Such a magical day. An early start, we got picked up in a truck by the guide. Nancy, Shelly, Lauren and Ben from Australia, Lindsay and me all clambered in. We stopped at a rest place and I got chicken rolls… they are not good. Minced chicken and vegetables in a sausage skin. Not a tasty treat.
We arrived down a tiny dirt track, I was super nervous as we just seemed too wide for it. A few bumps and shielding our butts from the inners of the truck we pulled up and jumped out. As I was walking to the toilet I could see the elephants over in a field. It was honestly breathtaking. I’ve been so excited to get near them and even though they were still far away, I had to stop and take a moment before running for a pee.
We got a traditional Karen Tribe tunic to wear and after a quick run down of the day we walked down towards the elephants. We were to feed them sugar cane. I honestly couldn’t have been happier. I was like an elephant in mud.
There were two large females which had been rescued and one of them gave birth to a girl and a boy at the sanctuary. That girl had a girl of her own. “Bon bon!” is the cry to get them to lift their trucks so you can feed them directly but the way they use their trucks is awesome! It’s like a hand! So dexterous! They seemed to like taking the sugar cane off you more than eating it! Lindsay and I were in total awe of these magnificent creatures.
After we had given them all the sugarcane we headed up a hill to grab bunches of corn plants and take them to a higher point. The elephants walked up after us, by just voice commands. It was pretty staggering to see them respond and we were told if you just keep feeding them they will do as you ask! I’m struggling with how true this is, I was told they have to be ‘broken’ at a young age. The older ones were rescued from being ridden or from working. The people they belong to are the Karen Tribe, and really they have just been saved from themselves. They have 55 elephants across 8 camps and they are looked after and prevented from running riot on the local people’s farms. They eat 300kg a day and let loose they will destroy everything around. This enterprise allows the Karen Tribe to make money and supports the local farms and the elephants do seem incredibly happy.
Whilst at the top of the hill our guide filled us in on the differences between African and Asian elephants. Male elephants aren’t always fertile and they don’t find out whether they are or aren’t until they are older – around 10 or 15. They are pregnant for nearly 2 years!
Then it was back down the hill to let the elephants finish their lunch of corn tree and we got fed by the Karen women. Fried chicken, rice, noodles and veg. Watermelon and the most amazing pineapple for pudding and wee Jammy Dodger type biscuits which were lush! Watching chickens scratching around, a really old Karen woman spitting outside, with the worst teeth imaginable and the elephants scranning through the pile of corn we’d huffed up the hill.
After lunch we were to make medicine for the elephants! This medicine included bananas, tamarind, cooked rice and crushed raw rice, salt and water. We smashed it up in a huge pestle and mortar as we counted in our languages… wan, tway, free, fouar… This medicine replaces what they would usually graze on in the wild. The cooked rice is just a binding agent. We rolled it in balls and headed back down to feed it to the elephants after jumping in our swimming stuff.
Then we walked with the elephants to a mud pit. It was sludgy, grey mud and didn’t smell great. Apparently it is amazing for your skin and you’d pay big money in the city for a spa day like this!
Here is me getting covered by our guide and lying on the back of an elephant!!
I was stunned to see them lie down, again this must be something they are trained to do. No hard tusk (!) to massage these big beasts in mud. When the big one stood up though – wow! Such power and I realised just how much bigger and stronger these creatures are than anything else I’ve seen. Magnificent!
Then we walked round to a waterfall. The elephants were loving cooling off in the water. Everyone was ecstatic to be in there with them. Some people were jumping off next to them and we got little scoops to splash water over the elephants. I did think this was a little silly as the mud is sunscreen for them but what a time we had giving the elephants a bath!
One of the big ones did a rolly polly in the water, their trucks were up and we were brushing the mud off them! They are kinda hairy, almost like a pig!
Then it was back to the starting field to feed them more corn as they are just machines when it comes to eating and pooping! Sad to say goodbye, glad that the money was so well spent and if you book online you get a Karen Tribe tunic of your own and a little handcrafted bag. These are made by the pensioners of the tribe, a well designed booklet attached informed us. The bumpy track back to the main road and back to Chiang Mai for dinner time. It was a mammoth (!) day out, a real highlight of my trip and I would certainly recommend it for anyone looking to meet some elephants in an ethical way.
A treated myself to my first full Thai massage that night after dinner. She was bending me all roads and sitting on my back which wasn’t as relaxing as I needed, adding herbal compresses and hot stones, I went to bed thoroughly knackered and dreamed about the jungle book.