Chai Lai Orchid – Chiang Mai, Thailand

November 27-28, 2016

I am going to apologize right off the bat. I don’t mean to sound depressing or negative in any way. This is just how I felt during these couple days. I am not impervious to animal treatment. It affects me more than it probably does to a normal person and therefore something that may seem minor, I can’t handle.

We weren’t going to spend a lot of time in Chiang Mai proper. After our day in Chiang Mai we were on our way to Chai Lai Orchid. A place I thought was an animal sanctuary. After the last day on the trek, we looked up the place again and realized that it was a little different than we thought. We had already paid and so we decided to still go. It was only two nights and from what we read, they were trying to do something positive. Chia Lai Orchid has two missions. First they hire young women from Myanmar, who would otherwise be caught up in human trafficking and they provide them with training to get jobs or apply for a loan to start a business. Second, they do not actually own the elephants, they rent them from the owner across the river in an effort to show that they can still make a profit without offering chair rides.

We took the 45 minute drive out there and we were dropped off right next to where the elephants were kept. I was thrown off by that as they were all swaying, however, they did have food and shade, but the distress they showed was very noticeable. We walked across the bridge to the other side of the river and we checked in.  The check in area is also the small store and restaurant. They consider themselves an eco resort, which it seems like they are really trying to be. The rooms are minimal and there is no cell service or good wifi. This was fine, but when it gets dark there isn’t anything to do. Since the resort was a ways out there and being an eco resort, using the bathroom is different than you would use in the US. The pipes are very small compared to the ones in the US, so their flushing is not as strong. The proper way to use the restroom is to go, use the hose to rinse yourself off, then use the toilet paper to dab yourself clean and then throwing the toilet paper or tissue in the garbage. When you are at hill villages, you might also have to get water from a pale and dump it in the toilet to flush. Just a fair warning about bathroom etiquette in some places. Not all areas are like this and in larger cities the larger hotels are more western. I was not expecting this when being in some parts of Thailand.

After we got settled in we tried to figure out the schedule of the place. As we read more, people mentioned that it was very unorganized and it definitely was. The girls were very sweet but their English was at a minimum. We thought that we had scheduled times with the elephants, but instead you had to schedule a tour and that was to either ride or bath them. They claimed that it was a bare back ride, still, no thank you. Riding is bad with or without a chair. I thought you were trying to show ethical treatment? Bathing is fun for them, but remember they are still on show and they do poop and pee while you are in the water with them! 😉 There was one girl that spoke English there, but we couldn’t figure out her actual position as she didn’t talk to everyone. So we sat there and read their literature. They teach the mahouts about positive reinforcement and have a veterinary clinic on site. The mahouts still had the bull hooks, but they were not waving them around. They were given bananas for rewards when they were told to do things and they were not kicked or yelled at. The prices were pretty expensive as well, but realize you are donating to their cause and they say it’s because they provide a fair wage to their workers.

I had read a review that you see the elephants walk by your hut in the morning as they are cared for but it was actually watching them give chair rides when they were with their actual owner.  We decided to just walk over to the elephants and see if we could interact with some of them. One of the Mahouts was very nice and we were given some coconuts to give them. The baby was kept with his mother, which was another small positive.

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After this we went back to the room and decided that we were going to leave the next day, a day early. I kind of thought there would be more educational tours and interaction with the elephants but there wasn’t. They do offer other tours, not elephant related. A lot of it we had just done during our trek and it was really expensive for what you actually get to do. We went to the resort to be with elephants and that wasn’t going to happen.

Later that evening, the elephants were moved over to Chai Lai Orchid’s property. So before dinner we went to be with them when they were on property.

When we walked over they were still swaying and there was no emotions in their eyes. They wanted no interaction with humans unless they were being given food and seemed defeated. My heart sank.

