While Leandra took a cooking class I visited Elephant Nature Park, an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center in Northern Thailand. There are a number of “elephant experience” tours around Chiang Mai but I really liked that this group focuses on rescuing elephants that have been injured, blinded, or abused. These elephants don’t do tricks, and you don’t ride them, but you do have ample opportunity to interact with them.
The park is about an hour north of Chiang Mai, and the day tour includes transportation, so I was picked up at 8a at my hotel. After picking up a few other people that would make up our small group for the day we made our way to the park. Upon arrival our guide covered some basic rules…
Having learned our rules we were off to feed elephants for the first time.
it takes a lot of food to feed 30+ elephants…
At this park the elephants roam more-or-less freely, so our first adventure was walking across a field with several elephants to a feeding area.
Once there I was handed a basket of fruit and off I went to feed an elephant. She always took two bunches of bananas in her mouth, then held a third bunch in her trunk while she methodically chewed the first two…
I mentioned to our guide that she took her time eating, and he replied that she was 80 years old!
On our way back across the pasture we stopped to visit with this pair.
Notice the back leg and hip on the elephant to the left- she was originally injured in a mine explosion, but is doing well at the rescue. The elephant to the right is always beside her making them a herd of two.
As we got toward noon it was time for the elephants to take their midday bath. I had the opportunity to get in the water with them but decided to stay on shore and take photos.
some elephants take their bath more seriously than others…
Post-bath there was some time for posing and petting.
Asian elephants are smaller than their African relatives, but it is still a bit intimidating to have them directly behind you!
the baby elephant on the right is less than three years old and very happy to interact with humans. Her male cousin is a bit more rambunctious
Since the elephants had been fed several times already, it was time for our own tasty (and vegetarian) lunch and mingling with a few of the other small groups. Following lunch we had several additional opportunities to interact and feed elephants around the property.
And a second chance at bath time in the river.
With sun lowering in the sky and the light starting to turn golden it was time for the day-trippers to leave for our hotels in Chiang Mai. I was a bit envious of the volunteers who stayed here for weeks at a time as they got the place to themselves once everything quieted down… as a long time elephant-phile, this was a great memory for me and I would love to return in the future.