A visit to Chiang Mai usually consists of some sort of elephant tour. With full and half day elephant tours, overnight tours, and week-long volunteer experiences, it’s difficult to choose which trip is best for you. We thoroughly enjoyed our full day elephant tour with Loolu tours, and hope to reveal the ins and outs of our experience to help you decide if this is the tour for you.
Loolu Tours is a tour company that offers many different tours out of Chiang Mai. We chose to do their “Special Program Tour” which consists of visiting the Orchid and Butterfly Gardens, the Long Neck Tribe, lunch at a waterfall, white water and bamboo rafting, and a few hours feeding, bathing, and walking with elephants. As with any tour, this tour had highs and lows, but overall, we enjoyed our experience.
- The full day elephant tour, “Special Program Tour”, costs 2,400 baht (70 USD). While that may seem expensive, that price is actually less than half the cost of typical elephant tours coming in at 6,000 baht (173 USD).
- Orchid/Butterfly Gardens: A bit touristy, but worth the quick stop. You’ll get about 30 minutes to walk through 100 species of orchids and wander through just as many butterflies. One may even land on you!! If the butterflies and orchids don’t fit your fancy, enjoy a coffee (70 baht) at the little café on site.
- Long Neck Tribe: Again another place filled with tourist (of course, you’re on a tour), but quite an experience. Seeing the women and children of the Long Neck Tribe and hearing about their beliefs is an unforgettable experience. (We’ll be posting later about what we learned there, so be sure to check back soon.)
- Lunch and a Waterfall Swim: Just between the Long Neck Tribe and the put in point for rafting, you’ll stop for lunch at a waterfall. You can take a refreshing dip, slide down the natural waterslide, or just soak in the Thai sun before devouring your lunch. Lunch consists of fried rice and fruit, and while it doesn’t seem like much, it was actually quite filling.
- White Water and Bamboo Rafting: We 100% do NOT recommend this to people who don’t know how to swim or aren’t comfortable on with floating down rivers. Although not common, it is possible for the boats to get stuck on rocks and flip. The guides are not trained professional guides, and honestly some don’t have a right to be guiding down the river. However, if you know how to handle yourself in white water, this can be a fun experience. Enjoy rafting down a river with elephants along the side, and end your time in the river floating on bamboo rafts.
- Time with Elephants: There are six elephants to feed, bathe, and play with, and with a six-person tour cap, theoretically that means one person per elephant. You get to spend loads of time feeding and taking photos with the elephants before walking them down to their bathing area. While they’re in the water, you get to get in too! Somewhat gross, because they’re pooping and peeing in the water, but it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to swim with elephants!!
- Hotel/Hostel Transport: Just before 8:00am, you will get picked up from your accommodation for the day, and return around 6:00pm. After pick-up you will stop at a market for food for the elephants (and you can buy some snacks for you too), and on the way back to town, you stop for snacks for yourself (included in the tour).
WHAT MAKES THE LOOLU ELEPHANT TOUR DIFFERENT
- The Price: It’s literally less than half the price of any other full day elephant tour.
- The Elephant/Person Ratio: Unlike other tours, Loolu caps his tours at 6 people, unless everyone in the group is okay with there being more people with them. With this cap, you’re supposed to get a one on one experience with the elephants. However, we had more people with our tour (all of us agreed to it), and weren’t really assigned specific elephants.
- The Transportation: Loolu doesn’t do his elephant tour in an air conditioned minivan. He picks you up in a Songthaew (traditional taxi/shared truck in Chiang Mai), making you feel less like a posh tourist and more like a rustic adventurer. The breeze in the truck is perfect, and there are plastic windows that roll down on the off chance of rain.
A BIT OF HESITATION
- Although we truly enjoyed this tour, and the memories of being so close with the elephants will last a life time, we have a bit of hesitation when recommending Loolo Tours for your elephant tour. First, the pictures displayed on their website are not portraying actual things we experienced on our tour. The elephants were in a completely different environment than what they display, the waterfall we went to was not the same waterfall on their site, and bamboo rafting was actually a group of us sitting belly button deep in water just floating with the current. (No guide on the raft with you, and you definitely get soaked!)
- Our second hesitation is a major safety concern, which we presume would be the same no matter what company you go through. River rafting is not something to take lightly. Serious injury and even death can occur on the water. With old life jackets, poorly inflated rafts, no river safety instructions, and guides who are not trained, the rafting is a huge recipe for disaster. Please, we beg you, do not go on the rafting part of the tour unless you are familiar with white water rafting.
[We’re pushing this concept so much, because we had an extremely close call on the river portion of our trip. It hands down would have ended in disaster if my husband and I had not been in the raft to instruct everyone what to do in the situations we were in. Praise the Lord we both grew up rafting at least twice a week during the summer, and knew what to do in a sticky river situation.]
OUR ELEPHANT TOUR TIPS
- Bring extra snacks. You probably won’t need them, but you don’t want to be hungry on a full day tour!
- Wear dark clothing! When you’re with the elephants, there is red dirt everywhere. The elephants throw it all over themselves, and in turn you get it all over you and your clothes!
- Make sure your camera is fully charged and has loads of space on the memory card!
- We’ve said it already, but we’re saying it again…Do NOT go on the rafting trip if you aren’t comfortable with water, aren’t a strong swimmer, or don’t know what to do if you fall out of a boat in white water.
Interested in more of our ideas on Chiang Mai?? Check out our take on the Grand Canyon of Chiang Mai, our killer accommodation, and our Three Day Chiang Mai Itinerary. And if you’re wanting more ideas on Thailand in general, head over to our Thailand page!
Do you have experiences with Loolu Tours?! Share it below for other traveler’s to read about!