Travels in Thailand: Elephants on Parade

Our second full day in Chiang Mai, the ten of us piled into our trusty van and headed into the mountains for a visit to the Elephant Nature Park, a rehabilitation center for rescued elephants.

First on the agenda: stuffing every available pocket full of cucumbers and lugging massive baskets dripping with watermelon to the feeding area. After a few words of warning, ("don't stick your hand in the elephant's mouth; don't keep them waiting for food or they might get impatient") the guide called in the first batch of hungry elephants.

author narrowly avoids losing arm to ravenous, blood-thirsty mama elephant*
*slight exagerration: more like mama elephant was gently taking cucumbers out of author's clumsy hands

The feeding frenzy ended with a sudden downpour and we retreated to the treehouse-like center for our own lunch: a buffet of vegetarian Thai curries, noodles, steamed vegetables, and fruits for dessert.

The rain stopped obligingly just as we finished eating, and our guide led us down to the rocky riverbed, this time armed with plastic buckets.
If feeding the elephants through a wooden fence made me a wee bit nervous earlier, you can imagine the shiver of terror that went through me at the sight of three massive females lumbering towards us with nothing between them and me but thin air. While everyone else rushed forward to splash the elephants with river water, I found myself backing up rapidly (nearly tripping and stepping into a fresh patty of elephant dung).
Yes, I am a giant, squawking, lily-livered chicken.
observing bathing in river from safe distance

what looks like a casually affectionate arm around her shoulder is actually holding the author
firmly in place so she cannot heed her impulse to FLEE, FLEE THE GIANT BEASTS

Watching the animals from the high observation deck was much more my speed. From a distance they seemed less like stampeding mammoths hell-bent on mugging you for cucumbers and more like gentle boulders that slowly rolled across the field.

just let me itch this spot on my backside...

might as well rest for a moment

oh yeah...that's what I'm talking about

baby gets her teeth checked out

The last segment of the day was to go out into the field and just 'mingle' with the elephants, like an awkward cocktail party where your hosts might accidentally step on you or crush you if stand in between two of them.
author was forced by boyfriend to overcome debilitating fear and touch
the beast's rough and hairy hide (for which she is profoundly grateful)

Having survived the encounter, I can now say it was one of the more quietly moving experiences I've had. I chose not to share photos of it here, but there were elephants with broken backs, broken legs, feet mutilated from stepping on land mines, emotional scars that haven't healed even after decades have passed... they are not kidding when they say they have been rescued.
More than anything, it's a peaceful place, a haven with no agenda where the elephants are not ridden or painted or asked to perform, where they can just be.

Next post: Chiang Rai and the gorgeous mountain resort, where the author is terrorized not by giant elephants, but a myriad of moderately large flying insects...


Gary said...

awesome photos and great narrative...looking forward to Chapter 3....

Post a Comment