Volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park
We spent our last day in Chiang Mai feeding, walking, bathing and playing with six elephants at the Elephant Nature Park.
It was a bit like a dream. I kept looking at the elephants, especially the larger ones, in awe half expecting to wake up or find the fence that was separating us. But I wasn’t sleeping and there was no fence. I was placing cucumbers and bananas in their trunks, petting the spiky hair on their heads and walking next to their enormous feet.
Our herd included six elephants, two mamas, two younger elephants including a 5-year-old “nanny” who was adopted by one of the families when her mother died and two babies, a 1-year-old and a 9-month-old. The 5-year-old was hilarious and protective of the babies. She was probably my favorite.
The main park was booked up by the time we got around to reserving our spot so we booked their newest program called Elephant Freedom. The organization took over this camp where the elephants were previously being abused and broken in order to provide shows and rides to tourists. Now, the camp is rehabilitating the elephants here and educating the locals about why they shouldn’t be treating the elephants so poorly. We even saw a nearby camp riding elephants, which our guide said the park is hoping to purchase as well. From what I saw, this organization is doing a great thing and I had so much fun with these amazing creatures.
James and I tend to spend more time talking to our guides than most and it paid off big time at the park. Goy took us to see the site’s 2-week-old elephant, Play, who is secluded with her mother until she’s big enough to join the herd. She’s precious. I wanted to stick her in my suitcase and bring her home. At the main park there are too many people to do things like this and we had her all to ourselves for about 10-15 minutes.
There were about 20 other tourists with us that day, which felt a bit crowded at first. I only fed the animals a couple of times that morning but because of that I took the time to step back and take some of my favorite photos of the day, which I probably would have missed if I had stayed at the feeding.
The highlight of the day was a 15 minute stint when the elephants were just roaming in the jungle and the other tourists were sort of over it, sitting on a hillside nearby talking to one another. I stood alone and then with James watching them in peace and taking photos. It was magical. Patience does pay off, as it turns out.
This is absolutely one of my favorite days in Thailand and possibly of our trip so far.