and include a variety of experiences such as bareback riding, no riding, educational training, and entertaining shows.