When planning our trip to Thailand, Mr Ana had one simple request. He wanted to visit Thai elephants, and NOT go somewhere that encourages people to ride them like a tourist attraction. Mr Ana adores animals, and it was the one thing he wanted to do.
So after a bit of research on several elephant parks in Northern Thailand, I decided that we should visit the Elephant Nature Park. This park is a sanctuary for distressed elephants – they’ve provided a home to abused elephants, homeless elephants, and orphans elephant calves.
We were picked up from our hotel in the morning (after a bit of a kerfuffle, but of not great consequence) and stopped by a local street market to buy a HUGE amount of bananas to feed the elephants when we met them. Another hour on the road (passing through the mountainside of Northern Thailand – talk about jungles!), we arrived at the park.
We walked around the park having a peek at the newly born elephant calves and also the 11 dogs that hung about the property – Mr Ana tried to pat one of the dogs and quickly learnt that wasn’t a good idea – growl!!
Then we went up to a massive platform area and the big elephants came out to be fed. We spent ages feeding them bananas and cucumbers. They loved them and stood there patiently while we giggled and hand fed them their bananas.
Mr Ana and I fed Jokia – a blind elephant born in a Karen village along the Thai/Burma border. After her family had to sell her as they could no longer afford her upkeep, she was owned by several hands. One owner abused her until she became blind. Jokia was a patient animal, and would sense our presence with her trunk – she would feel around until she found our ankles and hands, and pressed patiently until she found her treats.
After being fed, the elephants went down to the river to be bathed. Off we went, following the elephants and their mahouts towards the river. In case you didn’t know, each elephant had a mahout, or a carer/driver – the mahouts are responsible for their daily care as well as their training. Then it was bathing time! We waded into the river and helped the mahouts scrub the elephants down. Most of them plopped in the water (it was hot) and happily lay there while we splashed water and scrubbed them down. Every now and then we’d see an elephant float and roll down the river, and then slowly climb back to us and sit down for another scrub. We also saw lots of elephant poo roll down the river (one um, banged into my leg), but that’s part of the experience right??
After this we were all a little tired from the action, so while the elephants sat around throwing dirt on themselves to keep cool, we sat nearby and ate our lunch (yummy by the way!). Then Mr Ana and I sat in a high hut watching the elephants roam the park. It really was a wonderful experience.
This was by far the highlight of our trip – for both Mr Ana and I. Neither of us had been exposed to freely roaming elephants. Thailand has plenty of experiences on offer – from historical temples, excellent spa treatments, sight-seeing and nature trekking.
However this was an experience that we will never forget. We had an incredibly happy day, and while it was a ‘tour’ for us, we knew that the funds raised from visitors went back to the care of elephants and upkeep of the park itself.