A very important box on our Thailand ‘to do’ list was to see elephants. Reading a lot of articles about elephant welfare, we were adamant to avoid elephant trekking and other similar tourist traps such as Tiger Kingdom, which we saw prolifically advertised. Scouring through various leaflets, we eventually decided on the elephant camp that was part-owned by our hostel – Into the Wild. It was one of the cheapest that we saw and appeared to offer just as much as other camps for around 2,300 THB.
On the day, we were greeted by our guide and given bright red woven ponchos as well as a gregariously coloured bandana to wear for the day. Upon arrival we helped to unload the tuck full of food, water, etc. for the elephants and were told to walk directly to the shelter without stopping for the curious elephants, otherwise they’d steal all the food! This made for a pretty scary but exciting experience as we ran across the stretch of land between the hut and the elephants – all while the guide tried to distract them.
Our first proper interaction with the elephants involved feeding them bananas, and seeing them up close was amazing. This camp had three elephants, all girls, two were around 45/50 and the other only 5 years old! Seeing them up close really put into scale how enormously powerful they are – even the baby (!). This fact was especially underlined as we tried to cross the small river with the elephants and encountered some water buffalo. Their presence really unsettled the elephants, who natural instinct was to protect the baby of the herd. As we were quickly ushered back, they let out great trumps of distress and warning that, along with the pounding of their feet, reverberated through us. Thankfully, the water buffalo were chased away and the day continued on without incident. After walking around the nearby forest with the elephants, we were taken back to camp for lunch before getting into our swim suits and giving the elephants a medicinal treat as well as a nice mud bath. Although this was fun, I shudder to think about what could be in the mud, more so when it inevitably got into your mouth (nice). Continuing the elephant pamper session, we took them to the river to wash off. Here, I also got the opportunity to be lifted by the trunk of an elephant! We spent the rest of the day drying off in the sun before changing back into our clothes and heading back.
Quite a lot of our friends at the hostel had also booked an elephant sanctuary that day, so it was amusing to hear everyone else’s experience as well as the competitive undertone that came with each (but let’s be real, my day was the best). As the national animal of Thailand, visiting an elephant sanctuary should be on everyone’s list! With elephants appearing on everything from flowing pants to decorated temples, it’s clear how much they are loved and revered. Given the respect from the locals, it is only expected that we do the same. Elephant trekking is notorious for its inhumane methods in training the elephants, and sadly the enjoyment of customers is put in higher regard than elephant welfare. Elephant camps, however, usually consist of animals rescued from these harsh practices and are given a much better standard of life. In turn, this is reflected in the experience you get. That is, a much more personal and meaningful day, spent learning and actually interacting with these magnificent creatures.
(Apologies for the blurriness of some images, my camera got accidentally knocked onto the macro setting T-T and I wanted to use these photos heh).