We made new friends last week. Deborah is a fellow Worldschooling mom who has been travelling with her two daughters for the last 7 months. You can tell the two families hit it off because we have seen them 4 times since we met 7 days ago!
One of the reasons I like Deborah is that she’s a GSD (Get Sh!t Done) kind of gal. She told me that they wanted to do an elephant experience and asked if we wanted to join. Sure! A day later she sent me a link, a suggestion for a day to go and which experience to choose. Click, click, add to cart, done. It was awesome.
I’ve been hearing a little bit about the elephants here and one thing I learned from multiple sources is that riding elephants is a very popular tourist activity, but it’s very bad for the elephant. Evidently, elephant backs are not meant to be ridden, and the things that the trainers have to do to the elephant in private to get them to be ridden in public is a serious form of abuse. So I did a little research on what type of elephant experience we should choose. The research essentially informed me that as long as the elephants are not being ridden, it should be a good experience for the tourist and the elephant. So off we go to a no-riding elephant sanctuary.
This sanctuary started 3 years ago with 6 elephants but has now grown to 85, having rescued many more elephants from working camps and riding experiences. Many of the elephants were related to each other, and others have been formed into new elephant families based on preferences. One elephant mama was very sad having lost 3 of her babies, and an adolescent nearby did not like his mother because she was too “crazy” according to our guide. So this new pairing found comfort in each other. Don’t tell my kids that’s an option.
Girls Day Out
Dan chose to opt out of this experience. He’s not much of an elephant fan and he’s definitely not a fan of early rising. At 7:30 a.m. the girls and I were outside our neighborhood gate waiting for the sanctuary van to pick us up. Sidenote: one of the things we like about this area is that there is a lot to do, and it’s very easy to do it. There are many experiences catering to tourists who want to learn more about Thailand. So booking adventures like this, that include transportation, is blissfully simple.
Back to the story: a very comfortable Mercedes van drove up… and drove right past us. Then a truck pulled up that had benches in the back and that was our ride. #darnit
We climbed in and soon got to know the other people in the back. The ride up there was about an hour and a half, with a stop about 45 minutes in for tea and a potty break which is where we met up with our Worldschooler friends since they came from a different part of town. The truck wasn’t as uncomfortable as it sounds and we had a nice time chatting with the other couple. The husband of the other couple in the truck worked at a high school and when we told him what we were doing – and how little actual school work we do – you could tell he was like “Uhhh, what?”. We love that expression when we tell people what we do.
We arrived at the camp and were all given lovely but very unflattering ponchos. I wasn’t sure why we needed to wear them but everyone put them on so it seemed like the thing to do. Peer pressure isn’t just for public school.
Our guides (one, in particular, was so enthusiastic we nicknamed him the cruise director) told us how the day was going to go and told us a little more about the elephants. Soon we were putting away our bags and heading down to an open field. We were given 5-6 pieces of sugar cane and told to put them in the poncho pockets. Aha! That’s why we wear them!
Bone. James Bone.
During the day’s briefing, we were told of the signal for elephants to lift their trunks and we even had to practice it. Evidently, you have to yell “bone booooone!” and then raise your arm. That tells the elephant you’re ready to feed them and they should open their mouths. So down in the field, we all started to yell “bone, booooone” really loud and pretty soon a pack of about 7 elephants were headed our way. FAST. If you’ve never been in a field with a pack of elephants running directly at you… well, let’s just say you see your life flash before your eyes and you do some quick calculating as to who’s getting your life insurance payout. Hint: it’s the guy who slept in. #getrichquick
But alas these elephants didn’t want to trample us but they sure wanted that sugar cane. Must be some kind of elephant truffle or something. Their trunks were VERY efficient at finding the sugar cane in your pockets or your hands and feeling you up in the process. The elephants were incredibly gentle, very calm and you did not have to have any fears around them. There were a few trainers around who made sure you did not get smooshed in between two elephants, or you did not get right behind them (perhaps the pooping could have been a problem too) but other than that we were free to mingle around, touching them, hugging them and just having a good time. The camp provided a photographer who went around taking pictures, which was an awesome benefit.
