Chiang Mai is a blissfully calm and laid back city in mountainous Northern Thailand. A last-minute decision to fly over from Bangkok left Sam and me, with no itinerary for the three days to be spent there. The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is listed as one of the top things to do in Chiang Mai. An epitome of responsible tourism the sanctuary looks after the welfare of the gentle giants and encourages the interactions of people with them. As soon as we heard about it, we were excited and wanted to book one right away.This would be a great opportunity to know the animals at close quarters. A quick call to the Elephant Jungle sanctuary office and their prompt service had us booked for a half day tour with a pick up from the hotel. Quickly we packed our bags and looked forward to meeting the elephants.
The journey begins
The jeep picked us up from the hotel at exact 11:30 am.and we joined six Spaniards. Knowing Spanish helped in starting a conversation with them. It took hardly a couple of minutes before we all started chatting, laughing and sharing our stories. Travel is not just about seeing exotic places and eating local foods.It’s the interactions with the people around the world that enrich us. And if you speak their language it helps form a bond straight away. The jeep swallowed miles and we lost ourselves in newly formed friendships for the next hour and a half.
The encounter with the Asian elephants
Once we reached the camp there were about thirty people already waiting. Different jeeps pick up tourists from different places in Chiang Mai. We were given a quick brief about how to feed the elephants and a few safety guidelines. A fun quiz too was conducted to lighten the mood and educate us. Shirts with big pockets were provided to keep the bananas while feeding the elephants. We waited to meet the animals
Initially, we were all hesitant to approach the three elephants. However, their gentle behavior and calm disposition had us caressing them in no time. The baby elephant was just as fussy as babies usually are and refused to eat peeled bananas. By the end of half hour, we were all comfortable feeding them, their rough tongues touching our hands before they swallowed the fruit. Once done, we all had to wear our swimming costumes to go for the mud spa with the elephants.
The water was dense and muddy but no one was fussy about getting dirty. Scoops of mud were picked up and slathered on the elephants and everyone joined in the fun. While there are people who have talked about the moral dilemma whether these elephant attractions need to be encouraged because they’re maltreated, we found nothing of that kind whatsoever. The elephants rolled in the water and quite enjoyed getting massaged all over. Not far was the river where we gathered to bathe them. With the plastic containers that were given to us, we splashed, bathed and got wet with the animals. The whole place reverberated with squeals of fun and laughter. We were back to being kids with the elephants.
A quick clean up and another change of clothes had us all ready to devour the table with simple but delicious laid out for all of us. By this time we were all hungry and everyone was much quieter. At a distance, five other elephants were being taken for a stroll. The mahouts take good care of the animals.
The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Chiang Mai is a highly recommended one to visit the elephants. It provides a complete package of a pickup, drop-off and a buffet lunch. It’s educational and more importantly has 9 camps spread all over Chiang Mai that foster and take good care of the elephants. The complimentary sling bags which were given to us as memorabilia, not just carry our things today but a whole load of memories of that beautiful day.
Things to keep in mind
1. Make an advance booking for the trip. You can learn more about the Sanctuary by visiting their facebook page
2. While the Elephant sanctuary has two tours – a full day and a half day tour, both of them involve feeding and playing with the elephants and later rolling in the pond for a mud spa experience with the animals. A full day costs 2400 baht while the half day costs 1700 baht.
3. The journey to the camp takes one and a half hours one way.
4. Carry an extra change of clothes, swimming costumes, and sunscreen.
5. Make sure you carry a waterproof camera. The camps have their own photographer who takes enough pictures that are uploaded to facebook for 5 days. So if you don’t carry one there will be plenty captured by the photographer at every camp.