Chiang Mai Thailand

The Best Ethical, Non-riding Chiang Mai Elephant Experience in Thailand: Happy Elephant Care

We visit the best Chiang Mai elephant sanctuary (NON-RIDING!) for volunteering with Thailand elephants, including feeding, walking, and bathing them!

If you get the opportunity to volunteer with elephants, don’t leave it off your Thailand itinerary!  The beautiful northern city of Chiang Mai might just be the epicenter of all elephant conservation Thailand experiences, with dozens of elephant sanctuaries and homes around the city and the surrounding province. With the surplus of ethical, non-riding Chiang Mai elephant sanctuaries, it’s difficult to know which Chiang Mai elephant experience you should pick for your trip. Most importantly, your elephant sanctuary Chiang Mai adventure should seek out a loving, caring home for the elephants while maintaining the right balance of elephant interaction with visiting tourists. Happy Elephant Care provides a safe, loving, and ethical home for elephants while providing everything you would hope for in your elephant sanctuary Chiang Mai experience.


These photographs were all taken on our Canon 80D. Make sure to check out our essential cameras for every traveler guide for more info.

Thailand elephant experience in Chiang Mai

Happy Elephant Care: An Ethical & Sustainable Home for Elephants

As its name suggests, Happy Elephant Care puts the happiness and well-being of its elephants first and foremost. Located 60 km from Chiang Mai city proper in the lush jungle-clad hills of Mae Wang district, Happy Elephant Care prides itself on being a sustainable and ethical home for elephants rescued from elephant riding camps or the logging industry.


Volunteer with elephants in Thailand


At Happy Elephant Care, elephants don’t work for tourists; instead, it’s you who will do the working with elephants as you help feed and care for them during your visit at this elephant park Chiang Mai.


Ethical Thailand elephant care


Chiang Mai Elephant Volunteer Experience

Happy Elephant Care encourages its volunteers to get up close and personal with the elephants for the best elephant sanctuary Chiang Mai experience. If you want to volunteer with elephants at Happy Elephant Care, you’ll have the chance to feed, play with, and bathe them while enjoying the beautiful natural surroundings of northern Thailand. You’ll learn about the elephants and their lives at Happy Elephant Care from the knowledgeable and funny staff who accompany you on your Thailand elephant experience.


If you’re planning on staying in Chiang Mai, do not miss this stunning eco lodge run by the Lisu tribe!


Thailand itinerary - visit elephants in Chiang Mai


Our Experience with the One Day Tour at Happy Elephant Care

Our day spent working with elephants at Happy Elephant Care was one of our favorite things we did on our recent trip to Thailand! Starting the day off bright and early, we got picked up from our Chiang Mai hotel by the Happy Elephant Care tuktuk. We then drove about an hour through the Thai countryside, stopping at a local market en route to Happy Elephant Care. When we arrived, we changed into our mahout clothes that Happy Elephant Care provides. We then met with our tour guide, who introduced us to the elephants.


Chiang Mai elephant


Next, we had the chance to feed the elephants a variety of snacks, including watermelon, sugar cane, and corn plants. As an ethical and sustainable Chiang Mai elephant sanctuary, Happy Elephant Care grows most of their elephant food onsite.


Landscape Chiang Mai, Thailand


The elephants at Happy Elephant Care are kept in a large, open-air enclosure where they have plenty of room to move around and have shelter from the sun and rain. You are given many chances to get up close and be intimate with the elephants at Happy Elephant Care, making for adorable and quirky photo opportunities!



Taking care of elephants in Thailand


After feeding the elephants their snacks, we made the elephants their “medicine” ball out of tamarind and other vitamin-rich ingredients. Why tamarind? Our guide told us that it helps the elephants with their digestion and bowel movements. This sticky and hands-on part of the program demonstrated Happy Elephant Care’s dedication to making sure that the elephants are taken care of to the fullest capacity.


Thailand elephant volunteer experience


Walking with Elephants at Happy Elephant Care

Next, it was time to walk with the elephants through the jungle. Walking with the elephants as they lumbered steadily through the thick jungle satisfied our Chiang Mai trekking needs! As they walked, the elephants swung their tails happily.


nonriding Thailand elephant care


The walk with the elephants took about half an hour through quite steep and muddy hills full of thick undergrowth and sometimes sharp foliage, so make sure you wear proper closed-toed shoes for this part of your Chiang Mai elephant tour. Upon finishing the walk, we were all positively starving, and enjoyed a delicious Thai lunch of Penang curry, rice, and vegetables provided for us by Happy Elephant Care.


