Okay here's the truth: one of the main reasons that I decided to come to Thailand was the elephants. They are my absolute favorite animal and my dream was to visit an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai. I mean, who wouldnt want to do that? The elephant sanctuary I wanted to visit was one that I had seen in the film Love and Bananas, about the cruelty of the elephant tourism industry in Thailand. If you watch this movie you WILL need a box of tissues right next to you.
Elephant Valley Thailand
The santuary that I visited was actually in Chiang Rai, it is called Elephant Valley Thailand. This sanctuary is run by the same man who built the famous elephant sanctuary in Cambodia! He actually gave our tour too! This santuary is smaller but the focus is certainly on the elephants. There is not riding (obviously), but this sanctuary also does not allow you to get close to the elephants, as their space needs to be respected. The elephants are allowed to approach you, but it is their decision to do so. This sanctuary also does not let you bathe the elephants or touch the elephants. This is something that other sanctuaries will let you do, but bathing the elephants is actually really bad for their skin. And they probably don't want to be touched, but rather left alone. As much as I wanted to touch an elephant, I really appreciated this aspect of the sanctuary because it gives the power back to the elephants. My favotite part was at the end of the day becuase you feed them their favorite banana leaves!
So I highly reccomend that you get to spend the day watching these animals do what they were supposed to do in this life. Not entertain humans. But be elephants.
This is the link to the santuary! They also do overnight visits and volunteer opportunities.