Going to an elephant sanctuary was probably one of our most anticipated outings of the entire trip, and I think it’s safe to say it met everyone’s expectations.
We had, unanimously, decided that we did not want to do an elephant trek (riding o the elephants’ back) or even go to a place that offered one for that matter. In the surrounding areas of Chiang Mai there are so many choices of elephant activities but we settled on The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary because it’s a small camp that takes care of elephants that have been abused or forced to work as trekking elephants. As our guide said “The elephant Jungle Sanctuary is a place for elephants to sleep, relax, no riding, no hurting”. Besides the girls thought getting to wear an official Lana shirt was an added bonus!
Our day started with a pick up from the hotel and an open-air, hour and half drive to the camp. It was fun because we met a couple who live in Salt Lake City so we had lots to talk about as Tony and I had been there when we shot The Mentor. Certainly having lots to chat about helps with a windy, bumpy ride on hard seats!
We arrived at the camp and were led along a manmade trail through corn fields beside a creek. It was really quite pretty. As we started to walk up hill we could see two elephants roaming around – quite exciting and a little intimidating all at once!
Our group was the first to arrive, which was a nice advantage as we had some extra time with the elephants in a smaller group. The guide showed us how to feed them and then gave a never-ending supply of bananas and sugar cane, which we continued to feed to our new friends until they’d had enough – strangely they do know when to stop eating even if they take in 300kg of food a day!
At first we were all feeling a little nervous – elephants, even Asian ones, are big when you’re standing right next to them. What I found fascinating was how the ‘hair’ on their trunks was so bristly and spiky – it only sticks up a bit and you’d imagine it would be soft, but it’s not, it’s prickly. Later when we were driving to Pai, where the land is quite dry, and scorched, I was reminded of the elephant bristles because the trees running up and down the hills looked just like them!
Our guide was excellent and continued to give interesting facts about the elephants – felt like I learned quite a lot . Did you know that elephants can live to 120 years old, they don’t like dogs and they have excellent memories?
Once the elephants were fed and we’d had lots of hugs and kisses from them – yes hugs and kisses. Their handlers (each elephant has his/her own handler, that they seem quite attached to) showed us a trick where the elephant wrapped his/her trunk around our legs in a hug. I got lots of hugs but after Abigayle got a kiss and it looked like the elephant almost sucked half her face off I took a pass. Glad I did because she complained all afternoon that her face stank because the elephant’s breath was so bad 🙂
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Next on the agenda was bathing the elephants. Everyone stripped down to their bathing suits and with bare feet we walked down another trail to a pool of mud. The elephants lay in the mud and essentially waited for us to bathe them, which amounted to throwing huge globs of mud on their backs and rubbing it in. Sooooooooo much fun because really we were all having one great big mud fight and the elephants were just an excuse.
After everyone, elephants included, was throughly coated in mud, we walked further down the trail to the stream where everyone washed off. The idea was to rinse all the mud off the elephants, but again it just turned into a water fight!
It was another hot, hot day so being in the water was so enjoyable and part of the treat. When we walked back to the camp there were outdoor showers to clean off any remaining mud – mud is like sand it gets everywhere!
Our visit ended with a delicious family style meal, which included one of my favourites, Thai-style omelet – yum!
It was getting dark as we drove home and more than one of us fell asleep – it’s amazing what fresh air and sunshine can do.
a day in the country
befriending elephants –