I am just starting to realize how unique and remarkable our adventure was today. While traveling, doing things like zip-lining, bamboo rafting, and petting exotic animals starts to feel like an every-day activity. It is just what you do based on where you are in order that you fully experience your surroundings. However, we have been talking and are starting to recognize that most of the things we have done, we will never do again, and were once-in-a-lifetime activities. Every single day has provided us with an opportunity to experience something completely new and exciting. I think we won’t understand the enormity of our experiences until we get home and dwell on it for a while and realize that, “Wow, it is actually crazy that we did that!”
Today we went to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary about an hour from Chiang Mai. It was actually just down the road from where we went bamboo rafting! We knew that we wanted to have an elephant experience while in Thailand because they are so prevalent here, but hadn’t really decided what we wanted to do. A few of us had read about how the elephant riding camps here don’t treat the elephants very well and how riding elephants just isn’t really good for the animal. Therefore, most of us were not really interested in the traditional “ride an elephant” experience. I had read about elephant sanctuaries being good alternatives to riding elephants a few months ago, so we decided to check it out! After reading about what we got to do-feed, bathe, and swim with elephants, we all decided that it would be worth spending our last day in Chiang Mai doing this activity. It was one of the best decisions we have made so far!
Because we spent the night in Chiang Mai, the sanctuary arranged to pick us up in the morning and bring us up the mountain. We stayed at a nice little bed and breakfast that was within walking distance of the night market. We would have had to pay a fee to cancel our reservation after our plans changed, so we decided we may as well just stay there and enjoy it! It ended up being so worth it because we were able to stay at the night market as late as we wanted and didn’t have to worry Randy coming to get us. Plus, it worked perfectly with our sanctuary plan!
After seeing all of the “busses” around the city with the benches, we finally got to experience one! We read that we were going to take one to the sanctuary, so we were prepared when it pulled up in front of the bed and breakfast this morning. The only bummer part was that got picked up at 630 am and the truck didn’t really provide an opportunity to take a nap on the way. The views and breeze was work it!
We rode up to the sanctuary with four other people and it was fun to hear what they had been doing in Thailand! The craziest part was that the guy in our group was from White Bear Lake in Minnesota! It is a small world. The other girls were also from the Midwest. At one point we were all having a serious conversation about corn and just had to laugh. The one thing about talking to other people who have traveled is that it just fuels your wanderlust. We heard stories about New Zealand, Europe, and India and they all sounded so amazing. Beth and I may or may not have verbally committed to planning a few extra trips when we get back.
After stopping for coffee, we arrived at the sanctuary around 8. It was a beautiful sunny morning, and our guide was very chipper young Thai woman. She was firing jokes left and right about the guy that was solo in our truck. She told him, “For all the ladies, my name is Kol, but for you, it’s honey!” For 630 in the morning, her one-liners were pretty spot on! For the rest of the day she called our group the Single Ladies Girls. Too bad none of us are actually single!
She also was the one that provided the information session on elephants as soon as we got there. Along with another obnoxious guide, they explained the history of the elephants in Thailand and why riding elephants isn’t ideal. The sanctuary is run entirely on the money provided by people coming to visit. One elephant eats over 100 kilos of vegetation a day, so it is pretty expensive to feed them. The money also goes to buying elephants from riding camps. The guide said that she would bet in 10 years most of the riding camps will be converted into sanctuaries because the tourism market is changing. More and more people are choosing to go to the sanctuaries instead! They explained that they didn’t use any bull hooks to guide the elephants and only chained them up at night while they were sleeping. They chain them up so they don’t roam free and ruin the local farmer’s crop. The guide said, “Farmer kill elephant! Chain is for safety!” He said that about 5 times, so I think he got kickback on chaining up the elephants before. He also told us that if we had ideas on how we could make the sanctuary better, to tell one of the guides. The transparency was nice!
When we first arrived, we all put on traditional Karan tops. The Karan people live up in the mountains and have worked with the elephants for many years, so wearing the shirts gave the elephants something similar to look at and smell every day.
They then led us down to the area where the elephants were eating! We were all given bunches of bananas and a short explanation on how to feed the elephants. You could either offer the banana and the elephant would take it with its trunk, or you could say, “Bon!” And the elephant would lift it’s trunk and open its mouth for you to shove it down the hatch!
These elephants had an incredible sense of smell. If you were holding a bunch of bananas in your hand, you better watch out for elephant trunks! They would wrap their trunks around you, sneak up from behind, or just grab the entire bundle if you were too slow feeding them one by one. Their trunks were very muscular and strong. They also have very bristly hair covering most of their body which you wouldn’t expect (but they are mammals!) It tickled when they would take the bananas out of your hands! Also, they don’t have any teeth or tongues, so when you put the food in, it just feels like slimy, soft tissue. It was an incredible feeling to be so close to such large, beautiful animals.
The elephant trainers also had the elephants give out kisses! The elephant would literally “suction cup” the end of it’s trunk to your face, like it was trying to suck water out of the river. It was a really unexpected feeling and you were left with a bunch of dirt on your face, but you couldn’t help but smile because you were seriously getting kissed by an elephant!!
