I was going off on a journey on my own, to the other side of the world. One thing I’d say about myself is that I’m an animal lover, so of course I couldn’t wait to get up close with the animals in Thailand. One animal I particularly love, are elephants. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved elephants. My Dad took me to a circus when I was around 4 or 5, and I got to climb up and go on the back of an elephant. You climbed up a little ladder, posed for a photo, then got down. As a kid, I didn’t realise it was cruel, and back then, circus’ were popular. They weren’t known for being cruel to animals, as they are today. This would have been in the early 90’s, people weren’t educated back then to the animal cruelty.
Ever since, I’ve remembered that experience, even though I was so young. I think it played a part in the fact that I used to want to be a vet, but realistically, I knew I would struggle to see animals in pain, so chose against it. Obviously on my trip to Thailand, I wanted to get up close with the animals in their natural habitat. This was my chance to hang about with the animals, and I couldn’t wait!
I got to the elephant park, doing very little research, as it was part of a tour. It was lovely to see the elephants up close, but it soon turned to worry. The elephants were swaying their trunks, which many people think is cute, but it’s actually a sign the elephants are stressed. The keepers had little sticks with sharp knifes on the end, supposedly “incase of an emergency.” But looking at the elephants swaying, and with hot chains around their necks, it was a little worrying to see. Just before I flew to Thailand, a British man had been killed by an elephant. He was thrown from the elephant and killed by its tusk, while on holiday with his daughter. But I did wonder if the sharp knife was just a precaution because of that accident, or whether it’s always been a tool for the keepers to keep the elephants in line. After a short ride and seeing the elephants feed, we went down to the water, and got to play with the elephants in the water. You could tell instantly the elephants were so much happier. They didn’t have big heavy cages on their back, they weren’t hot and bothered, and in general, I was happier seeing them like that.
I loved the experience, but at the same time hated it. Parts of it I loved, and other parts I was a bit concerned about. I decided to do some more research when I got home from travelling, and by doing that, I hated myself. Why the hell didn’t I do this before?!
A few months later, I returned to Thailand, and I was determined to see the elephants again, but this time I had done my research, and I was sure I was going to enjoy the experience. I had planned to head to Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand, which is well known for its elephant sanctuary’s. I had met up with my friend, that I had met in Thailand when I first travelled there, and she had also been at the elephant camp the first time, and she also felt uncomfortable. We found out about a company called the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, that was recommended to us.
If you’re in Thailand, and want to see the elephants I highly recommend this company. And no, I’m not getting paid by them to advertise in any way. First of all, cost wise, we definitely got value for money. It was the equivalent of around £30, and we chose the half day. They picked us up about half 11 from our hostel, and it was around an hour drive, maybe a little longer. We were in the back of a pick up truck, so it wasn’t the most comfortable, but this is how people get around in Thailand. Also we weren’t stuck in a mini van like sweating pigs! So every cloud…
The ride to camp
We got to the sanctuary, we were introduced to the staff and told our itinerary for the day. We got given Karen tops to put over our clothes. These were just to wear on the day, although I really liked mine, and would have loved to take it home!
Me in my Karen Top
First thing, was to go meet the elephants. We took some watermelon to feed them, which we picked up in our trucks on the way. Apparently it was out of season for bananas, but the elephants love watermelon just as much. Elephants can spend up to 18 hours a day eating, so as you can imagine, there was a lot of watermelon. We visited camp 7, which was fairly new to the company. It was a mother and her 4 babies, that had been rescued from a circus. There were no cages, no chains, and the elephants were left to freely roam the huge field. We could see the keepers huts by the side, and they stood at the side to keep an eye on the elephants and make sure everything ran smoothly. No sticks with knifes on the end in sight!
After around half hour with the elephants, we headed to the mud bath. Elephants love mud! It protects their skin from things like mosquitos. Already I was a lot more informed about the elephants and how they live/eat etc, than I was after my first experience. I was stood posing for a photo with the mother elephant, when suddenly she got her trunk full of mud, and flicked it back at me. I had my mouth open, so not only was I covered in mud, I also had a mouth full of mud! I guess you could call it luck, that my friend took the photo just as it happened! Much to many of my family & friends amusement, when I sent the photo back home!
Next stop, we had to wash the mud off. This required going into the elephant water bath. The water was far from clean as you can imagine. But I’d done it before on the first experience, and loved it. You don’t think at the time that you are basically swimming in elephant sh*t! Luckily I have no sense of smell, so I can’t comment how bad the smell was. Although none of the group were complaining, so I imagine it wasn’t actually that bad!
After this, we had a meal cooked for us by the keepers wives. It was lovely local thai food. Even as a fussy eater, I got stuck in, and it was lovely. We definitely had our £30 worth. As if this wasn’t all enough, we then went back into the camp and learned about homemade medicine for the elephants, and even got to make our own, to give to the elephants. I can’t remember what was in it, but making it by hand, got very yucky!
Making medicine for the elephants
The experience overall was brilliant. Certainly made my year, and something I’m definitely going to go back and do again, when I go back to Thailand. You can also volunteer at the sanctuary’s for a week or longer, so that is something I’d be interested in doing, and definitely going to look into more. One thing I did appreciate was that I had seen how badly the elephants were treated from the last camp I had been to. I could appreciate more how much happier the elephants were. As horrible as it was to experience it, it made the experience seem a lot more meaningful to me personally. I spoke to one of the keepers about the experience, and he admitted it was nothing to ashamed about, because it led me to educate myself and pass on that knowledge to others. I saw the wrong in it, rather than enjoying the experience. He said the reason he started working with the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, is because he wants more people to be educated how bad it is to ride elephants and he wants to help spread the word. He admitted himself, he used to work for one of the companies, that used to allow riding, and used to mistreat the elephants to do “tricks”. And he agreed, it made him appreciate it more, because he’s seen how bad it can be.
So this isn’t an advertisement. But more of a plea. If you want to go visit the elephants, do your research. You might think it’s more fun riding elephants, but when you get there, you’re not going to enjoy the experience no where near as much. Don’t judge someone if they admit they have rode an elephant, because they probably appreciate more what these kind of companies are doing. It doesn’t make them the devil. Only judge them, if they don’t see the problem, and don’t see the elephants are unhappy.
On top of this, there were also some photographers going around taking photos to remember the experience. No extra charge for the photos. So if you don’t want to risk taking your camera, you don’t have to. I took mine, and my Go Pro, and the guys were happy enough to lock them up in a cage while I went in the water (took my Go Pro with me of course!) We were in the middle of nowhere though, so they wouldn’t have gone missing. The company I used are called Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, which have several camps in Chiang Mai and a new one in Phuket. http://www.elephantjunglesanctuary.com/