So you may not know this, but Elephants are big in Thailand. I mean big. One of the popular local beers is called Chang – the Thai word for elephant. And there are literally thousands of elephant statues all over the city, on temples, buildings, fences, street signs, fountains, everywhere. They’re not like Hindu cows or anything but people here really love and respect elephants as an important part of their culture.
Part of this is great but it also has a bad side. Elephants have been abused and taken advantage of for thousands of years in Asia. Many elephants have been used for work, such as logging, cargo transport and even in battle. Unfortunately, the way that elephants are tamed, or ‘broken’ is brutal and cruel. Lots of working elephants are mistreated throughout their lives starting from a young age.
The Elephant Nature Park was created to rescue mistreated elephants and give them a good life free from work and all the terrible things people do to them.
The park is on a huge reserve of land with rivers, mountains and jungles. Tons and tons of space for the 40 or so elephants that live there. Throughout our trip we just got to walk through the forest with the elephants all day and feed them and hang out with them while they did elephant stuff.
By elephant stuff, I mean they spray mud all over themselves and everyone around them. It’s cheaper than sunscreen and I hear it makes your skin look 10 years younger. This happens over a long slow hike through the forest, across a river, up a mountain and into some more jungle. All while feeding our elephant buddies hundreds of bananas and apples and watermelon slices. Personally, I’m usually good after one banana, but these greedy bastards ate A LOT of bananas. They know a sucker when they see one and give you lots of attention in return for lots of fruit.
After about 3 hours we stopped for lunch. The park provided us with an amazing, albeit vegetarian, lunch spread in a little hut overlooking the whole park.
After that we hiked again down the mountain and back the way we came in. The elephants took a dip in the river to cool/clean off. So we got some new clean pictures of these guys.
At the end of the day, after they had re-applied their mud, we took them over to a river where we got to wash them off. They sat still and let us spray buckets of water on them and scrub them with a big brush.
The whole day was incredible. Getting a chance to spend lots of time with these huge animals was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. Elephants are really smart and social animals and it’s a shame the way that people have taken advantage of them over the years. The work they are doing at the Elephant nature park is so important to help protect the endangered and mistreated elephants in Asia.
Here’s a link to their website. If you are ever in Chiang Mai, I would recommend this be at the top of your itinerary.