Director of Waste
After their little tasty treat, the elephants headed for the river. We watched them cool off, spray water on their backs and poop in the water. We learned that there was a guy whose job it was to remove the elephant poop from the river. He was on duty and working hard. The elephants poop giant balls filled with the fiber from the things they eat so it sticks together even in the water. The worker with the World’s Worst Job was picking the poop out of the water and throwing it into a bucket on the bank. The poop needs to be removed from the water because the elephants use the water for bathing and drinking, and the nearby villages also use the water. The poop is also good for fertilizer. And for making paper, which we will tell you about in a future blog post. #foreshadowing
After a dunk in the river, the elephants ambled off to another area where there was a different spot for bathing. We crossed a few bridges (if you can call a few trees strewn across water a “bridge”) and we followed them for awhile, getting pictures and learning more about their behavior.
After awhile our guides told us OUR lunch was ready so we walked back to the camp and had a delicious lunch of chicken wings, rice, noodles, vegetables, fried egg (soooo good with the rice) and tofu. It was really tasty.
We had about an hour and a half for lunch time and most people just ate, relaxed on the rattan floor, and watched the water buffalo who had the same idea, but preferred the mud. We hung out and chatted with other guests and our guides. It was a very comfortable, relaxing time and the temperature was lovely, as was the company. One of the things I loved about the day was how relaxed it was with timing. Do you think I can somehow work in the word “relaxed” one more time into this paragraph? We were not rushed and we really got to spend a lot of time on each activity. #relax
After awhile a worker appeared and started making something in a large bowl. Dessert? Nope. Vitamins. He explained that the elephants don’t have enough natural habitat to get all their nutrients so the workers (and tourists, aka Free Workers) make these rice balls filled with vitamins. The balls had white rice, raw rice, lots of bananas, some citrus (good for elephant tummies that don’t digest well) and some other things. He asked for help and soon he had tons of kid (and adult) helpers crushing up the mixture and forming it into balls. Let’s get this straight. Not only did we PAY to do this experience but now we had to work, too? But that’s OK because we were having a blast.
More Bone Boooone!
Once again we headed down to the field and called the elephants. The trainer told us that this time it was really important to use the “bone boooone” trick because we needed to put the vitamin rice ball directly in the elephant’s mouth, so the animal would get all the nutrients. He said this was not difficult, they love this rice ball. He was right! It was a little intimidating at first but we soon learned that elephants have soft, warm, squishy mouths and no teeth.
These elephants obviously knew the routine and after the vitamins, they headed for the mud bath. Several of them went directly to the bath and laid down, enabling us to spread mud all over their backs, and each other. The mud felt a bit exfoliating and actually quite good. The elephants seem to enjoy the mud too.
Well, even elephants like to clean up so after getting them and ourselves all muddy, we headed for another part of the river that had more moving water and a deeper pool area. Here’s where the elephants clearly had the most fun. There was a pile of elephants FROLICKING in the water! At this point the trainers had us just watch, and throw water on them, but not get in with them because they were moving around a lot and it would be too easy to get smooshed accidentally. But it was so cute to watch them play with each other and spray water on each other and just have a good time. This was one of the best parts of the day because the elephants seemed so happy.
The elephants then wandered off to some shade and it was time for human frolicking. We played in the pool, washed off the mud, some people jumped from the little cliff into the pool and we just goofed off for awhile.
Wrapping It Up
After the human frolicking finished up it was time for one last snack for the elephants and then we said goodbye. We took some more pictures, gave them pats and hugs and thanked them for an awesome day. The elephants got pampered but I know we enjoyed it as much as they did.
Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh, this is literally making me cry! What a lovely sanctuary! There are way too many “breeding for profit” companies that call themselves an “orphanage”. Similarly, being called a elephant “sanctuary” but not dissimilar to an elephant jail! I do not see one single chain AND no goads! Truly an ellie Heaven and makes my heart SING!! I am going to visit for sure! Thank you for sharing, Allison!
Oh no, no chains at all. I would have been horrified! There were trainers who seemed to prod the elephants to move a bit with their hand and a gentle push (or a hard push that seemed gentle to the elephants!) but nothing mean at all. The elephants seemed to know the routine. Eat, bathe, rest, repeat!