Jesse and I have been in Thailand for just about 3 months now! Our visa runs out in just two days. It’s incredible how fast time flies, and how warped it becomes. Part of me feels like we just started out, and the other part is comfortably accustomed to daily life in Thailand. But we’re getting ready to really switch things up – we fly to Kolkata (Calcutta), India tomorrow! And in honor of our big jump, we watched “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”. Yes, perhaps it’s geared toward those long in the tooth, but I wanted to get a feel for what it would be like when we stepped off the plane 🙂
Anyways, one of our last days in Chiang Mai was spent at the Elephant Nature Park. Jesse and I were excited to see elephants in Thailand, and we’ve heard so much about elephant rides, trekking with them, etc. Thankfully we did our research and learned that a lot of the tour companies that offer elephant rides and shows where they paint and perform for you, do not usually treat their elephants kindly. In Thailand there are no laws protecting elephants as an endangered species. If someone has an elephant, they are actually considered to be “livestock”, which simply means they can treat them horribly with no consequences. Luckily, we came across a few nature parks and elephant sanctuaries that are doing their best to help old, abused, neglected elephants.
The Elephant Nature Park was founded by a sweet Thai woman, Lek. She grew up in a hill tribe village in northern Thailand and cared so much for elephants that her nature park essentially found her! She would help give medicine to owners who had sick elephants, and started to buy or adopt elephants from families that couldn’t care for them. As of right now, she has 34 elephants, from age 4 to age 76! And ohhh my, they are the sweetest creatures in the world!
Our day started out with feeding them – whole bunches of bananas, pumpkin, watermelon and zucchini. The watermelons popped like grapes in their powerful mouths! It was crazy to feel their trunks…you would think it would be somewhat of a clumsy limb, but it was incredibly muscular and agile. After taking a walk around the park a bit, and feeding the elephants 4 more times, we bathed them in the river. The Mae Klong River flows right through the park, and you just get a bucket and jump on in. It’s a bit intimidating being in the water with such a huge creature. The fact that you are splashing bucketfuls of water on it as hard as you did when you were a kid also makes you a little nervous (maybe just me – was I splashing it too hard?! Did I get it in your eye?! Sorry!). Then everyone just kind of hangs out with the elephants and gets kisses or (surprise surprise!) feeds them more food! Each elephant eats $500 per DAY in food. They have shelves of bananas. Literally, a banana warehouse.
Well needless to say, that was one of my favorite days on our trip so far. Getting so close to such gentle, compassionate creatures was nothing you could imagine! Maybe I’ll work there one day.