If you have read my Blog Post on swimming with wild dolphins in New Zealand, you will know that my encounter with those beautiful creatures was the first time ever in my life that I cried tears of pure joy.
Well, my visit to the Elephant Sanctuary marks the second time in my life that I have wept in complete awe of these gentle and majestic creatures.
Just thinking about having had the opportunity to experience such an encounter and looking back at the pictures makes me feel extremely grateful and a tad emotional...so let me get on with telling you how the day unfolded.
After an online search and with the help of trip advisor it quickly became apparent that elephant tours/shows form a large portion of the tourism in Chiang Mai. There are a plethora of companies offering half day tours and full days tours, yet both my partner and I had a very strict criteria for the tour we wanted to go on - NO ELEPHANT RIDING OR ELEPHANT SHOWS or any other tour which involved elephants being 'Trained' to do something to entertain onlookers.
With this criteria in mind, we found Lanna Kingdom Tours. They are #3 on TripAdvisor with great reviews and rightly so. One of the reasons we favoured this tour compared to others was that it seemed to have fewer people in the group with a more intimate feel.
We emailed the company as instructed on their website and received a prompt reply confirming the availability for the tour. On the website it also states that they require a 50% deposit for the tour to be paid online, but as we were going on the tour the next day we were allowed to pay the full amount in cash after the tour (2,500 THB per person + optional but well deserved gratuity). If you don't want to pay in advance online it is worth asking them if they will accept the full payment in cash; In my experience they were very accommodating.
The next day we were picked up from our hotel lobby at 8am (on time), I was pleasantly surprised to find that our means of transport was a very modern, spacious and well equipped mini van with air con and free bottles of water. I was particularly surprised because during a conversation with another couple we met at the thai cooking class , we were told that their 1.5 hour drive to a different elephant camp had been at the back of a crammed pick up truck turned mini van. This is also when we met our lovely tour guides for the day Patty and Bamboo. My expectations were further exceeded when I learnt that out group for the day was formed of only 4 people, my boyfriend and I and another couple!!! Our drive lasted 45 minutes - 1 hour.
When we arrived at the camp we were provided with clothes, shoes and a hat and were able to store our belongings in lockers. We were also advised to hold on to our cameras as we would have plenty of opportunities to takes pictures.
Then, I saw the elephants and my heart stopped. Three elephants were idly roaming around the field, chewing on their bamboo breakfast. At this time the sanctuary only has 3 Elephants, all females and all rescued from either riding tours, elephant shows or working camps. Two are adult females (one of which is pregnant) and one is a 2 year old baby elephant.
Lanna the baby elephant and most active and cheekiest of them all, quickly introduced herself to the group by coming over to the changing rooms to drink water from the tap...this was only the beginning of her mischievousness.
We had a chance to familiarise ourselves with the elephants and take a few pictures, before being asked to sit down so that Patty could explain what to expect from the tour and inform us of the history of the sanctuary.
I was left heartbroken when I saw the branding on this elephant's back. This elephant was rescued from a working camp. The star represents her name and number represents her number out of the elephants in the working camp.
Familiarise & Interact with elephants in an open field
Learn about the elephants
Prepare herbal vitamin balls and feed them to elephants
Give elephants mud bath
Apply special oil to elephants after bath
Eat lunch (included in price) as you watch the elephants roam around
Cry when you realise it is time to leave
INFORMATION & HISTORY
During a sit down conversation, Patty explained how the Sanctuary came to be.
Lana Kingdom Tours offers a variety of tours. Up until 7 months ago one of the tours on offer was an elephant tour which included elephant riding and an elephant show.
Mr Pop the owner of the business was keen to receive feedback from his clients and over time it became apparent that although the tourists were entertained by the elephants, they were left heart broken by the fact that the elephants didn't look happy.
Mr Pop himself felt saddened by the fact that he was supporting this trade and eventually reached a point where he could no longer find it in himself to be involved in something he was himself against.
Although the tours provided much needed profit, Mr Pop decided to stop providing the elephant tour as part of his selection. Instead he concentrated more on other tours I.e. Temple tours and raised enough funds to build his own sanctuary.
Lana the 2 year old elephant (named after the company) was the first elephant Mr Pop was able to buy. She was rescued from an Elephant Show, where her mother worked. Overtime, Mr Pop was able to save enough money to buy two more elephants, one from an elephant riding camp and one from a working camp (this is where elephants are chained to tree trunks and made to carry the trees).
Patty explained that not all tours mistreat their animals, in fact they serve a good purpose because in Thailand now there are more elephants than there is food for them, therefore if left in the wild many would die of starvation. The problem arises when Elephants are abused to bring in more profit and as tourists it is difficult to distinguish companies which ethically look after their animals and those which don't.
However, if more tourists show interest and support for wanting to care for the animals instead of riding them or being entertained by them, then more companies will be forced to stop these activities which cause elephants so much pain and sadness.
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE - If you visit Thailand DON'T support Elephant Riding or Elephant Show tours. Instead choose to do the right thing by those beautiful creatures and opt for a tour that allows these animals to be treated well and not forced to endure mistreatment for your entertainment.
PREPARING THE MEDICINE BALLS
Elephants eat A LOT! All they do is eat and poop. They only sleep 3-4 hours a day and always at night, usually between 12am and 4am. To help with their digestive system, the elephants at the sanctuary are given medicine balls containing tamarind.
The medicine balls are completely natural. Because tamarind has a really sour taste, it is mixed with pieces of banana and sugar cane.
FEEDING THE ELEPHANTS THE MEDICINE BALLS
The elephants LOVE the taste of the medicine balls because they are sweet. LANNA kept hovering around the table impatiently waiting for her turn to be fed!
TIME TO GET DIRTY!
Elephants love rolling around in mud, the four of us along with the three elephants got to get down and dirty in a pool of mud. It was dirty, it was smelly and it was sooooooo much fun.
For the elephants this is like a day at the spa. The mud is rubbed on their skin almost like a scrub to remove dead skin.
TIME TO GET CLEANED UP!
The mud bath is promptly followed by a much needed jump in the lake. Here the elephants are washed and brushed. It is incredible to watch them play in the water and observe how much happiness it brings them.
DRYING OFF IN THE SUN
All the fun and running around took it's toll on little Lanna, who decided to lay down and enjoy the sun. Soo cute <3
MOISTURISING IS KEY!
Like all the ladies out there, these three female elephants know the importance of maintaining their skin nice and moisturised! After the bath, we rubbed a water+tamarind solution on the elephants, which helps & protects their skin.
After all the fun, we had the opportunity to shower and change back into our clothes before being served a delicious lunch. Pad Thai, Watermelon and the most delicious rice cakes I have ever tried!
The day ended at around 1:30pm when we had to say goodbye to the elephants and were driven back to our accommodation.
This was without a doubt one of the best and most emotional experiences of my life. I would recommend it to anyone and I look forward to the day that elephants will be treated with the care and respect they deserve instead of being exploited for selfish human entertainment.
Love V x