The Maesa Elephant Camp is located not far from Chiang Mai, Thailand. It’s about a 45-minute trip by taxi or tuktuk, and any agency will be happy to arrange transport for you, though it’s cheaper to negotiate with a driver yourself.
There’s an entrance fee to enter the camp, which includes an elephant show (check the times before you arrive, we saw the 9:30am one) but doesn’t cover a ride on an elephant — you’ll need to buy a separate ticket for that, and you’ll be given a time slot for your ride.
The starting place for elephant rides is towards the rear of the complex, where there’s an elephant-mounting structure — a wooden platform with spaces for the elephants to stand to collect and drop off passengers — all you have to do is step into the palanquin.
We opted for the half-hour trip, so our guide headed left along a well-trodden path. We saw others heading right, into the forest, perhaps they’d chosen a longer tour? The experience was surprisingly bumpy; as the elephant plodded along, especially up and down hills, we felt the effect of every footstep.
Along the way, we stopped in the river so our elephant could refresh itself, and picked up a bundle of food for the road. We also saw other elephants having a shower or relaxing in the sun; they seemed healthy and happy, and we heard that all the elephants get time in the forests every afternoon.
I’m still not sure how I feel about animals being used as tools for human enjoyment, but I feel that Maesa Elephant Camp have struck a good balance — they’re a good choice for your elephant-riding experience.