Playing with Thailand elephants in Chiang Mai

Bath Time at Happy Elephant Care

No Thailand elephant visit would be complete without an opportunity to bathe elephants. Thankfully, Happy Elephant Care provides those who visit their elephant preserve the chance to do so, which proved to be the definite highlight of the day! We accompanied the elephants on the thirty minute walk through the countryside, taking in beautiful views of the Chiang Mai countryside throughout.



There were definitely some “wow” moments when the special nature of what we were undertaking hit me: “Wow, I’m walking with elephants in this beautiful place in Thailand and I’m going to bathe them, too!”. These impressions will last much longer than the day we spent working with elephants at Happy Elephant Care.


Getting to bathe Thailand elephants


Upon reaching the river, we walked a little further until we found a perfect spot that was secluded and deep enough for the elephants to bathe in. The mahouts jumped right in with them, but it took the rest of us a minute or two to gather the courage to join in with these gentle giants. Entering the cold water, I joined in one of the most unique experiences of my life. I’ll never forget those moments I spent up close and personal with the elephants at Happy Elephant Care!


Bathing elephants in Thailand river


The chance to bathe the elephants was everything you would imagine it to be. Bathing the elephants provided the most intimate and personal experience of the day at this elephant sanctuary Thailand. The elephants had to walk back to the sanctuary, but we thankfully got a ride back to Happy Elephant Care in the tuktuk provided for us, as well as a ride back to our Chiang Mai hotel at the end of the day.


Thailand Elephant in Chiang Mai


More Ways to Volunteer with Elephants at Happy Elephant Care

Happy Elephant Care offers more opportunities for working with elephants.

In addition to the one-day program that we participated in, they also offer two and three day experiences. These provide more chances to spend quality time with the elephants, and include opportunities to volunteer with baby elephants, multiple chances to bathe elephants, observing the elephants at night, and visits to nearby waterfalls and hill tribe villages. Lodging and meals are provided at the Happy Elephant Care facility for those who visit this elephant sanctuary.


Happy Elephant Care: Chiang mai experience in Thailand



What to Bring for your Thailand Elephant Experience

  • Comfortable clothes that can get dirty, as you will be outside most of the time interacting with muddy elephants. 
  • Closed toed shoes for the hiking and walking portions of the day, as the ground can be quite steep, muddy, and slippery. We like these and these.
  • Sunscreen. We like this reef-safe, natural sunscreen for face and body.
  • Insect repellent. Try Picaradin instead of DEET. Here’s a great Picaradin insect repellent we endorse.
  • Bring sandals/flip-flops if you want for the bathing part. We like thesethese, and these.
  • Don’t worry about bringing snacks and water, as these are provided for you.
  • Bring a change of clothes and a towel for after the bathing. These are our favorite quick-dry, compact microfiber travel towels.
  • Camera!


Thailand elephants are cute in Chiang Mai


Happy Elephant Care makes the happiness and health of the elephants in their care their highest priority. Throughout your visit at this best elephant tour Chiang Mai, you will observe the elephants being treated with respect and love. Mahouts do not abuse or mistreat the animals in any way, and use verbal commands and cues to guide the elephants without using whips or bull hooks. The elephants are provided open space to move around, and do not get tied up or chained. No elephant riding takes place at this Chiang Mai elephant sanctuary, and indeed; those who want to volunteer with elephants will find that bathing is a much more intimate and humane way to interact than a ride! With all these aspects in mind, we can firmly recommend Happy Elephant Care as one of the best places to volunteer with elephants in Chiang Mai, and hope you enjoy your experience as much as we did.


Bathing elephants in Thailand



Disclosure: This post is a collaboration with Happy Elephant Care, but as always, all opinions are very much our own!



Like this post?

Share it on Pinterest by hovering over one of the pictures below and clicking the red “Pin It” button!

We visit the best Chiang Mai elephant sanctuary (NON-RIDING!) for volunteering with Thailand elephants, including feeding, walking, and bathing them! We visit the best Chiang Mai elephant sanctuary (NON-RIDING!) for volunteering with Thailand elephants, including feeding, walking, and bathing them!
We visit the best Chiang Mai elephant sanctuary (NON-RIDING!) for volunteering with Thailand elephants, including feeding, walking, and bathing them!

You Might Also Appreciate…

More Asia Posts

Travel Tips

What part of Thailand elephant volunteering would you like most?

Tell us in a comment below!


You Might Also Like

No Comments

Leave a Reply


Get the latest posts delivered to your mailbox: