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There are lots of elephant camps and training schools and the like scattered right across Thailand, because elephants were once such a big part of both Thai royal culture and all kinds of industry, especially logging of teak forests. What makes the Mae Ping Elephant Camp near Chiang Mai  a bit special is that it’s trying to help protect the former working elephants and has real mahouts (professional elephant trainers) who dedicate their lives to the care and training of these beautiful animals.

Lots of elephants large and small at Mae Ping elephant camp
Lots of elephants large and small at Mae Ping elephant camp

Now we’d already had an elephant ride near Kanchanaburi, so we would probably not have gone to the Mae Ping Elephant Camp except that we were out riding through the countryside on our scooter one day and stumbled across it. It just looked so much more interesting than what we’d seen before, so we decided to take a look. You don’t need to stumble across it though, as it’s part of many of the packaged day tours offered at hotels and guest houses in Chiang Mai. Mae Ping is about 60 km north of Chiang Mai.

What’s cool about Mae Ping Elephant Camp

  • It’s easy to get to from Chiang Mai – a half day tour
  • It’s a real elephant training camp, not just set up for tourists
  • You can get up close and very personal with the elephants!
  • The elephants paint pictures and put on a great show
  • You can ride an elephant through the jungle
  • The mahouts will help you feed the elephant and get great photos
  • You can watch the baby elephants playing in the river
Stay for the great elephant show at Mae Ping elephant camp
Stay for the great elephant show at Mae Ping elephant camp

Your Mae Ping elephant experience starts with a show where they try to give you some idea of what the life of a working elephant might have been like, and also some light entertainment and a taste of the playful side of an elephant’s nature. This includes moving some logs, playing soccer, playing musical instruments, painting (including painting elephants) and playing basketball … things you’d expect elephants to do in their spare time. But it’s nice to watch and it does get up close and personal at times!

Elephant art can be bought at Mae Ping elephant camp
Elephant art can be bought at Mae Ping elephant camp

Once the show is over, you have an opportunity to buy an elephant hand-painting, or get your photo taken being lifted off the ground on the trunk of one of the big elephants. But the big thing to do at Mae Ping Elephant Camp is to take an elephant ride. Depending on how much you want to spend, you can either do a 30 minute ride along a jungle trail, up and down some hills, through a few creeks, across a shallow river and past some stalls where you can buy bananas and feed them to your elephant, or you can do a 60 minute ride that takes you up a mountain to a Lisu hill tribe village. We did the 30 minute ride, but my brother and his wife accidentally ended up on the 60 minute ride on a separate trip and regretted it!

When you get back you can buy a professional photo of yourself on top of the elephant (in a wooden seat box). Your mahout will also offer to jump down and take photos at various points along the way – he’ll expect a tip for doing this at the end of the ride.

Ride elephants in the jungle at Mae Ping elephant camp
The Mae Ping Elephant Camp offers one of the best elephant riding experiences in Thailand

After your elephant ride you can take a leisurely punt down the river on a bamboo raft and see some river villages and such. It’s a pleasant diversion but don’t forget the sunscreen! The total cost of your day at the elephant park is around 900B plus tips and photos and bananas.

Here’s a look at what you can expect to see at Mae Ping Elephant Camp, Chiang Mai: