Have you ever thought about spending time with elephants? They are such gentle creatures, and it’s an incredible experience. If you’re unsure on how they are treated, let me fill you in on the time I spent with them, and what I’ve learnt.
A few years ago, I spent a day with elephants in Chiang Mai. I visited a place where we could ride them. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but I was assured they do not hurt the elephants, and they have their best interests at heart. The elephants seemed distressed, and I felt awful for supporting this cause.
This time around, I wasn’t sure it was a good idea. Again, we were assured that these elephants had been rescued, and they were happy.
And this time, they were right.
We booked with Bamboo Elephant care, after reading their reviews online. All their previous customers only had positive things to say about their day.
Our guide, Nueng, picked us up from the hostel, and we collected some others, before heading to the home. As we pulled up, we got our first glimpse of the Grandma elephant. we changed into our Karen uniform. Nueng explained that the Karen tribe live in this area, and the elephants are used to their clothing, so we wear them to be familiar.
As he explained more about the elephants, a few more of the elephants family arrived. Mr Tong, the eight month old baby, definitely stole the show. He stumbled along, and tried to climb up into the bamboo house to greet us. At 500kg already, he was quickly shooed out. The roof of the hut used to be covered in straw, but the elephants ate it all. They don’t like the taste much of steel, so they replaced it with that.
Nueng told us that the family of six have been rescued from different places, and the Mum was used for logging, which is still evident from an old tear in her ear, which was caught on a tree. Since being at the home, Mr Tong has come along.
We fed them, learning how to hide a bunch of bananas behind our backs so they didn’t grab the whole lot at once. Pulling one off at a time, we held them to their trunks, and they would grab it and stuff it into their mouth. Nueng told us that they never trust anyone, so to prove the bunch is finished, you have to give them your hands and let them smell them. Their eyesight and hearing isn’t great, but their sense of smell is amazing.
I fed Grandma, who slowly chomped away on the bananas I fed her. Dad had stolen some of the baby’s ones, and then came over to see what else I had for him. He was grabbing them off me so quickly and stuffing them in his mouth that I couldn’t pull them off fast enough! They eat 300kg of food a day, so no wonder I couldn’t keep up.
We picked up corn, stalks and all, and carried it to where they were hungrily waiting. It was a bit of a stampede of excitement as they tucked in! They don’t like sharing, and Mum kept sweeping piles away from the Dad, for her to finish off in peace. Mr Tong can only eat peeled corn, so would stamp on it until the cob popped out, and then lift that into his mouth.
As they nibbled away, we learnt how to make “elephant medicine”. This roughly translates to “elephant laxative”. Nueng told us they usually relieve themselves every few hours. If they are sick, they eat the vines in the forest, and this helps them. So now, instead of waiting for them to get sick, they make up medicine, with these vines, plus banana, wheat, and a few other treats. Warned to be careful of the giant knife used, he reminded us that they are vegetarian, and won’t want fingers in their herbal concoction. We had to smash up the medicine in a giant wooden foot-powered mortar and pestle.
Ginormous bliss balls made, we split up to give them their treat. I’d been nominated to give mine to Mr Tong, who had to have it broken up into smaller pieces. As I was trying to feed him, I had the trunks of Mum and Dad circling around us, as they tried to sniff out extra for themselves.
We went for a walk up further into the jungle, and Mum and Mr Tong came too. They have free rein of the mountains around the area, and their keepers make sure they don’t cross into neighbouring farms.
While Nueng talked, they both started exfoliating themselves on trees. It was so funny watching such huge creatures bobbing around, getting all the good spots! They looked so pleased with themselves. Mr Tong copied along, a clumsy version of his mum.
We got into the river with Dad and scrubbed his tough skin, using “elephant soap”, which was some kind of tree bark. Whenever we weren’t wetting him enough, he would fill up his trunk, and squirt water. Most of the time though he happily let himself be pampered.
Drying off, we had an amazing pad Thai, wrapped in banana leaf, which we got to feed to them before we left. We also had pineapple and watermelon, which they munched down the skins of.
Mr Tong and his sister played in the river, him head butting and climbing all over her. We had been warned that he plays with his family, and doesn’t know his size. Nueng said to be careful, as he sometimes tries to climb up on people. He was a rascal, but was like any baby of any kind, still learning his ways.
We had the best day at Bamboo elephant care, and I felt that the elephants were so well cared for. It was so incredible to know they were looked after, rather than pure entertainment. We left feeling happy, and were dropped back to Chiang Mai. If you’re in the area, I’d recommend Bamboo Elephant Care! Visiting the elephants in Chiang Mai is a must-do.