When you think of Thailand, you think about exotic beaches, Tuk tuks, bustling markets and… Elephants. I’ve always wanted to spend the day with these gentle giants but riding them was out of the picture. Nope. The best way to spend time with elephants is to visit them at one of the many rescue sanctuaries in Chiang Mai, and we found the perfect one, Happy Elephant Home.
When I was looking for places online I thought there was only one and got upset when I found it was fully booked up for the next 3 months. Fear not though. Once we arrived in Chiang Mai elephant tours were everywhere. There was loads of them. Offering half day, full day, one on one and group activities. Thank god. So after hassling Matt none stop to go to one, we had a good look through everything that was available and made sure we visited one that had no chains, hooks or ‘pens’, and definitely no riding.
Why am I so bothered about not riding an elephant? Or funding a place that allows it? Ever heard of the term ‘Phajaan’ or breaking an elephant? Quite a lot of people still don’t know what a baby elephant has to go through in order for the ever so innocent tourist to ride one. This isn’t breaking like you would break a horse. This is much worse and much crueller. Baby elephants are taken from their mothers, tied up or placed in a hole so that they can’t move. Then starved and sleep deprived. All whilst being constantly hit and smacked in the head with a bull hook. This is such a horrific process and one that doesn’t need to be endured. But it still happens thanks to the huge profit business tourists still buy into that is Elephant riding.
There is no excuse any more, especially when the best way to spend time with elephants is watching them roam around, feeding them and experiencing them doing their own thing. At the sanctuary I went to, our guide told us how they had rescued one of them from the circus whilst she was pregnant and that the baby in the sanctuary was born there. Another was rescued from the tourism industry and had scars and loss of hair all over her back from carrying people all her life.
Anyway, on to the fun stuff. Tours are easy to book, we booked through a travel agent style place who was super helpful. It cost us around £49 each, but don’t be scared to try and haggle the price down a bit. We did. These places are dotted all around Chiang Mai.
When it came to the day, we were picked up in a shabby looking mini bus and drove about an hour and a half through villages and thick jungles. When we arrived at the sanctuary our guide gave us some bananas to give to the elephants and say hello. They are so much bigger close up and their trunks are super weird. Also they do not give a single shit and will just walk straight into you so make sure you get the hell out the way.
After spending some time getting to know the elephants and learning about them, we were taken around to a restaurant style area with a swimming pool and lots of free drinking water. Here we got to change into some traditional style clothing. Unfortunately for Matt who is 6ft3 and everyone here averaging around 5ft, lets just say the tops looked like tiny crop tops on him. So he had to opt out.
Next we got to chop up some sugar cane with a machete. Do not know why I was allowed to do this. Highly dangerous. Luckily I didn’t harm myself or anyone around me. The more you cut up, the more you got to feed to the hungry elephants back in the field.
I was super shocked at how much elephant time we actually got on this tour. We fed them and got some great photos with them for about an hour. Then it was time for their mud bath. Two of them decided to have one and the other three were much more interested in eating the greens on the field behind. That was a great thing about this place, if the elephants didn’t want to do something they didn’t have to. Mud is good for the elephants as it protects them from the sun and mosquitos.
After the elephants had a fool around in the mud and fields it was time for a break. That meant it was beer time. After a couple of cold beers looking at a perfect view of jungle filled mountains, it was time for a walk to the river so that the elephants could have a drink and a good old swim. Whilst walking side by side with one of the elephants I turned and said to Matt “this is the best day ever” Yep it was perfect.
When we got to the river the elephants were quick to jump in and frolic about and we were quick to follow. Beware of the floating elephant poo’s though. Ohh and the strong current, it nearly took me off a few times. Whilst we were at the river there was a few other groups of elephants there as this was their main source of drinking water. Each group have set times to go down to the river so that no elephant fights break out.
After the river it was time for a shower and change and some delicious Thai style noodles and soup. Also more beers of course. We got to choose everything we wanted in the dish which was fun, I piled everything in because I was starving.
There was a cute souvenir shop there. At the end the guide had pictures of everyone in little homemade elephant frames. After that it was time to go. Back into the shabby minivan and dropped off back home.
Safe to say I was absolutely pooped after all that excitement. This truly was the best way to spend time with elephants. The group wasn’t huge, we got lots of time with the elephants and had soooo much fun. I wish everyday of my life could be that.
If you’re heading to Thailand be sure to check out Happy Elephant Home. Please please don’t fund the riding business, spend money on something that will help them instead.