One of the earliest things we added to our bucket list for this trip was a Mahout training class in the jungles far outside of Chiang Mai. Finding the right place for the experience though took some time. Many places will offer the “out of the box” version if you will, where tourists will go to ride in a basket atop of the elephant, watch the elephant mimik human-like activities and/or watch elephants on parade, which exploit the elephants and often equate to highly poor living conditions and abuse.
We found the Chang Siam Santuary, which focuses rather on sustainable tourism for the elephants, people who work at the Santuary, and tourists alike, so collectively all can live happily together.
We were able to train with the mahouts to understand how elephants live freely – what they eat, how they play, what they’re afraid of – feeding them, bathing them, preparing food for them. After a few days with our new friends, we can offer a few suggestions that we feel happy to pass along:
If you ride the elephants, make sure to stay on their neck as riding on their backs can hurt their spine.
Insider tip: We found that asking for more of an “off the beaten path” experience from our guide, led to much more of an interactive experience with the elephants. We were able to gather and chop up banana trees to feed the elephants, and spend more time understanding how the people who work at the Santuary live, making life friends along the way.
For information on this Santuary, and details to book your own experience, see here