Southeast Asia 2016

Day 7 Elephant Sanctuary

Day 7: Friday, November 25

One of the things that was on our to-do list even before arriving in Thailand was to spend some time with elephants. There are a whole variety of different elephant visiting organizations in Chiang Mai, so it was a question of finding a good one, one that treated the elephants well, and that wasn't sold out. The best one (according to reviews) is Elephant Nature Park. Since it lets you book online it appears to be booked several weeks in advance. Wanting to find an organization that treats the elephants well (no riding, which damages their spines, no chains, no bull hooks, free roaming) took a bit of searching, but we found Elephant Jungle Sanctuary online.

They are located in the hills area, where the local people are called Karens. A few years ago, the local peoples were all using these elephants for work and to give rides to tourists because they needed to raise funds to buy enough food for their elephants to eat (they eat 300kg a day so that costs a lot!). They couldn't let them roam wild because the Karens are farmers, and the elephants would eat and destroy all of their crops if they roamed free. So EJS went to the locals and asked that they give them some of their elephants (because to buy one would have cost 3 million baht, which EJS didn't have) and that they would show the locals that they could raise money for the elephants in a more humane way. EJS was born with 3 elephants, all in one camp. Today, they have 55 elephants and 7 different camps. The camps are areas of land where the elephants can roam freely. They are not wild, they are all elephants rescued from various situations. For the 3 hours that they sleep, they are taken to specific pens to sleep, but other than that, and when they are interacting with the people on tours, they can roam around and do as they wish. The men did not need bull hooks to get the elephants to go where they wanted, often they just bribed them to come to us with food. One time we did see one of the men use his fingers in the elephant's ear to get the elephant to lie down, but that was it. So they are treated very well.

So after a long and bumpy 1.5 hour ride in the back of a mini truck to the elephant camp, we were given this background on the elephants and the company, and got to meet the elephants by feeding them sugar cane. Apparently elephants need to eat 300kg of food per day, so they can be fed a lot! Everyone was a bit skittish at first, they are so big! The littlest one was so excited for the sugar cane that he danced around, almost knocking people over.

We tried to get them to lift their trunks so we could put the sugar cane directly in their mouths by yelling "Bon Bon" but it really didn't work. They just grabbed it all with their trunks, nosing in our pockets for more if we didn't have one in our hand.

We then fed them corn stalks, which was really interesting to see because they were so good at stripping it and snapping it with their trunks.

We then had a break for lunch, which was very good, and relaxed out of the sun for a little while. In the afternoon, we made "medicine" for the elephants. Our guide explained that if the elephants were in the wild, they would seek out these foods to help with their digestion themselves, but because these ones lived in a specific camp they couldn't do that, so we had to provide these foods for them. The medicine was a mixture of bananas, raw rice (ground so it wouldn't hurt our hands), cooked rice (to stick everything together), tamarind, and salt. This all got mashed together in a giant mortar & pestle and then lumped together into balls.

We each got 2, and had to feed them to the elephants. This is where the morning's "Bon Bon" trick came in. Because they were soft, you couldn't give it to their trunks, it needed to go right into their mouths. The elephants did seem to understand this better (I think they've done this a few times) and they opened their mouths for us to stick the ball right onto their tongues, which are huge and hard.

After that, we gave 2 of the elephants mud baths. One said what he thought of this process by peeing & pooping in the pond, but with some pulling from the guide he did lie down, and got a nice mud bath out of it. Then we all ended up with mud on us, thanks in part to the elephants and in part to the guides, who made sure to lather some on each of us. Thank goodness at this point we were only in bathing suits!

So of course the next stop was to jump in a pond at the bottom of a waterfall, along with the elephants. They seemed to really enjoy the water, and could be almost fully submerged, and then you'd see a trunk come swishing up to the surface. The little one had a great time jumping on top of the others.

Once we got out of the water, we had one more round of feeding the elephants, and then we got changed and headed back out on the truck. The first bit of the road was so bad and the hill was so steep, that we were all joking about whether our travel insurance would cover anything happening to us.

The ride was long and bumpy, Alex ended up needing gravol. But finally we made it back to the city, and got to see what rush hour in Chiang Mai looks like. Busy place! It was neat to see all the motorcycles and their owners, from dolled up women to families with little kids. Helmets optional of course. Certainly different clientele than you would see back home.

After a rest and nap for Alex, we headed back to the night market. We decided to get everything to-go so that we didn't need to worry about plate washing. We spent 225 baht ($9) on dinner, which in the end we agreed was a bit more food than we actually needed. Sticky rice with two types of meat, rice with veggies & meat, pad sew noodles with soup, meat on a stick, a coconut to drink, and dessert rotee (fried thin dough with egg & banana inside it and honey drizzled on top).

So far, our favourite foods have been the rotee, the meat on a stick, coconut to drink (Alex), pad sew soup (Chad), and the koi soy meal we got for lunch the other day. Thoroughly full, we collapsed into bed at 9pm.

We made our first purchases of the trip today as well - a Karen shirt for each of us, and a pair of loose patterned pants for Alex.

P.S. Those loose cotton pattern pants were an amazing purchase. They cost 120 baht ($5) and Alex wore them for about half the trip. They were the pant of choice for many tourists we saw in Thailand because you needed pants to visit temples, and anything else was just too hot. They also dried overnight when washed in a sink.

Next: Day 8: Chiang Mai shopping

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