Ethical Elephant Experiences & Eco-Lodge at The Chai Lai Orchid
Elephant Tourism in Thailand - A Bit of Background
Elephant tourism in Thailand is a massive industry and highly-controversial attraction. Many visitors are overwhelmed by the abundance of ‘elephants tours’ and are often persuaded into booking trips with companies that do not provide ethical, educational and eco-friendly experiences. Many are focused on profit first with little regard for the wellbeing of the elephants, environment, community, and guests.
Although elephants are regarded as beautiful majestic giants, they are often not treated as such. I’ve heard stories from many people who have shown up to a camp or tour only to discover the elephants in extreme distress. This is the reality for most elephants in Thailand - supporting heavy metal chairs, long work days, little food and extreme heat. It is heartbreaking.
The Chai Lai Orchid
After looking into what exists for experiences with elephants in the Chiang Mai region and Northern Thailand, I came across The Chai Lai Orchid and instantly knew this was the place I wanted to support.
The Chai Lai Orchid is a sustainable and environmentally-conscious elephant sanctuary and eco-lodge perched alongside the beautiful Mae Wang River. It’s private grounds are located just one-hour from Chiang Mai’s Old City, with complimentary driver’s provided to get you to and from your adventure on time and safely. The sanctuary is home to 11 rescued elephants, tour guides and mahouts (elephant caretakers) from indigenous communities in Northern Thailand and Burma.
Not only does The Chai Lai Orchid offer one-on-one time with the elephants, there are a number of unique adventures available and customizable to your interests and abilities. Go for a trek through the jungle to discover hidden waterfalls and abandoned temples, visit the Karen hill tribe village, float down the river on a bamboo raft, eat homemade Thai food while admiring nature, and extend your stay in one of nine riverside bungalows nestled in nature.
Elephant & Eco-Tour Experiences
During my stay at The Chai Lai Orchid, the highly knowledgeable and generous people of the Karen hill tribe taught me how to be a true Elephant Caretaker. It was extremely rewarding to learn how to interact with the rescued elephants in their natural habitat - how to care for them, feed them, approach and communicate with them.
The adventure started with a hike through the forest with my first elephant friend ‘Sea Voy’. She is the second oldest elephant of the group and well-known for her calm and relaxed energy. With a banana bag over my shoulder, we walked slow and paused every so often for a snack. In the forest, we met up with the rest of the gang where the real lunch took place.
Once the feast was over, we walked to the Mae Wang River and bathed together in the mountain stream. We played, laughed and splashed in the water. Sometimes even exchanged a big wet kiss on the cheek.
In the afternoon, we took a five minute drive up the road for a bamboo rafting adventure. With a local tribe member to guide the way, it's a peaceful 45 minute journey back to The Chai Lai Orchid grounds. Lay back as you drift down the serene river, listen to birds chirp and feel the sun on your shoulders. Be prepared to make friends as you bump into other rafters on route. Many locals set-up shop alongside the river, so if you’re interested in grabbing a beer, fresh fruit or bag of chips - remember to bring some Baht!
Eco-lodge in the Jungle
Your experience doesn't have to end there - stay the night (or forever) in one of nine private bungalows at The Chai Lai Orchid.
For me, living in an eco-lodge surrounded by elephants and nature was a highlight of my time in Thailand. For two nights and three days, I was able to completely disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the Chiang Mai, sleep deeply to the sounds of nature and wake up with elephants at my doorstep.
Each bungalow has a breathtaking view of the forest and river, outdoor patio, ensuite bathroom, fan or air conditioning, plush queen bed and fully-stocked mini fridge to keep you hydrated.
In the morning, visit the riverside cafe for delicious complimentary breakfast serving homemade fried rice, fresh tropical fruit, banana loaf, rice cakes with coffee and tea.
This is the perfect way to immerse yourself in nature, take time to meet the locals, learn about ethical elephant caretaking, and relax before heading back into the city.
Check out the full array of bungalows available here.
"THE CHAI LAI ORCHID WAS CREATED TO STOP EXPLOITATION AND TRAFFICKING BY EMPOWERING AT RISK WOMEN.”
The Chai Lai Orchid is Thailand’s first elephant tour and trekking company operated by indigenous Karen women. Through ethical and sustainable tourism, you can help to preserve ancient culture and enable women to help their communities.
Supporting The Chai Lai Orchid creates jobs in the community and provides a happier and healthier environment for the elephants while respecting nature and indigenous culture.
All funds help to create a safe and permanent sanctuary for the elephants as well as aid the Daughters Rising Program. The program empowers female refugees of the Karen Tribe who are at risk of exploitation and trafficking by providing a positive environment, education and employment.
“Eco-travel is not only about your carbon footprint, it is also about people. Community based tourism can ensure your adventure in Thailand is a respectful exchange with the indigenous communities you visit.” - The Chai Lai Orchid
Visit DAUGHTERSRISING.ORG to learn more and donate.
Tips for staying at The Chai Lai Orchid:
Do stay for a night or two in one of the beautiful riverside bungalows
Do float down the Mae Wang River on a bamboo raft with a local guide
Do wake up early to share bananas with a rescued elephant
Do visit with the people of the Karen hill tribe at Mae Sopak Village
Special Thank You To:
Alexa, Bay, Nukul, Cola, Alex and the entire Chai Lai Orchid team
Get in Touch:
The Chai Lai Orchid
202 หมู่ที่ 9 Tambon Mae Win, Amphoe Mae Wang, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50360
Call (English) 086 923 0867
Call (Thai) 062 029 5464