When traveling through Thailand, there are hundreds of places and opportunities to spend time with Elephants. This has always been something I wanted to do. I have always loved elephants. They are beautiful creatures and the thought of spending some time with them was really exciting. The problem was: which place should we go to? I definitely didn’t want to see sad elephants running multiple tours each day being treated poorly. That just sounded like it would make me sad.
After lots of research and discussions with fellow travelers, we decided to book a day with Elephant Discovery. While it was double to cost of most other places, the benefits made it worth every penny. This camp is located deep in the jungle around Chiang Mai. The great thing about this elephant experience is that the elephants are given free rein to roam the jungles when they are not giving tours. There are four full-grown females and one four-year-old male. Most of them have been rescued from camps located just outside the city. They are actually “owned” by the entire village, and loved by all who live there. The tours are limited to one per day and there is no equipment used on the creatures whatsoever. Many camps use elephant hooks and hit the elephants to get them to cooperate. This place is avidly against that and aims to provide people with real authentic experience with these magnificent creatures.
We were picked up by a guide at our hotel and driven a good two and a half hours into the mountains. The drive was long but beautiful. The last portion of the drive (about 30 minutes) was along a winding dirt road, which was a bit bumpy. When we arrived we were given a special tribal outfit to wear for the day. After we changed we were introduced to our elephant. Marie was my elephant. She was so beautiful, and man could she eat. We fed our elephants bananas and some greens.
The next portion of our experience was a mini class to teach us about the elephants. We discussed their eating habits, memory, intelligence, family customs, health and sleeping habits. I was amazed at some of the information I learned about these animals. They are so smart and they have amazing memories. I was also surprised to learn that they only sleep about four hours a night and that they can eat more than 1000 pounds of food in one day!
After learning about them we took them down to the river and bathed them. As we washed them we were able to begin to make connections with them. Mine loved it when I scrubbed her side and threw water on her as she lay down. We learn simple commands like: stop, forward, lie down, and stand up.
Once we were done with the bath we walked back up from the river and learned how to get onto the elephant. There are two ways that they showed us to get onto the elephant. One way is to mount them on the side using their foot as a step stool. The other way mounts from the trunk and head. I choose the latter as the sideways way looked pretty hard. Marie was very helpful as I was getting on. She used her trunk to give me the final little boost I needed.
We rode the elephants through the jungle for about an hour and a half. As we rode them we traveled down rivers, through thick-forested areas, and along narrow jungle trails. Going through the river was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Being so high up and looking down and this magnificent creature made me feel so special to be experiencing this with Marie.
After our trek, we arrived at our lunch location. We dismounted the elephants and they were free to roam around the area. Brandon and I were both shocked by the fact that they all just roamed around eating their fill of anything and everything around. One elephant, in particular, was very interesting to watch. She ate and ate and ate, clearing an entire area of forest in a mere hour. It was really nice to see them interacting in their natural habitat with no chains or ropes.
The lunch they served was chicken, sticky rice, and lots of fresh fruit. It was delicious! As we were sitting with the four other people on the tour we had a little visit from the four-year-old baby elephant. He walked right up to the hut and stole our fruit!! The little bugger! He also tried to steal leaves filled with our chicken bones, but we were fast enough to get them from him before he could eat them.
When we finished lunch we were given the opportunity to swim and play with the baby in a pool at the base of the waterfall. This was amazing. He was so playful and really enjoyed splashing us and squirting water at us with his trunk. The water was cold, but it felt good after riding for so long. This was probably one of the highlights of the day for me.
The trek back only took about half the time as the one on the way in. When we arrived back we feed them yet again! These guys can EAT! Once we finished feeding them and saying our goodbyes they wandered off into the jungle for the rest of the afternoon and evening. Before Marie left I spent a few minutes stroking her trunk thanking her for the day we spent together. This experience is one that I will never forget. Marie was an amazing animal and I am so fortunate to have spent the day with her and the guys at Elephant Discovery.