We were excited this morning to get up close and personal with the rescued elephants at Elephant Nature Park, a couple hours’ drive from Chiang Mai.
We walked to the Elephant Nature Park office in the eastern part of the old town. There were about fifty other travelers waiting in the office for the minivans. We played with some of the rescue dogs to kill time.
Our tour guide Tae called our names and twelve of us, all relatively young people from USA, Argentina, Germany and France, loaded onto our minivan. During the ride we watched a short documentary describing the harsh realities of Thailand’s elephants in captivity – shedding light on the physical and mental anguish that wild elephants are put through in order to break their spirits so they can be totally submissive to their trainers or mahouts. The video also explained Elephant Nature Park’s mission and do’s and don’ts when up close with the elephants.
Outside the minivan, we passed by elephants on the road carrying tourists on their backs. I can never look at “riding elephants” in the same way anymore. Riding elephants was something that I had originally wanted to do on this yolomimo trip.
When we arrived at the park, we were shuffled through to a roofed dining area with a terrace to feed the elephants from. The elephants were quick to follow the scent of watermelons.
Each elephant gets one basket full of watermelons and squash as treats.
We were excited to oblige them.
Then we walked into the hot sun to get close to the elephants. Sure enough they were happily eating, this time chewing on greens.
We asked someone in our group to take a photo of both of us. As soon we got into position, I heard a girl crying. I thought someone was sobbing about animal cruelty. I looked over and saw in front of me, from another group, a guy kneeled down in front of his girlfriend, proposing! Our groups all clapped as she presumably said yes and the couple embraced. Then we resumed getting our photo taken with this happy elephant.
Look at them chomping away. All big cheeks and big tongues.
The park is massive with rolling green hills in the background. The many resident elephants here rotate in and out of the dining area, bathing area and other human interaction areas when they are not roaming free in the larger park.
As second class citizens, after watching all that eating, we were finally treated to our own vegetarian buffet lunch. The food was excellent and there was a lot of variety.
After lunch we spotted three elephants bathing in the stream by themselves. They couldn’t handle the afternoon heat.
We spotted this mama elephant and her baby boy roaming the field.
Pondsawan is an elephant who stepped on a landmine which tore up a huge chunk of flesh off her right hind leg. The good people of Elephant Nature Park rescued her and helped heal her leg. There were graphic before and after pictures hung up showing the damage. Here is Pondsawan enjoying scratching herself against a tree trunk like the other elephants, notice her dangling right hind leg which she cannot put pressure on.
Although we only spotted one baby elephant, it was evident that elephants are pack animals, many nannies or aunties help the mama take care of the baby. He must be crazy spoiled as a result!
The baby takes a dirt bath.
He’s under close guard by his mama and nannies.
I’ll note that other than the baby boy, all the elephants we interacted with are females. We saw some of the males in their own large gated enclosure further away from the free roaming areas. Because they can be more unpredictable and aggressive and also Elephant Nature Park does not run a breeding program, the males are separated from the females and humans.
The elephants sure are curious creatures!
Here, Maurice and a couple of the Argentines learn that Elephant Nature Park elephants have high standards. They don’t want the skinny underdeveloped corn on a cobs!
This elephant however will do tricks for treats. Her trainer plays bowling for watermelon.
Another group was happily splashing their elephant in the stream. She even closed her eyes to fully enjoy the shower.
Next, our group got to treat an elephant to her spa day. She was munching on more greens the whole time, no wonder she was so patient with our wayward splashing. The pleasant elephant bath quickly escalated to French / Argentine hostilities, apparent towards the end of this video.
We dried off a bit, had some tea and snacks and then our fun elephant experience was over. We left Elephant Nature Park back to Chiang Mai by late afternoon.
Back in Chiang Mai, we made a quick stop to get some fruit shakes at Wat Phakao. Strange for a temple, the pretty garden had people getting foot massages and a sitting area for fruit shakes.
We quickly changed out of our damp clothes at the hotel then took a tuk tuk to Central Festival Mall. More than a week ago in Ko Samui, I accidentally stepped on my sunglasses snapping off one of the legs. I was way overdue in buying replacement sunglasses. Chiang Mai would be the last city I can find a modern mall in for a long time. Nothing against street vendors, but when it comes to UV protection, I prefer to trust established international stores/brands. The mall was in fact very modern with mainly affordable British brands but also other mall mainstays like Uniqlo, Zara and H&M. I posed in a tuk tuk at the mall (don’t worry this is not the same tuk tuk we took to get to the mall).
We also had Cold Stone Creamery, I had their special mango / pandan / Asian flavor explosion. Maurice had a more standard strawberry cheesecake creation. We paid American prices and the ice cream wasn’t as good as I remember – it’s been years since I’ve been to a Cold Stone.
Then we took the mall’s free shuttle bus back to Chiang Mai old town. We had dinner at a small home-style vegetarian restaurant called Morning Glory.
Our meals were excellent, just the right portions and all cooked by the same woman who also teaches cooking classes from her restaurant’s kitchen. We’re both really going to miss Southeast Asia’s modest home / restaurant set-ups where you can be seated next to the little sons and daughters watching TV or doing their homework.
We were exhausted after a long day. Walking back to our hotel from the restaurant, we were still singing the jingle I wrote for Elephant Nature Park! If any official is reading this from Elephant Nature Park, please call me I’ll give you a good price for using my jingle as the official theme song, thanks!