This is our second completed Audacious Goal of 2018. If you’d like to read about the first (snorkeling the GBR) you can see that here.
It’s a big day – we’re eagerly waiting to go walking with elephants in Thailand! We headed to the Elephant Nature Reserve just north of Chaing Mai. We booked this experience several months ago and heard nothing but rave reviews for it, so our excitement level was HIGH.
From there we followed the instructions in the confirmation email and we packed up water, towel, sunscreen, camera, and whatnot and headed out the door for the meetup place. A ten minute walk later and we were in the correct spot, or so we thought. The van was due to arrive between 8:00 and 8:30, but around 8:40 we were seriously wondering what was happening. Thankfully 5 minutes later our van arrived and we hopped in.
Our guide Tea explained traffic had held them up. No worries – we were excited to get a move on. On our way to the park we watched a public service announcement about the park and some guidelines for how to interact with the elephants (where to stand, where to touch, etc.).
After about 45 minutes on the road we arrived at the reserve. We hopped out, removed our shoes, and prepped by putting on some “traditional elephant” clothes.
We then walked down to a patio area down the hill and began to wash bananas. The reserve grows its own, normally, but elephants eat 10% of their body weight each day, so they naturally run out from time to time. Thus, we were washing bananas so as to remove any pesticides or what have you. Before we knew it, the stars of the show began arriving.
Meet the Herd
Four Asian elephants lumbered down the path in front of us and took their place under a sheltered area, ready for feeding. The four comprised of two middle-aged females (aged 55 & 48), a juvenile (6), and a baby (2). They took their places as they were clearly familiar with guests and the feeding pattern. Tea instructed us to hand bananas to the elephants to introduce ourselves, after which we could get closer, pat their shoulders, and pose for pictures.
So we did! We grabbed handfuls of bananas and the four elephants eagerly vacuumed them up. Their trunks are not only massively strong but incredibly gentle. The trunk is unlike any other animal appendage. It has its own thumb which it uses for grabbing food out of your hand.
Walking with Elephants in Thailand! Wooo!
Before you knew it folks were getting closer and snapping some pictures. The elephants were warming up to the people quickly and we could tell they enjoyed the presense of humans. After the intial feeding we did a walk up into the hills. The youngster elephants lead the way, followed by the older ones with groups of visitors intersperced.
The walk took about an hour and throughout the elephants are basically following us because each person has a bag of sugar cane chunks which we feed them every 5 step or so. Since the elephants eat so much, each chunk of sugar cane is like being fed a peanut every 30 seconds or so – it’s very little to them.
So we hiked up the hills and our elephant was very happy to oblige our feeding her. She was patient and kind the whole time and let us get very close. It’s hard to image but we were inches from this majestic beast. She would poke her trunk around us and sniff out the food. She got friendly very quickly and didn’t mind getting into your personal bubble.
Walking Through the Creek
Eventually we headed back down the hill and took a path through a creek. We kept up the feeding routine and splashed the elephants with water so they could get muddy in the dirt (they use dirt as a sunblock). We trudged through the water and there was a time or two when the sassy adolescent took a deep interest in my sugar cane and nearly toppled me ontothe bank. The creek can be hard to navigate when you have flip-flops on and an elephant is leading the way.
We continued out of the creek and said “see ya later” as we went up to the main building for lunch: Pad Thai, fruit, and french fries.
In the afternoon we got back to it. The elephants had their lunch (they eat 16-18 hours a day) and we ready to play in the mud. They looked ecstatic to be in the mud and the elephant helpers were right in there with them.
We snapped plenty of pictures and got plenty muddy from the trunk spraying. This went on for 30 minutes or so before it was time to move onto the next activity: the pool!
Everyone in the Pool!
I still can’t believe this happened (and I was a concerned about safety issues) but we then descended into a pond (armed with big scoops for splashing water) and bathed the elephants. This was clearly everyone’s favorite moment. We waded in and the elephants were having a ball, rolling over, spraying water, slapping their trunks in the water: they were having genuine fun.
The younger ones were pretty wild and some of the guests were darn close to them. I worried about someone getting rolled up under by an elephant, but the helpers were very good at keeping people safe and in the right areas.
We approached the larger elephants and splashed them all over with water – they replied in kind by splashing us. Their trunks hold 2 gallons of water so they could move quite a bit more water than we could. During this bathing we got so close to her. The helpers encouraged us to wash her head, which we did, and she loved it. She was so peaceful and happy to have us playing with her. We ended the session with a big water fight in which the elephants won out.
After 10 or 15 minutes the swimming lesson was over and we meandered out to dry and engage in one more feeding. For dessert we fed the elephants sugar cane. It was our last opportunity to say goodbye to these fantastic creatures. We fed them with joy and familiarity, and the elephants returned it.
After that, we returned to the main building, gathered our things and changed before heading back home. It’s hard to convey how magical the experience of getting close to an elephant is. You can see and feel the personality and intelligence in their faces. We’re ecstatic to go walking with elephants in Thailand and will always treasure it in our hearts.
Yes, if you’re interested in nature (or incredible experiences) you should consider doing this. We had the time of our lives. If you want to look at the package we booked, it’s called ENP – Single Day Visit. They also have a couple of other options to choose from. For the two of us, we paid $160.00 and it was worth every dollar!