They also would wrap their trunks around you as if they were giving you a hug! Sometimes it was under the direction of their trainer and sometimes it was because they wanted your bananas. It was a little bit more enjoyable without the bananas:)
On the way to the sanctuary, our guide told us that site we were going to had a baby elephant! It was only 2 months old! I don’t know what it is with this trip and baby animals, but we are definitely not complaining. It was one of the cutest things we have ever seen. Just picture four girls basically chasing this little elephant around all day. It was playing hard to get all day, but we knew it loved us. What a fun bonus for the day!
After feeding time was done, we all changed into our swim suits and headed down to the mud hole. The only thing we couldn’t do in the mud pit was stand near the elephant’s feet when they were lying down in the water because they tended to kick a lot. We are were waiting near the mud pit which was at the bottom of a slope and got to watch the elephants run down the hill. They were all trumpeting (?) and looked so pumped to get into the water! Very cool to see.
Putting mud onto the elephants helps cool them down and acts almost like a sunscreen! It also helps protect them from insects. We literally just scooped up mud from the bottom of the river and rubbed it onto the elephants back! I couldn’t help but think that it was pretty likely that I was basically swimming in elephant poop, but I was able to get over it pretty quick. The trainers thought it was pretty funny to throw mud at all of us, so we were covered head-to-toe in mud by the end of our time. I think we had more mud on us than the elephants!
It was such a cool experience to be able to be in the water with the elephants! They looked so happy when we were rubbing the mud in! They almost acted like dogs! Their tails were wagging, ears were flopping, and they were rolling over! That was actually kind of sketchy- you always had to be on the lookout for rolling elephants! Elephant trunks also had a way of finding people’s legs and giving them a little hug!
After all of the elephants got their mud massage, we went to a smaller pond with just water in it to rinse off the elephants and ourselves. They gave us little buckets to splash water onto the elephants and help cool them off. The trainers also surprised us a few times by having elephants come right up to us and spray water right into our faces. It was so fun! After laying on top of the elephants and playing with them a little bit longer, we all had to get out of the water.
Luckily they had outdoor showers, so we were all able to rinse off some of the mud that we accumulated in both of the pools. Our swimsuits were borderline brown after the activity. So worth it. We were then provided a nice Thai lunch and were given time to just relax and meet some of the other people that were there for the day. Us four girls decided to go and spend some more time with the elephants and went back to the sanctuary for a little bit. Laura joined us a little late because she got caught up chatting with everyone about all of her adventures! Everyone has been so interested in how she has been living with Randy and can speak pretty decent Thai for a furlong!
We then had to get back into the truck for our ride back to Chiang Mai! We only chose the half day purchase and it was perfect! Ironically it started raining as soon as we were leaving today too! Again, it was nice to have the long ride to just chat and enjoy the views.
Randy then picked us up in Chiang Mai and brought us back to his house after stopping at Big-C. Big-C is like Thailand’s Wal-Mart. I filled up my GoPro’s 16G memory card, so I had to run and grab a new one. Plus, Randy was making ribs for us, so we had to pick up some final ingredients!
When we got back, we all rand down to the barn quickly to look at the brand new (1 day old!) baby pigs! Who even knew pigs could be so small! The black pigs are a new type of pig that Randy has been working on breeding with the government. The pork is premium and they sell it to all of the upscale restaurants in Bangkok!
Randy does not mess around when he makes us dinner! The ribs he made were so tender, the meat just melted in your mouth. There was also fresh sweet potatoes and regular potatoes that had so much flavor you wouldn’t even think of putting butter or self on them. That is my type of candy! I have never had ribs before, so the bar is set very high for the next time! Randy spent many hours cooking those ribs, but we are the type of girls that appreciate a good meal, so it was the perfect end to a great last full day in Chiang Mai.
It was so fun to enjoy the meal with our Thai family. I will miss them! We will be here tomorrow morning before we fly to Bangkok and then on our last day for a few hours, but basically our time here is over. It is hard to comprehend that I will most likely never see these people or these amazing places again. It is also a little bit uncomfortable to feel like you will never ever be able to even make a dent in repaying someone for the experience they gave you. Randy and Nuch have made my time in Chiang Mai so unique and unforgettable- you literally can not place a value on it.
All of us girls were able to just sit and visit with Randy and Nuch after dinner for a few hours and it was really fun hear more about Thai culture and their history. The funny thing is that Nuch told us that the thing she noticed the most about America was that it was so clean! We didn’t mention that we noticed all of the garbage here…. When we were talking, Randy told us that he was going to miss us because us being there was like his daughter being back again. His daughter passed away when she was 35 of heart failure. It is heartwarming to know that we are making him happy by being here because sometimes it feels like we are being a burden with all of our trips to the airport and schedule coordinations. It is a little bit overwhelming to think about how much this family has done for us. We will miss them so much!
Tomorrow we will be heading down to Bangkok for a few days! Even though we love Chiang Mai and Randy, we are hoping to continue on with the rest of our trip this time. Today marked exactly half way through my trip! It’s crazy to think that two weeks have already flown by, but exciting that we still have two weeks left! I can’t wait to see what is next!