Elephants have been one of my favourite animals for a very long time and Thailand is notorious for being a great place to get up close and personal with Elephants. So right from the start, this was at the top of my list one my trip.
There is a tone of controversy surrounding elephants in Thailand (and all animals) and there are heaps of companies offering elephant rides or that have chained up elephants that are malnourished and mistreated, which I sadly ended up seeing.. I was very Unfortunate and I let one of my dorm mates book me to go see elephants and it was a horrible experience. The elephants were chained and poked with sharp sticks and knives. It was thee worst experience of my life. I saw a baby elephant being tortured, also a pregnant momma chained up and being hit.. Please before you go to any place to see elephants or any magnificent creature do lots of research. I was heart broken after this experience and to this day it still haunts me that I have seen such a horrible thing.
I did some research and I finally found a decent place where I paid 3600 baht (apx $100) for a full day tour, I booked at their official office in Chiang Mai centre, and I was very happy to spend that extra money if it meant that the animals were well looked after.
I was collectedfrom my hostel very early in the morning in a Sontoa whitch is pick up truck with open back, a standard method of transport in Thailand (which obviously doesn’t have seat belts or anything crazy like that). Unfortunately (or fortunately, because it ended up being a lot of fun!) it was right in the midst of Sonkran (Thai New Year), where Thai locals and tourists basically have a mass five day water fight.
The journey there and back was therefore insanely fun as we were part of a huge water fight, having buckets of ice cold water thrown at us by every vehicle and pedestrian that we passed. I will definitely be doing a full post on Thai New Year as it really was the most unique andincredible celebration I’ve ever been a part of!
When we all arrived at the sanctuary, which was about an hour and a half drive from the centre of Chiang Mai, through beautiful mountain scenery, we were given woven pants to wear as the elephants recognise the sight and scent of these. We looked hilarious in our ‘spiritual’ pants and the group (around 15 of us) bonded over how absolutely fabulous we looked.
We met our guides for the day and out of the four guys, two spoke good English and they were all very welcoming and sweet.
Our first task of the day was to learn about and make the elephants food before feeding it to them, plus a crazy amount of bananas.
It was actually really fun to make, although my arms were killing after 10 minutes straight of trying to mash some very stiff ingredients together with some medicine. We then had to wrap this mushy mixture in a banana leaf to disguise the medicine.
We then took our questionable looking parcels and our bananas down to meet the elephants and feed them.
This was the absolute highlight of the day for me and I’d been dreaming about this moment for years!
The elephants were such majestic, gentle giants and just being able to be near them and see how they truly are and feel the force of their trunks when they took a banana was a once in a lifetime experience and I had such a moment of total contentment.
I was very happy to see that the elephants weren’t chained up in any way and that they were free to move around and leave once they were full or had had enough of human contact (we’ve all been there).
After the feeding, we walked with the elephants down to a little lake to bathe them. First we went to a ‘mud bath’ and were able to get into the water with the elephants and play with them. This bit was pretty terrifying, I won’t lie! The water was too muddy to see where the elephants feet were and I was terrified of getting too close and having one break my foot – a cast on your leg is the last thing you could ever want for travelling Asia!
After this, we went to a clearer pool to wash the mud off the elephants and ourselves. At this point, there was an uncomfortable moment where one of the elephants didn’t want to go into the water. The guides were very forceful in their approach to forcing it into doing something that it didn’t want to and us, plus another English couple, were quite shocked by this behaviour and this is perhaps why I’m not sure that I would actually recommend this specific park. Although, I do still think that by Thai standards it’s very forward-thinking, so take that as you will.
After the lake baths we then took turns hosing the elephants down which they seemed to love.
You could tell that the sanctuary is a real family-run affair which appealed to me, helped along by the adorable little boy who served us our lovely traditional Thai lunch (which is included in the price).
We were then promised a village trek, ending in a ‘waterfall’.
The trek was more just a walk through a village and although the 38 degree heat made it almost unbearable, it was very interesting to see the way the locals live in the mountains. Our guide, who was born there himself, was full of interesting anecdotes about village life. For example, they only got the internet and a television 10 years ago!
The ‘waterfall’was really just a pretty stream where local children were enjoying their New Year.
Regardless of the fact that there was no waterfall (supposedly due to it being dry season) it was a really lovely place to cool off and the Thai children are so friendly and welcoming and were engaging us all in games, which was actually really fun.
The elephants were such sweet creatures and they absolutely lived up to my lifelong expectations, if not exceeded them. I can’t describe how beautiful they are in real life and I just want to play with elephants every weekend now!
I definitely recommend that you do visit an elephant park if you’re going to Asia, it’d be such a shame to miss them in their natural environment.
*Traveling leaves you speechless but turns you into a storyteller”