I went to the Maerim Elephant Sanctuary in March, 2017.
I’m skeptical about so-called elephant sanctuaries in Thailand or any other part of the world. Usually, these places are not sanctuaries, but grounds for making profits from mistreated elephants.
I chose the Maerim Elephant Sanctuary (not to be confused with Maerim Elephant Home) because it was recommended by the owners of the hostel I was staying at in Chiang Mai in addition to TripAdvisor reviews.
Maerim doesn’t offer elephant riding which is harmful to an elephant’s back. Elephant ride training is usually done by negative (hitting) reinforcement which is painful.
I also chose Maerim because they don’t tie up their elephants to a chain. The elephants do have rope collars for guidance during walks but are otherwise free to roam. The collars are also used as an indication that the elephants belong to someone and are not wild or free for the taking.
The Maerim Elephant Sanctuary has four elephants:
Happy and Maitong – half-sisters rescued from a circus
Bunchu – rescued male from elephant riding
Makeaw – emale rescued from hard labor and elephant trekking
Updated: I believe now they have an additional 3 elephants since my time in Chiang Mai.
Makeaw was dropped and injured during birth. Her right-hind leg is shorter than the others. She has to rest it often. The sanctuary is less than a year old; this female elephant has been doing hard labor with a damaged leg for over 20 years. It broke my heart.
I did the full-day visit for 2000 baht. I also paid an extra 500 baht for the photos they take with a DSLR. You can also use your own camera.
The visit consisted of feeding the elephants, walking with them, giving a mud bath, and bathing them in the small reservoir (sometimes the bathing is done at the river). Lunch and snacks were provided which consisted of a Thai noodle cooking class. I found the cooking class euphoric. At the end of the day you can jump in the swimming pool. Round-trip transportation from Chiang Mai to Mae Rim was also included.
Some of the elephants can do tricks such as spray water at you with their trunks.
The mahouts (elephant keepers) are taking caring of the elephants 24 hours a day. Respect.
I always wanted to be up close to elephants, but in the wild without human contact. Of course, the kid in me wanted to touch them which I did at the Maerim Elephant Sanctuary. I felt guilty for these animals to be in their situation and me feeding and touching them. It’s not natural. At least the fee I paid goes towards the sanctuary.
The elephants were treated very well at the sanctuary.
Of course, what I saw at this elephant sanctuary or what anyone sees at an any elephant sanctuary is not a real representation of what’s really happening. So, I volunteered at the Maerim Elephant Sanctuary.