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It seems so amazing, but you can’t miss the chains. I was a bit naive before this trip. You kind of assume such a large animal was made for riding, but then you think, why is such an exotic animal in captivity. I used to cry at circuses, I didn’t know why I thought this would be different. You are told about the training the animals go through with the circus, but it doesn’t really sink in. Do you really believe it? Is it that bad? Well, believe it. We learned a lot, we saw a lot and won’t forget.

Follow us so you don’t miss the collaboration piece I am doing with other wonderful travelers about teaching people why ethical elephant tourism is so important!

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This momma and baby were off limits as they were in vet care.

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So we did see that some of the mahouts were much better here than the place during the trek, but we did notice that they were pretty unforgiving with the dogs. Of course there were many there. All timid and not that trusting of the tourists. We heard a couple of them get kicked and pushed by some of the mahouts. The poor cries were not helping my mood, but then some of the puppies would play.

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Dinner was nice, but the mosquitoes were out in force!

That night we confirmed that we should go even though we had paid. It was a donation. I had to get out of there. I had this continuous sinking feeling. So the next morning we requested a car and headed back into Chiang Mai.

While we were waiting for our car that morning the wifi finally started to work! So right before our taxi came we booked our hotel. To boost the mood we got a nicer hotel, but outside of the city center square. It ended up being my favorite hotel of the trip. We also picked that area because it was a close walk to the bus station. We thought we would experience the bus system and take one to Chiang Rai the next day.

Hotel Artists Ping Silhouette. Service was awesome, food and drinks were great and the overall feel was so comfortable.

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So after a couple eye opening days we decided to just hang out and relax.

If we had wanted to go out, this hotel was in a great location. There was a pedestrian bridge to the Night Market just a 3 minute walk away and the road that it was on was lined  with restaurants and boutiques. I would highly recommend this place if you want quiet but close.

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14 thoughts on “Chai Lai Orchid – Chiang Mai, Thailand

  1. I enjoyed reading your piece on Chai Lai, as it was a place I considered travelling solo to some time back. My friend convinced me otherwise – she had been there before and like you, didn’t have good opinions of how the ‘elephant sanctuary’ was run. So I really appreciate your honest feelings in this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just left Chiang Mai! I really wanted to see the elephants when I was there, but in the end couldn’t find a company/organization I felt comfortable going with. Your post kind of confirms my decision! It’s so hard to determine whether the experience will be ethical or not before going! So many places advertise “ethical” “sanctuary” “no-ride” but they’re just telling tourists what they want to hear. The actual story is much more sinister for the elephants. Interesting read, thanks for sharing your story!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the amazing comments. The move to being completely ethical is no interaction with elephants whatsoever, but the tiny baby steps of no riding is good for me. Next time you are in Chiang Mai there is a really good one. I will be posting a collaboration piece soon about ethical locations and more information on elephant tourism! But in the end you did the right thing! I thought we had done enough research beforehand, but we were wrong. We definitely know better now!

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  3. Oh, the chains broke my heart!! 😦 between the Elephants and the Tigers in Thailand, I really don’t think it is somewhere I could visit. They all claim that they are doing good, so it is very hard to know who is lying and who is telling the truth!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so sorry your experience was a little (okay, a lot) less than what you wanted. The chain photo made me tear up a bit!!!! I visited Elephant Nature Park in Chang Mai. If you ever go back, I would HIGHLY recommend that facilitiy as a true sanctuary.

    Best of luck with you travels. And thank you for bringing awareness.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I can understand your sentiment, but don’t write off thailand too quick. There are some off-the-beaten path locations I found that I LOVED there. I just avoid all the touristy spots. It’s too bad that elephant tourism brings so much money to this country

        Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a good round-up of the red flags to look out for when trying to travel responsibly with wildlife. Elephants are very intelligent creatures with lots of personality – the lack of emotion you note in the Chai Lai elephants’ eyes is very telling. It sounds like the resort is trying to compromise between the older-fashioned mahouts and the new tourist demand for eco-friendly travel, but the needs of the elephants still aren’t being given priority.

    Liked by 1 person

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