Just the other day, I had an experience that is definitely one of the highlights of my time in Southeast Asia so far. Sandy and I went to a place known as the Elephant Nature Park for a day of fun, awe, and wonder. Riding an elephant is the highlighting experience of many people’s Thailand vacation, but it also can come at a great cost. Many of the elephants are malnourished and diseased due to improper care and some are even beaten to make them submissive and obedient. Neither of us wanted to be party to that, so Sandy found a place that really focuses on saving elephants. They don’t offer elephant rides, but instead give visitors the chance to interact with the creatures by feeding, petting, hugging, and bathing them.
The lady who started the park, Sangduen ‘Lek’ Chailert, loves elephants and started off by saving a single animal. Today, there are over 30 roaming free in a valley designated as ‘Elephant Heaven’. Many places you go, the elephants are caged in small pens. Here, they roam the fields, splash around in the river, and hang out in the forest. They pretty much have free run of the place.
We started the day by getting picked up from our hotel at around 8:30 in the morning. On the way there, we met our funny, friendly guide Bee and watched a short documentary on elephants in Thailand. Upon arriving to the center, we watched a park volunteer feeding some elephants before making our way over to see a mama elephant with her baby. It’s amazing how small they are when they start out, and how big they end up getting by the time they’re fully grown. Seriously HUGE animals. And these are Asian elephants, not even African ones.
After gawking at the baby and failing to get a decent picture of it, we went to pet and feed an elephant. It was so gentle, which was surprising considering how big it was. If it wanted the fruit you were holding though, it got it. No ifs, ands, or buts about it! Those trunks of theirs are strong. This was the first chance we had gotten to get really close to elephants, and we took advantage; albeit cautiously at first!
The last activity before we took a break for lunch was to feed a whole bunch of elephants from the safety of the feeding platform. The elephants at the park are gentle and friendly but, like with any wild animal, it’s best to be safe when feeding them. Each elephant got a bucket full of bananas, pineapple, and pumpkin to inhale. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything eat so much. As a huge fan of binge eating, I feel I have a lot to live up to now…
As a bonus, I also got a mouth of elephant spit when one flicked its trunk. That was a tasty treat. You think having a dog slobber on you is bad? Give this a shot.
Next on the schedule was lunch. This being a park dedicated to the protection of wildlife, the menu is strictly vegetarian. Not normally something that makes me leap for joy, that was irrelevant in this case. The buffet of food was so freaking delicious I didn’t care what it was. Seriously. Amazing food.
After the amazing lunch, we moved on to the highlight of the day: bathing the elephants. The park staff walk with the elephants to the river and pass out buckets to the eager visitors. Once they give the all clear, the whole riverfront pretty much degenerates into an epic water fight. People throw buckets of riverwater on the elephants, on each other (sorry Sandy!), and sometimes just miss entirely. Sometimes, the elephants even spray water too, dealing out a little payback to the aggressors. It was an absolute blast of an afternoon. When I came to Thailand, I certainly didn’t think, “Yeah, I think I’m going to play in the water with some elephants.” And yet…
Photo credit to Sandy for this awesome shot.
If you want another take on the day and access to some absolutely amazing pictures that make mine look like they were taken by a blind caveman, check out my friend Sandy’s blog. You can find the entry for this day here. She’s been traveling for almost as long as I have, but through Italy and England. Check out her stuff!
Below are the rest of my photos.