Maybe twenty years ago, my best friends family flew to Thailand for a month and adopted the sweetest 7-year-old boy. I remember his welcome home party like it was yesterday. Robyn had brought me back the most beautiful Thai sarong, one I still use to this day and she told me all about her families travels. Ever since then, I've been dreaming of visiting Thailand.
I've been planning this trip for the last 4 years, buying the Lonely Planet books, researching on Pinterest and other travel blogs. Chiang Mai and the islands were at the top of my list. The moment I was accepted into Wy_Co (formally known as We Roam) I had one adventure on my mind, an elephant rescue park.
Before going into cuteness overload, I feel it's important for me to embark all my new elephant knowledge on you. For a second, imagine how you would feel if you had to carry a child on your shoulders for 8-12 hours a day. Exhausted, right? A lot of elephants here in Thailand and other surrounding countries are not treated well and are used for the benefit of the logging industry or tourism. An elephant has to eat 18 hours a day to fill full and can munch on 250KG of veggies, bananas, and plants. They also require a lot of rest. The tourism elephant parks are strictly trying to make money and don't care about the health and well being of their elephants. Very few tourists know and continue to flock to these establishments. The same can be said for Tiger Kingdom where they consistently drug the animals on a daily basis all so we can get a photo with the tiger who would normally EAT YOU!
Several elephants are injured from carrying tourists all day, and when this happens they're injected with steroids so they forget about the injury, causing horrible infections or compound fractures. There are a few rescue parks within the Chiang Mai area who take elephants in from the logging, tourism and the circus industry. Riding is forbidden at these establishments but they do rely on tourism to keep the animals fed and healthy. This is where we decided to go!!
Elephant Rescue Park offers half day, full day and overnight tours. We opted for the half day which really ended up feeling up being a full 6 hours. They'll pick you up from your hotel and take you 1.5 hours north of Chiang Mai to start the adventure. There we changed into an outfit provided by the park. We were told the elephants would adapt to us faster if we were all in this uniform, due to the fact no one in this outfit has ever harmed them. Our day was spent admiring a 35-year-old female, and three babies (two of which were more like toddlers.)
Our interaction with the elephants started by feeding them two giant laundry baskets of bananas. They saw us coming from a mile away and were already lined up and waiting when we arrived. You could tell this wasn't their first rodeo. ;-) We all took turns getting to know each one by feeding and loving on them. This was my first time being up close and personal, I was surprised by how rough their skin was and how much hair they had. For whatever reason I had assumed their skin was a bit more velvety.
Each elephant had a unique personality, the smallest was a little bit shy and never strayed far from the adult and another baby was ready to party. Sitting still was not something he knew how to do and was constantly swaying back and forth like he was a dad at a high school dance.
For an hour or so we hiked up a hill with all 4. What could have been a 10 minute hike was nothing short of an 1.5 hours as they stopped every few feet to graze or roll around. I made the mistake of dumping some of my bottled water down a babies trunk and he blew it back in my face. HA. Kids.
When we reached the bottom of the hill they were lead into the water by their Mahout (This is what they call each elephants keeper/trainer.) Being a 95 degree day, the elephants gladly submerged themselves, feet in the air, rolling around trying to cool off. It was adorable. I was SO tempted to join them. The uniforms they gave us were by no means sweat wicking material.
Soon enough we were able to join each elephant in a separate pond for a good scrubbing. I took the smallest guy and watched his Mahout go to town. I couldn't believe how hard they took the scrub brush to their skin. OWE! They must have loved it because they were smiling, giving us the same face your dog gives you when you rub his/her belly. It didn't take long for us to become drenched from the chest down. As we were walking out the pond the elephants lined up, almost as if we knew we'd take one last group photo before taking off.
This experience is one I'd do over and over again. I'm not sure it could ever get old and I'm wishing I would have experienced the elephant rescue park in Cambodia. February 26, 2018, marked a day I'll never forget, and a highlight of my trip abroad. You can't help but feel free, happy and full of life when walking next to a baby elephant.
This is what we call, living your best life.