The relationship between Thailand and elephants go a long way back, with the animals playing a substantial role in providing manual labour, serving as war combatants, acting as a royal symbol and boosting the tourism industry. Elephants are in fact the official national symbol of Thailand, therefore you see these animals appearing on almost everything; from souvenirs to clothing to paintings.
Being an avid animal lover, visiting the elephants is definitely on the top of my list. However I am also very cautious on which Elephant camp or sanctuary I choose to visit after learning from social medias on how the animals are abused just so that they will fear and listen to their handlers as they are used to provide elephant rides to the tourists. I wanted to interact with the animals in the most respectful way, seeing them in their natural habitat.
I managed to find one operator that allows me to feed, bathe and pet the animals up in the mountainous jungle. The elephants under their care are rescued from a life of manual logging, circuses and unscrupulous tourist traps. It made the experience even more meaningful having learnt that these animals are now in good hands and free from sufferings.
Upon reaching the Elephant camp, the guide shared with us information about the elephants, their background habitat and I was briefed on the Dos and Don'ts and also on what commands I need to know so that I can respond accordingly when the guide says them. The commands are important because the elephants are wild animals and the guide will monitor and let us know if we need to keep our distance if the animals are acting strange.
There are 4 elephants there the day I went, 3 adults and 1 baby. The baby elephant is naturally the center of attention and I was very surprised to learn that it's already 4 years old as it is still very small in size. Initially I thought it is likely only 1-2 years old. The other 3 elephants are much older, with the oldest at 49 years old.
I had so much fun at the elephant camp feeding the elephants shrubs and fruits, petting them and just being really up close and personal. I learned how to make a concoction of glutinous rice and tamarind which is medicine for the elephants to aid them in their digestion because all the shrubs and fruits they eat causes indigestion. The glutinous rice is an ingenious way to disguise the strong smell of the tamarind because the elephants hate tamarind and will not eat it in its raw form. The baby elephant is the cheekiest among them all, purposely throwing away food that its not too keen in and demanding others. And when it realise we have nothing else to offer, it picked up the thrown away food and consume it happily.
After feeding the elephants, it's time for the elephants to take their bath. I was taught how to smash a special tree vine which acts as the scrub for the elephants as it will generate natural soap when in contact with water. I got a cold shock when I waddled into the water, not expecting it to be freezing cold especially when the weather is as hot as 30 Degree Celsius. My guide told me it's because the river flows down from the mountains, hence it is always cold regardless what season of the year. It took me quite a while to adapt to the water temperature but it felt so refreshing afterwards.
There were a total of 3 elephants who went for the bath and we each get to choose which elephant we want to bathe. Getting up close to the elephants, scrubbing them and touching their rough skin is both frightening and exhilarating. I was conscious of how minute I am in size compared to them and how easily they can cause serious hurt to me if they want to, and yet, as I look into my elephant's eye, all I see is a gentle soul deep within (I was scrubbing its face area). At one point I realise I was stepping on the elephant's foot (it felt like a rock) and kept apologising for fear that it would be hurt and decides to reciprocate and step on my foot. Hahaha! Better be safe than be sorry right?
The elephants were taken back to the protected area of the jungle after their bath so that they can wander around freely for the rest of the day at ease without fear of being poached.
This experience enriched my life, allowing me to have a deeper understanding of the gentle giants, and warmed my heart knowing they are now in good hands.
You may book this experience via our website if you would like to enjoy a similar experience.