It’s irrelephant. The primary motivation for us going to Thailand was elephants. I wish we could sound more cultured and say it was for the rich history and temples and stuff but really, I just wanted to touch an elephant. Now, what’s really important to consider before planning a trip to Southeast Asia for the elephants is how you’re going to see the elephants. You should know that almost all elephant tourism is unethical and incredibly harmful to the elephants. So, unless you like to engage in torture regularly, please read articles – like this one – before you choose to ride an elephant.
We planned our entire trip around going to the Elephant Nature Park, a rescue organization outside Chiang Mai where they rescue and rehabilitate elephants. Volunteering there is a great, ethical way to see and touch elephants! The workers were kind enough to let us delay a day after Ryan, and later I, came down with rather severe food poisoning. After I’d hobbled to the pharmacy, sat down on their floor, ordered a ton of medicine using my perfect Thai, bought as much bottled water and bootleg Gatorade powder as I could hold, and slowly hobbled back to our hotel, we felt ready to take on the world the next day when we woke up. And by ready to take on the world I mean eating mostly gas station, pre-packaged food and plain rice for the next 4 days in between PTSD episodes triggered by seeing a cold bathroom floor.
Once we arrived at the elephant sanctuary, we learned about how many of the elephants had been injured (some suffered broken backs or hips from having people ride on them – occasionally the owners had still forced them to work for weeks or months after their injuries; others stepped on landmines) and then got to help with feeding and bathing them in the river.
We prepared food for the old, toothless elephants that can no longer chew solid food so must eat a salivating combo of elephant protein (which I can only assume means ‘made of elephants’), mashed bananas, mashed other fruit, rice (the leftovers of which we likely had served to us at dinner) and tons of other disgusting, mushed up stuff. Take lessons, Gerber. After selecting the ripe (read: ‘brown and likely decaying’) bananas from the banana hut, we got the pleasure of helping to puree all of these fine, organic ingredients by hand in a giant bucket. One guy in our group took over for us, thank God, and absolutely went to town mashing up a giant bowl. He looked like he was in paradise dancing in the bucket using both his hands and his feet like some feral child. When our guide offered for us to try some, our comrade happily reached his already disgusting hand in the giant elephant bowl and took a big serving of Dysentery and I’m sure some familiar food poisoning.
After our full day at the elephant sanctuary, we got to stay in some awesome huts on-site, equipped with everything you’d need – including hot water. Unfortunately, the hot water heater was basically a blowtorch hooked up to a water basin and it only nuked your water in 20 second batches. So it was a fun back and forth of boiling lava hot and freezing cold. We felt about as clean as the elephants did getting out of the river.
The next morning we were awakened to the lovely sound of about 30 elephants trumpeting at each other. Now, the website said ‘the occasional trumpet’ so we expected some noise but nothing like this. Turns out the blind one had gotten scared and all of her friends had circled around (and begun making quite the racket) to protect her from the nonexistant threat – at 5 A.M. Unlike the very real threat we experienced in Ko Phi Phi – more on this next time!