Hello everyone. This is John and this is my take on our recent week-long experience at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that every person we know had their doubts about me attending this Elephant Sanctuary. To give it some perspective, this is an adult summer camp. You pay to work very hard picking up elephant poo for a couple of hours in the morning and then unloading a watermelon or banana truck in the afternoon, sleeping in camp-like accommodations (sparse at the very best), with some hot water for showers, at times, and eating vegetarian food served to between 50 and 100 volunteers three times each day who are also crazy enough to pay to experience just being around these majestic mammals and learning more about how Elephant Nature Park (ENP) foundation runs.
On numerous occasions, Bev suggested that I might prefer staying in Chiang Mai at a comfortable Airbnb with a pool, rather than undertake an adventure that was just not typically in my wheelhouse.
I wasn’t traveling all the way to Chiang Mai, Thailand to visit this park for a day and take a few photos. I was all in (well, almost all in).
The park is about 90 minutes from the center of Chiang Mai. Founded in 1995 by Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, ENP gives these magnificent animals a new lease on life, a place to retire and just be elephants for once. When we arrived we were immediately awestruck by its size — the park not the elephants. Although being up close and personal with the elephants had them towering over us.
- 80+ elephants, many quite old (the oldest being 100+) and fragile after years of physical and mental abuse at the hands of animal/circus trainers who tried to teach them to dance, or ride them, or farmers who made them haul logs. The park is a sanctuary for endangered species. And, by the way, there is a kindness and respect for all living beings at this place. This is rare these days and very refreshing.
- 500+ dogs and as many cats and these numbers grow everyday.
- Horses, water buffalo, goats, and monkeys, all needing medical attention and special care due to years of neglect and abuse.
The number of people it takes to run this place is mind boggling. Mahouts are just the beginning. There are kitchen staff, guides, grounds keepers, gardeners, laundry workers, gift shop attendees, the list goes on and on.
And, they all do it with a great big smile, happy greetings everyday, lots of joking and laughing and just an overdose of kindness which is refreshing in a world so filled with anger, arguments, and aggressive behavior.
Aside from the animals and the raw beauty of Northern Thailand, the best part of this week was making new friends from all over the world. Just our Team C alone was like the United Nations.
It was interesting to observe the number of single women traveling alone here. Just in our group alone, there were five. And yet, we men continue to believe we are the stronger sex. These women are inspiring, and strong, and funny, and very interesting.
The star of the show was the big babies, the elephants. There are more than 80 but some are aggressive due to the years of abuse, so they stay in a more remote part of the jungle under watchful care. The ones we did see amazed us each day.
If I had not gone and been all-in I would have missed the best photo opp of all:
Before we knew it, the week was over. It flew by, like the blink of an eye. On a scale of 1-10 the elephants scored a 20+. At lunch on our final day we were asked it we’d come back and do it again. My answer was yes and no. Yes because it was worth every minute and every $$ but no, because we have so many places to see while On The Road. So returning at this point is just not in the cards.
But, we are open to other adventures like the Safari on Horseback we heard about during this trip. If you know of any please let us know. So little time so many places to see.
See you on the road,
Bev & John
Caring for two dogs in a small village in a foreign country can be daunting. But, not for us. We have done it before, As International Trusted House Sitters we get to make new friends with all sorts of critters. The best part, however, is making new human friends.