The “Journey to Freedom” project was developed by Lek, a local to Northern Thailand who founded The Elephant Nature Park (ENP) in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Her vision is to provide a safe sanctuary for elephants to live freely. She rescues orphaned, blind, abused, disabled and working elephants.
Working elephants are a huge commodity in Thailand. Prior to 1989, elephants were used in the logging industry. Since then, logging has been banned and elephants have been put to use mainly in the tourist industry for elephant rides, street begging, and in the circus.
Prior to the “Journey to Freedom” project, I went on an elephant ride. I have to admit that I had a lot of fun being a “tourist” and taking photos on an elephant. I wanted to believe that they were treated well and trained similarly to a domesticated dog, given treats for being good. This is almost never the case. You can look into a working elephant’s eyes and see the abuse. Elephants are abused until their will is broken. This is on purpose.
Trekking/ riding elephants are forced to walk the same circuit for up to 16 hours a day. Everyday. The rest of the time they are chained up. The only exercise and meals they get are while working. If they do not cooperate, they are physically abused. Despite their massive size, an elephants back is not made to carry weight. Their necks are actually the strongest part of their spine.
After learning about a better way to interact with elephants,
I regret going on my elephant ride.
Elephants are beautiful creatures and if you do come to Thailand to see them, please do it responsibly. The Elephant Nature Park provides many ways to interact with elephants while giving back. They have daily and weekly volunteering projects including the “Journey to Freedom“. Please visit their website here for more information.
Below is the itinerary of the week-long “Journey to Freedom” project located 5 hours outside of Chiang Mai in the jungle with a local Karen tribe. If you have any questions please email me at info@DrAlisonChen.com. Please also watch my video that I put together about my week volunteering on this project here and subscribe to my YouTube Channel.
The Elephant Nature Park-
Journey to Freedom Project (Outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand)
Mon. Nov 18
- Guides: Thoe and Say
- 3 hour drive along the main roads
- Stopped for lunch at a restaurant on the side of the road (stirfry)
- Road for 2 hours on the back of a pick-up truck through the jungle
- Standing, dodging tree branches and spiderwebs
- Bumpy, unpaved roads
- Sunset around 6:30pm
- Arrived at camp site in the Karen village at 7pm (dark already)
- Set up beds
- Sat beside a camp fire with coffee and tea
- Dinner: morning glory vegetable, sweet and sour vegetable, rice, omelet, watermelon
- Set off lanterns for Loy Kraton
Tues. Nov 19
- Wake at 8am
- Breakfast: fried rice, scrambled eggs, toast, watermelon
- Hike through the jungle, corn fields, rice fields
- Met Sharmellow a young elephant. Very gentle and friendly
- Hiked to meet a Mother elephant and her 2 twin babies and another wild elephant. We couldn’t go too close because they were more dangerous and aggressive
- Lunch in the forest: sticky rice noodles wrapped in banana leaf with home-made chopsticks
- Hiked home in the rain; slipped and fell into Gabriella… oops
- Home to rest, guitar sing-a-long, shower, snacks
- Dinner: rice, green curry, 3 types of vegetables
- Card playing
Wed, Nov 20
- Wake at 8am
- Breakfast: omelet, fried rice, pineapple, watermelon, banana, toast
- Hike to the local school and gave out prizes, school supplies and candy; served lunch (noodles)
- Lunch: rice, red curry, vegetables (baby corn, morning glory)
- Learned to weave scarves and traditional tops
- Dinner: fried chicken, French fries, rice, vegetables (cucumber, broccoli, mushrooms), red curry
- Sing-a-long, hang out, stories by local Mahout (elephant trainer), card games
Thurs, Nov 21
- Wake at 8am
- Breakfast: fried egg, fried rice, toast, pineapple, watermelon
- Hiked to help harvest corn from 2 fields
- Back to camp for lunch: sweet and sour vegetables, fungus mushrooms, omelet, beans
- Say and Thoe went into the village and we stayed back and wrote them a song to the tune of “banana pancakes”. Jack Johnson is Thoe’s favorite.
- Helped make Dinner: mashed potatoes, fried chicken, 2 kinds of vegetables
- Sing-a-long by the campfire all night
Fri, Nov 22
- Wake at 7:30am
- Helped make breakfast: French toast, scrabbled eggs, watermelon, fried rice
- Helped make lunch to pack for trek: fried noodles with vegetables
- Hiked to see elephants and had them follow us into the jungles and through the stream and waterfall with 4 Mahouts and Say and Thoe
- Hiked back out and up the steep corn fields to camp
- Relaxed, cooked dinner to share with the local Karen villagers.
Sat, Nov 23
- Packed up and left first thing in the morning back to The Elephant Nature Park (ENP) in Chiang Mai
- Arrived at 5pm just in time to wash up, get our rooms and head to dinner
- Dinner was the most amazing buffet spread coupled with traditional Thai dancing by local children
- Sing-along with Thoe and Say where the group dedicated their rendition of “banana pancakes” to our guides
- Thai massage before bed….ahhh
Sun, Nov 24
- Breakfast buffet
- Tour of the Elephant Nature Park
- Lunch buffet
- Bathing the elephants
End of the trip
View my YouTube video at: http://youtu.be/HWIhxYMU6dQ
Email me at: info@DrAlisonChen.com
See my photos at: http://alisonchenexport.cptr.us/ENPphotos