not a lot of words perfectly express how amazing april 1st, 2016 was for me. i mean, one word comes close: elephants. dassit.
i've been looking forward to this day for months now. esther & i searched for a while for a good place to visit to play with elephants that: 1.) doesn't keep them in poor conditions of captivity, & 2.) doesn't allow riding the elephants, which hurts them. i really wish the big tourist-attraction places that do those 2 things would stop... it's actually really cruel how the elephants get treated at those places. the seats put on the elephants backs hurt their spines &, i can only imagine, makes the elephants unhappy. i dunno about you, but i don't wanna spend my time hurting a sweet elephant just for a ride through a forest. well, for any reason of course.
so when we came across elephant haven in sai yok, kanchanaburi, we were stoked. all positive reviews, & we loved how they really placed importance on caring for the elephants. elephant haven is part of the more well-known elephant nature park in chang mai. we wanted something a little more intimate & with less people though, so we went with elephant haven for a single day. (you can book an overnight visit as well.) so glad we did! our group was only about 8 guests deep, & the staff was so friendly.
i can hardly say enough good things about elephant haven. we had such an amazing experience! they're fairly new, only having been open since august 2015. their motto of "no riding, no shows, just love" was so evident. the elephants seem so happy because they roam freely ~ no chains or any anything holding them captive, & they have a huge beautiful jungle all to themselves. the team from elephant nature park have been working together with the sai yok trekking camp in kanchanaburi to take the chain off & bring a life of freedom to the elephants. the more popularity these places gain, the more saving of these beautiful creatures continues. it was awesome to play a small role in helping save more elephants!
we were given safety rules to abide by, since elephants scare easy. we learned how not to pet them, where to walk, what to do if you find yourself in between 2 of them, etc. then we got to meet the 6 female elephants as they lined up by an open railing to eat some leaves: there were lamyai, thong koon, mali, chopper, boon mee, & pimchai. the first one i met was mali. i was told she was the most friendly, but also likes to be away from the pack some. kiiiiinda sounds like me, miss outgoing-introvert over here. ;) we kinda hung out to the side for a bit.
one thing i love about elephants is how when they look at you, it's like they're learning you. their deep kind eyes just peer into you, like they're looking straight into your core. it's pretty awesome. i love elephants' eyes.
we washed our hands & learned how to make food for the elephants, which consisted of rice, bananas, & some other ingredients i don't recall. we mashed all the ingredients into balls, filled our individual buckets, & hand-fed them to our new friends. once those were gone, we fed them fresh watermelon. it was such fun bonding time.
tong koon is the sweet grandma of the herd. she seemed to walk a little slower than the rest of the herd, so i hung back with her. she let me walk alongside her for a while, & pretty much stole my heart.
we walked with the elephants through their home, pausing when they wandered off the main path (which was a lot, since they roam free). we fed them snacks that the workers carried in their bags: either pouring into the elephants' trunks, or just holding our hands out & letting them inhaling the snacks up like a vacuum. the workers said in broken english, "they like you, you feed them." pretty simple really! =)
we walked around with the elephants for hours. eventually we broke for lunch, leaving the elephants grubbin out in a big field deep in the jungle. delicious thai food was prepared for us, & after we ate we enjoyed a nice hour-long break. some of us changed for upcoming bath time.. then we cut watermelon slices, filled our individual buckets with them, & set them aside for when we got back to the base with the elephants later. the group headed back out to meet our new friends in the jungle.
once the elephants caught sight of us, they walked toward us to greet us. it was so sweet! granted, they may have done that because they thought we had food, but still! we greeted them with some soft pats & rubs on their trunks, & took up walkin with them again.
bath time was a blast. the elephants took their time getting into the water, & some submerged themselves underwater, splashing freely. we got buckets & waded into the water after them, splashing them with water & scrubbing the dirt offa them.
my lifeproof case so came in handy today. as i was getting a shot up close to one of the elephants, she seemed to pose for a moment after noticing me, then proceeded to splash me with her trunk. i yelped in delight, cracking up at her sense of humor. (see my short snapchat video below.)
we finished playing with the elephants in the water & walked back to the base. we fed them the watermelons we'd sliced up for them earlier, & said our goodbyes.
you all, i’m not over-exaggerating when i say this was one of the best experiences of my life. there’s something so amazing about just hangin out with wild animals. who don’t eat you ;) but for real, if you have the chance, go hang with some elephants. & check out elephantnaturepark.org for more info!