Do you have a "bucket list" item that includes riding an elephant. If you do please scratch it off and come up with a better idea. You see, elephants that are ridden by tourists, (mostly the Chinese here in Thailand), have been so brutally abused that it eventually crushes their spirit, much like a wild horse. Here is a list of YouTube videos about Elephant cruelty that should help change your mind and hopefully you will understand. For what it's worth the same goes for riding camels (guilty), swimming with dolphins or any other "tourist/animal participation" activity. I have seen adds for riding ostrich in various parts of Africa. Oh man.
There are elephant parks all over Asia that cater to loopy tourists that want to ride elephants. The good news is more and more people are becoming aware of the abuse and are choosing positive alternatives. Do your part and pass along the message when you can. Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary is exactly as advertised. It is a SANCTUARY for rescued elephants.
There are a few good sanctuaries in and around Chiang Mai. The owner of my hotel recommended this company and after a bit of research they looked good. As it happens here the tour routine is the same. I was picked up at 8:00 in a Songthaew (PRON: song-tail). There were 5 happy and chatty people already on board and off we went. The ride was about 90 minutes outside of town with the standard break half way to buy much needed coffee and breakfast fruit.
Kat and Becky from England were on a whirlwind honeymoon through Thailand, Lao and Vietnam. Sarah was from Minnesota U.S.A and another couple from England whose names I forget. I really need to start writing this shit down on the day of. Anyways, the vibe was positive and our guides were great. One of them obviously spends way way way too much time in the bush with the Elephants. He was bordering on psychotic but in that funny and harmless kind of way. I think most of his antics were to entertain us and keep us laughing and active through this entire experience. What more could you ask for really and of course I don't remember his name!
After a quick debrief we were given traditional clothing so that the elephants would recognize us so we were told. I think it was just a thing to add to authenticity of the situation but it worked. The elephants were rescued from Myanmar but no details were given as to where exactly and why. Nobody pushed for an answer. There were 4 of them, two older (aged 40ish) and two younger (aged 10 - 12). One of the older ones was pregnant and was not aggressive at all. Every day they go through the same routine of tourists coming to the camp, meeting them, feeding them, walking with them and swimming with them. When everyone is gone they are free to wander the local jungle unmolested. They venture into local villages where they are welcomed openly. They always return to camp by morning to greet a new batch of humanoids eager to feed them breakfast.
We then had a lesson in making elephant poop paper. Yes paper made from elephant poop. It is genius really. Elephant poop contains quite a bit of plant fibre which is the basis for paper. You can watch the process by Clicking here.
It was time to meet the lumbering giants. Asian elephants are much smaller than African elephants but until you got used to them they were still quite intimidating. They stood behind a fence while we all took our time feeding them bananas and hunks of watermelon. There were commands for them to lift their trunk and open wide and I could just toss food directly into their mouths. They took food by their trunks and as my courage grew it they pulled bananas directly from my mouth. It also gave me the chance to rub, pat and scratch each of them. Trust me they are not as soft as a kitten.
We then wandered over to a mud hole where we rubbed them with mud which I guess they love. This gave our crazy guide the opportunity to sneak around and stuff our shorts and tops with mud as well. No harm, no foul. Then the walk down to the river to wash it all off and go for a swim. It was all good until the smallest one of the lot decided he did not want to stand any longer and he dove under. Now you realize the damage they could do. Then the other two did the same (pregnant mama just chilled) and it gave us time to build some courage and play around with them.
The elephants know the routine and I think are smart enough to know when the time is up. A few handlers followed us down to the river and when it was time to go, they just left the river and walked back. I am not an elephant whisperer, shit am not an anything whisperer, but I will tell you these are happy and playful elephants, as it should be.
We finished the day with a small hike to a great waterfalls. The water was refreshingly cool and I could wash the dirt from areas of my body not fit to be written about or taken photos of. Now, have you ever been to a spa where they have fish tanks that you put your feet in and the fish nibble at all the dead skin. They are all the rage here and in most of Asia. Well, standing in the pool below the waterfalls was a live and natural version of the spa experience and it freaked me out. A hill tribe woman had a shack set up selling snacks and beer. What do I do? Stand in a murky pond and have small fish that I can not see nibble at my feet or go hang with hill tribe grandma and drink a beer?
It goes without saying that when you have the chance to interact with animals, especially large monsters, on a very personal level it is going to be an overwhelming experience. Words can not do the experience any justice and pictures only tell part of the story.
I had this book growing up and now I actually get to share the joys of my childhood with you. I guess this could explain so much.
Q. How do you get down from a elephant?
A.You don't you get down from a duck.
Q. What did Charles De Gaulle say when he saw the elephants on the path?
A. Il y a des éléphants
Q. What did the elephants say when they saw Charles De Gaulle?
A.Nothing. Elephants can't speak
Q: What does Tarzan say when he sees a herd of elephants in the distance?
A: “Look, a herd of elephants in the distance”
Q: What does Tarzan say when he sees a herd of elephants with sunglasses
A: Nothing. He doesn’t recognize them.
Q. What do you get when an elephant sky dives?
A. A big hole.
Q. Why do ducks have webbed feet?
A. To stomp out forest fires.
Q. Why do elephants have large feet?
A. To stomp out flaming ducks!
Q. Why can’t an elephant ride a bicycle?
A. Because he doesn’t have thumbs to ring the bell.
Click here, there are plenty more where these came from. Buy the book. You will be the life of the party.