A Day With Elephants
After being picked up at 6 am and driving 2 hours deep into the jungle of Northern Thailand, I’m standing here staring as a herd of elephants are coming at us.
Going to an elephant rescue was on the top of our list of things we had to do in Thailand. So on only our second day in Chaing Mai, we had our elephant day! We choose what sanctuary to visit carefully. We knew to make sure they didn’t offer any rides or kept the elephants chained up. So after tons of research, we decided on Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.
We were picked up from our hotel in Chang Mai at 6 am in what can be described as a pickup truck with bench seats in the truck’s bed, a canvas roof, and no tailgate. We hung on tight as we flew down the highway before the roads turned into bumpy dirt trails. The last 40 minutes of our ride was spend driving over ditches, rocks, and potholes. Happy to have read it was smart to take motion sickness medicine before the journey!
Arriving at the camp, we sat in the pavilion overlooking the sanctuary as our guide talked about important safety information and the facility’s history. I paid half attention. All I could think about was meeting the elephants that I could see from where I was sitting, in a few minutes! After the short walk down the rocky path and with as much bamboo as I could carry in the pockets of the traditional Karen Tribal top I was wearing; it was finally time.
As instructed, we started yelling “BON-BON,” BON-BON,” which in turn caused the elephants to come running towards us to get their snacks. It’s a strange feeling standing and waiting while the world’s largest land animal is rushing at you. On the ride to the camp, I just kept thinking. I will find out what an elephant feels like today; what surprised me was the wiry, coarse hair covering them and how very slimy their mouths are. They are enormous but very gentle, constantly reaching in our pockets with the end of their trunk to grab the bamboo. I found they enjoyed having their trunks pet and the area between their eyes. Also, elephants have the longest eyelashes!
After about an hour with the elephants, we returned to the pavilion the make them medicine, which consisted of rice, banana, honey, and local nuts rolled into balls. They loved them! We then walked to another area of the sanctuary to visit with the young elephants and babies! We were warned that the babies were naughty and to watch our toes; the youngest was about two years old and already over 1,500 lbs!! They were so sweet and loved getting pets, which I could have done all day!
Unfortunately, we had to take a break for lunch and change into our bathing suits. Lunch was traditional Thai food and was absolutely delicious! After our break and a quick change, we made our way to the mud bath; yes, we bathed elephants in mud! They rolled around while we covered them and rubbed them in mud. I did have thought that if this giant elephant decided to roll over, I would be crushed! However, that didn’t stop me from grabbing handfuls of mud and slathering them in it!
After we were all thoroughly covered, we walked through the jungle while the elephants followed along in the river next to us. Until we came to a huge waterfall and a large pool of water, this scene was something out of a movie or a dream. Elephants were rolling around and playing in a waterfall in the middle of the jungle! If that wasn’t enough, we went into the pool with them and splashed them with water to clean off all of the mud. We were swimming with elephants; this day keeps getting better!
After our mud bath and swim, we had time to just pet and be with them for a while before walking back through the jungle to the sanctuary. We were then put to work dragging huge bundles of bamboo from off the hill for the elephants to eat. Which meant our time with them would be ending soon. Most of the other people with us retreated to the pavilion for a rest and a beer. We stayed with the elephants until they literally were kicking us out!
On our bumpy ride back to Chang Mai, we had time to reflect on the day and give our faces a rest; they actually hurt from smiling so much! This day, hands down, is still one of my favorite days.
From Elephant Jungle Sanctuary; Humans have used elephants to perform a variety of tasks for around 5000 years. Still, while people have consistently profited, this relationship has not been greatly beneficial to the elephants. Revered throughout Thailand, elephants have greatly influenced Thai culture, myth, and religion. However, the deep respect held for the species is unfortunately not often reflected in the treatment of individual elephants. Widespread abuse, poaching, deforestation, increased tourism, farming, and a vast reduction in habitat have all contributed to a rapid decline in elephant numbers, and Asian elephants are now officially an endangered species. You can learn more about the Asian Elephant and the conservation efforts HERE!