The Thai Elephant Conservation Center

Pachyderms at play

What we say: 4 stars

Chiang Mai province is clearly the epicentre of elephant activities as far as the tourism trade goes in northern Thailand. There are numerous elephant camps along the Mae Sa, Mae Taeng and Mae Taman valleys, though surrounding provinces also have several, albeit lower key, options. Mae Hong Son has a few small camps around Pai while Chiang Rai offers riding at the Karen village of Ban Ruam Mit on the Kok River, and mahout training courses near Sob Ruak. There are pros and cons with these smaller operations in that while often less touristy and as we mentioned, low key, they are also sometimes — though not always — less professionally run and less scrutinised for possible malpractices and conditions.

Elephants and mahouts near Chiang Mai

Elephants and mahouts near Chiang Mai.

There are pros and cons of visiting elephants in the tourist trade, but if you have decided to head to one of north Thailand’s camps for a show and or elephant ride, then Lampang province’s option, the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre, is certainly one of the better ones we’ve come across.

Musical ellies

Musical ellies.

The Elephant Conservation Centre is located right next to Lampang’s famous Elephant Hospital although the two are not otherwise connected in any way, and the hospital does not offer rides or shows. Being somewhat off the main tourist route the Lampang camp sees far fewer visitors so is consequentially smaller and we reckon much pleasanter than the huge camps north of Chiang Mai.

Logging demonstration

Logging demonstration.

The actual show itself — or at least the one we watched — omits some of the more over the top elements you can find elsewhere, such as football matches, basketball and so on, and did make an attempt to introduce more pedagogic activities such as a demonstration of old logging techniques. Yes, sure there were still cutesy baby ellies wiggling their ears and curtseying and the obligatory musical interlude, but it was definitely overall in much better taste than some shows we’ve seen.

Fraction of the crowd at the bigger shows

Fraction of the crowd at the bigger shows.

Aside from watching the shows — at 10:00, 11:00 and 13:30 — you can ride elephants at any time of the day between 08:00 and 15:30 and watch the elephants being bathed from 09:45 to 13:30. There are also spacious, pleasant grounds to wander around in and an elephant hospital (in addition to the neighbouring one) to visit.

Bathing the baby

Bathing the baby.

The show costs 170 baht per person and 110 baht for kids. Rides start at 200 baht for adults, 100 baht for children for 10 minutes or 500 baht for two people for 30 minutes. One hour will set you back 1,000 baht for two. A shuttle bus ticket around the vast site costs an additional 20 baht and allows you to hop on and off at will.

Combined riding and bathing

Combined riding and bathing.

They also offer a comprehensive range of mahout courses, from a one-day programme for 3,500 baht, a one-week programme for 20,000 baht, right up to a one-month course for 100,000 baht. You can make your way up there by public transport though if you book through a Lampang agent or guesthouse return transport will be included.

Some tasty ellie snacks

Some tasty ellie snacks.

More details
Km 28-29 Lampang-Chiang Mai Highway
http://www.thailandelephant.org/en/
How to get there: Located between Km 28-29 Lampang-Chiang Mai Highway in Hang Chat, Lampang. You can catch a bus either way, book a roundtrip through a guesthouse or travel agent in Chiang Mai, or go by your own steam -- it's a lovely motorbike ride or drive.
Last updated: 23rd September, 2014

About the author:
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
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The Thai Elephant Conservation Center
Km 28-29 Lampang-Chiang Mai Highway
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