Chiang Mai is rife with activities like rock climbing, zip lining, bungee jumping, you name it. I’ve tried all of them at some time or other except one, petting elephants. A lot of the time when people are allowed to get close to some kind of animal it’s kind of exploitative, and dangerous to both man and beast. There are lots of operators that offer tours that include petting and riding elephants or even circus like shows. The problem is that the elephants are often trained using a metal hook that causes pain and even when their not, according to some sources, riding can damage their spines. For this reason, I went to the Maerim Elephant Samctuatry which promises no hooks and no riding. They also have one mahout (elephant trainer) for each elephant and they live near their assigned beasts. As far as I can tell, this place is legitimate and they treat the animals well.
When we got there, we changed into bright blue mahout uniforms. Apparently elephants can only see blue and green, so this way they would see us better. We then loaded up on bananas (elephant candy) and went in to see them. As soon as you took out a banana from your bag, a trunk would appear to take it out of your hand, they really love them. Having filled their bellies with fruit, we took the elephants for a short walk, stopping in the river bed to rub mud into their skin, then down into an organic swimming pool to wash them off. I think I’ve said before that I’m not much of an animal person, but even I think it’s a very special experience. I recommend going but check up the place first to make sure you don’t end up paying a place where they mistreat the animals.