Last week I was fortunate enough to go out to Thailand for around ten nights, specifically Chiang Mai. My time out there was a real eye-opener for me. Whilst I’ve been on holiday abroad by myself before (USA), I’ve not been to a country which has a radically different culture or different language.
One of the things I was most looking forward to was checking out the Elephant Nature Park.
This is a place you an visit for a day, overnight, or do voluntary work for weeks/months.
It appealed as I loved the idea of meeting elephants, plus this place doesn’t do ‘rides’, ‘tricks’ and all the cruel crap that hundreds of tourists sadly buy into.
Sadly the day I wanted to go, the overnight tour was booked, so I went for the Monday (day after I got to Thailand) day tour. This is 2500bht so around £50 in UK money.
The tour bus/van picks you up from your hotel. On the drive they show you a documentary about the park.
Approaching the park itself, the excitement builds, especially when you see the first elephant in the distance. It’s rather surreal seeing such a fine, huge animal for the first time ‘in real life’.
The park was started back in the 90s by a truly inspirational lady called Lek – here is someone who has dedicated their life to providing a real sanctuary for elephants. I have total admiration for people such as Lek. When you visit the park you’ll see how large it now is and be impressed with how it has grown.
So, what’s involved in the day tour? Well after the customary briefing and talking about safety (and being stunned by the gorgeous Thai countryside), it’s time to feed the elephants! At first, many of us in the group found this nerve-wracking – it’s not until you’re up close and personal with an elephant that you really appreciate their size and strength.
Feeding them is great fun – they eat loads and loads and loads of bananas and other fruit. They’ll take a whole bunch of bananas off you and hoff them whole! Most of the elephants like the food held out to them so they can curl them up with their trunks, whilst some prefer to open their mouths whilst you put the food directly in – a strange feeling!
One thing I noticed right away is that elephants are very relaxing to be around. I think this is down to two things – firstly they’re very gently animals, and kind of give off a vibe of..well.peace I suppose. Secondly because they move so slow. Being out there in the sun with them, I could quite happily have napped all day watching them!
The next bit of the day is the fun part – bathing them 🙂 You go down to the river and chuck buckets of water over and over them. The elephants stand there loving it, the park visitors all get wet and have a great time too – the whole place was laughing and having fun, was awesome. Eventually the elephants think “I’m done now” and wonder off to chuck mud over themselves.
The park includes a (veggie) lunch – this is a massive buffet which I gorged on – really really awesome, fresh food, loved it. It’s nice at lunch to sit down and chat to the other people there, either day visitors or volunteers.
The afternoon brings more feeding and getting to watch the elephants. There’s a ‘naughty’ one called Hope (you’ll hear her as she has a bell around her neck) who is funny to watch. I was also fortunate enough to see the baby elephant, who was just a few weeks old – cute is a big big understatement!
Towards the end of the day I was lucky enough to meet Lek’s husband (sorry, can’t remember your name!!), and I spoke to him about the dog sanctuary there as I’d seen a lot about it on Facebook. He kindly let me see the place – HUGE with 350 dogs and I got to meet the gorgeous ‘Steel’ who some kind person made wheels for her back legs so she can get around. An awesome, brave and affectionate dog.
The end point of the day is another documentary – focussing on the way elephants are treated in Thailand. They do warn you that the last bit of it is upsetting – and it is – BUT it needs to be seen. I can tell you now, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
What you’re shown is the way that young elephants are ‘broken’ for the logging trade – without going into graphic detail, they are brutalised into submission. I think even ‘non animal’ people would be upset by this.
The day was one of the best days I’ve ever had, and I went away with some memories that will stay with me forever. Being so close and touching these beautiful animals is an incredible feeling. Not only that but when you realise the work, effort and determination that Lek and her team are putting in, and what a difference they’re making to the eles, it’s inspirational.
If you’re reading this and are considering going – just do it, you won’t regret it. Even if you just go for a day, it’s well worth it, whether as an individual, couple or family.
I also want to say this – DON’T go to the other places near Chiang Mai – it might sound ‘cute’, the idea of riding an elephant, or watching one paint/do tricks for your amusement, but it’s not. It’s cruel, it’s unnecessary, and degrading for the animals. Also don’t give money to the people that use elephants for begging in Bangkok.
If you want to go somewhere that actually cares about their animals, knowing your money is going back into that care, whilst getting to experience the eles, go to the Elephant Park.
Take loads of photos, get wet in the river, have fun, learn about them and walk away with some of the best memories you could ask for in life. Have fun!
But where are the photos Andy?
OK here you go 🙂