|Sawatdee kha from bath time at Elephant Nature Park!|
I can't believe I got to spend a week hanging out with elephants. What an incredible opportunity. While I say "hanging out" what I really mean is volunteering at one of the only actual sanctuaries in northern Thailand. This place is truly a refuge, where the elephants are taken care of and respected. There are no bull hooks and no one rides them. Many people travel to Thailand to experience elephants up close, some of them unknowingly supporting practices that are harmful to these amazing creatures. Most of the elephants at Elephant Nature Park have been rescued from these types of places where the elephants are tortured in order to train them- trekking camps, circuses, street begging, and the logging industry.
Lek Chailert founded Elephant Nature Park against all odds, in a country where these beautiful, intelligent, endangered animals are considered livestock by Thai law. She has won many international awards for her efforts to provide a safe haven for disabled, old, blind, and sick elephants. There are even a few baby elephants at the park who will hopefully one day be able to return to the wild.
There are also over 400 dogs at the park. Most of them were rescued during the terrible 2011 Bangkok floods while others were saved from the dog meat trade. Lek has also rescued cats, water buffalo, and many other animals who would not have survived otherwise.
After arriving at ENP, we were treated to a beautiful welcoming ceremony by a shaman and local villagers. Lek has created an important relationship with the local people and she uses a holistic approach to establish a connection among people, animals, and the environment. One aspect of this philosophy involves serving vegetarian food. Each meal was an enormous buffet of cruelty-free Thai delicacies. I never got tired of the lovely curries, noodles, salads, soups, and rice. Fried rice for breakfast? Absolutely!
Volunteering at the park is hard work. It was incredibly hot and muggy and the deadly mosquitoes are no joke. We cleaned the park and shoveled elephant poop. We prepared food for the elephants and planted bamboo. But we also got to feed and bathe these magnificent creatures. My favorite part of the entire Thailand trip was watching the elephants interact in their family groups without human intervention. It was so moving to see them as they are in the wild- walking or bathing in their matriarchal groups, loving and taking care of each other.
There is so much more to ENP than the elephants. Most nights after dinner I would get a Thai massage from one of the local women. One night we sat near the river and watched the Milky Way overhead. We also spent a day touring the local temple. And the rain finally lived up to its reputation on our last night, when I awoke to the loudest, most unbelievable thunderstorm of my life. I thought all the elephants might have floated away in the incredible deluge. After the pounding storm, there came a deafening roar from a million frogs at dawn. What an experience!
If you ever get the opportunity to go to Thailand, make it a priority to spend some time at Elephant Nature Park. It is one of the most amazing places I have ever visited and I am a changed person after my time there. Also, if you need a dog in your life, all of the sweet pups at ENP are available to adopt.
|garden by the river|
|my room. gillian and i only saw a few critters during the night|
|my favorite bathroom. it didn't have hot water. also we were advised not to be alarmed if we saw any slow lorises hanging from the rafters at night. unfortunately i didn't see any.|
|the elephants are trained with food instead of the traditional bull hooks|
|gillian feeding mae jan peng|
|headed out to clean up the park|
|photo credit- our guide "toe"|
|happy to shovel shit|
|a LOT of shit|
|it's a good thing the dogs were so sweet. this day we emptied their huge pond with tiny buckets.|
|the dogs had it pretty easy|
|so did the cats|
|it's literally called "cat kingdom"|
|this was in my bed one day|
|the elephants have it pretty good too|
|elephant butts after bath time!|
|sometimes being a volunteer isn't so bad|
|the view from our balcony|
|blind elephant and praying mantis!|
|most of the elephants are old or injured|
|some of them are babies!|
|chasing the dog|
|playing with the tire swing|
|sometimes 2 babies got to play together|
|visiting one of the males|
|each elephant has one mahout, who spends all day with his elephant|
|in their spare time, the mahouts carve wooden sculptures of their elephants to sell in the gift shop|
|the elephants and water buffalo all enjoy the river|
|so do the humans, on our way to the village|
|up to the temple|
|the most badass spider on the planet|
|passion fruit flower|
|jack in love|
|time to say goodbye|
|traditional last meal with the fellas- jack, julian, and josh|
|khop khun kha!|