In an earlier blog post, I wrote about why our family would not ride elephants while vacationing in Thailand. At the time of that writing, we hadn’t yet gone on our trip, but my research into the subject revealed the dark side of elephants in the tourist industry. I learned about the cruel training methods used to make these remarkably intelligent and empathetic animals compliant enough to do tricks and allow humans to ride them. I also realized how tourists perpetuate this grim situation through a misguided desire to experience elephants in these ultimately exploitative ways.
As disturbing as all of this research was, it also led me to the discovery of a place where elephants are allowed to live freely and happily, and whose founder is working tirelessly to change the way elephants are treated and perceived. That place is the Elephant Nature Park, located outside Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Our one-day visit, booked months in advance, was for me the most highly-anticipated day of our three-week adventure in Southeast Asia. My expectations leading up to our June 21 visit were sky-high, and I’m happy to report that our actual experience soared even higher.