“Sometimes I would rather have people take away years of my life than take away a moment.” – Pearl Bailey
Keeping with the theme of “virtual travel”, I present Part 2 of the travel memories, when I got to play with elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
If you read my previous “train ride” post, then you will know I had a long (and bumpy) ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, but this was not for just any old reason…we purposely chose Chiang Mai, as it was to be the location for our elephant 🐘 “day” of the trip. After researching, we wanted to ensure both a kind (toward the animals) and interactive experience. Chiang Mai has a number of different sanctuaries, so we chose an elephant “retirement sanctuary“, which is exactly what it sounds like. It is a place for elephants to roam free, most after being taken in after their time as “entertainers” is over, and they are allowed to form their own family groups. Human interaction is limited to: feeding, helping to bathe them and limited “play” with them in the watering holes. Visitors are not allowed to ride them and they are not made to do “tricks”, which is frequently seen in other tourist driven environments.
We were picked up in the early morning and in a bus, we shuttled around picking up the other participants, in total there were about 10 of us. We drove about 30 minutes outside the city and upon arrival were sent to a sitting area with changing rooms, where we were advised to get outfitted in our swimsuits and clothes for the day (that we wouldn’t mind getting dirty). We were then briefed on the day’s schedule, advised what is (and is not) allowed with regard to the elephant interaction, given a safety run down and then taken down to get the fun started!
We first got to “prepare” the treats for the elephants, which meant we got to wield a machete and try our hand at cutting down stalks of sugar cane. Everyone got to take turns and we filled large, individual satchels with “bite size” pieces of sugar cane to feed the elephants. We made our way toward their “sleeping” area (near the water) and then the fun began!
“Bon bon soong soong” is the cue for the elephants to open their mouth for their treats, so we called it out and they knew EXACTLY what we were there for…so much so that they would try to sneak their trunks into our satchels to grab the bananas and sugar cane they knew were inside. After snack time, we got to head down to the water hole, where we played with the gentle, loving animals. They were so sweet, charming and playful. They all had such spirit and personality, and the little ones loved to play! There were one or two who had previously been taught some tricks so they would give you a “high five”, a “hug” with their trunk, a kiss or even wave goodbye. It was so amazing and truly something that will be remembered for the rest of my life.
After, we shared a home made meal with our “guides” and everyone got to shower and change. Our day long excursion cost about $70.00 USD, per person. This included pick up and drop off from our hotel, the day with the elephants, a souvenir t-shirt, lunch, tea & water and extra (borrowed) clothes to wear during the bathing time. We also paid extra (I can’t remember the exact cost) for a cd copy of all the photos that were taken during the day. ALSO – along with our fun day, we even made friends with one of the tour participants from the Netherlands, who we ended up sharing another day with at a water park and have been Facebook friends with ever since!