Most come to Thailand dying to ride an Elephant. Beacuse this is cruel and unethical, I spent the day at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai Thailand. (Didn't know it was unethical? Read why here.)
In complete and total seriousness, it was probably the best day of my life!
I booked this excursion not really knowing what we were getting into. Since this was a completely cruelty free sanctuary that focuses on rescue and rehabilitating abused elephants I wasn't sure how close they would allow us to get.
A songthaew (pickup truck with benches and a cover in the back) arrived early in the morning to our hotel. We picked up other guests around the Chiang Mai area and then made the long 60 km drive to the park outside of Chiang Mai. The road weaves up a mountain and at points is extremely slow going. After about 2 hours of picking people up and driving we finally reached the elephants.
I was happy to see there were no cages, or bull hooks. There was a simple roof to provide shelter from the sun and lots of green grass and soft dirt for them to roam on.
Once the three car fulls of tourists arrived (about 20 of us total) one of the volunteers began explaining to us the plight of the Asian elephant. We learned about their early history, why they are endangered, and the types of conditions Elephant Nature Park rescues them from. As the volunteer talked to us other volunteers began placing boxes of sugar cane around us.
Once he was done with the info, the volunteers showed us how to feed the elephants safely. We spent a full morning learning just how much these creatures eat. A big reason why tourism is so hard on them is because they need to constantly be eating. The elephants couldn't get enough from us. They were loving and obviously very happy.
Around noon we broke for lunch (which was provided on the tour). We all sat together and ate food while the elephants also continued to roam and eat just a stones throw away from us.
After lunch we helped the owners and volunteers make their medicine ball. It was a strange, and gross, concoction of ingredients that aids their digestion. Once it was all mixed together we all took turns forming the thick paste into balls.
Each elephant got one ball of medicine and then we all walked down to the river to play and bathe.
In the water you could tell the elephants were in pure heaven! Falling over into the mud and rolling in it like we see dogs do at home. They really have no idea they weigh tons and tons of pounds. The owners and workers were careful to walk around the group making sure no one got too close. A misplaced elephants foot, or quick roll to the side could easily break your bones.
Once they were coverd in mud, and we were too, we splashed water on them. All together we walked further upstream to wash off in the small waterfall. The elephants loved all of the attention and after the bath they were back up near the camp getting fed some more.
I was so sad to see the day end. Saying goodbye was hard. Spending time with these magnificent creatures was an experience I will never forget.
If you want to visit Elephant Nature Park visit their website here.
Full day experiences (like the one above) are $75 per person.
Overnight experiences are $175 per person.
7 night volunteer experiences start at $360 per person.
A full list of tours and pricing can be found here.