We woke up with plenty of time, the bus was picking us up at nine. We nipped over to 7/11 and got breakfast and some bananas for the elephants. We were picked up promptly in a pickup truck converted into a big tuk tuk and off we went to elephant world. We chose this place because it had great reviews and was voted as one of the most ethical elephant sanctuaries in Thailand.
Their slogan upon arrival was ‘We work for the elephants, they don’t work for us” it is staffed by several volunteers who spend around a month working with the elephants, they pay for the privilege I think they said it’s around $500.
We were given water bottle holders, safety instructions and a locker to keep our stuff. Then it was getting stuck in from the off, we queued up and were given huge baskets full of fruit. They each had individual names and we headed for the correct elephant, with the mahouts (elephant trainers) helping us in the right direction. It was then that we met our elephants for the day, Leia and Nemochi and I had her grandmother To Me. They had been reunited after working in logging and trekking camps.
They loved the pumpkins, bananas and watermelon we fed them, it was so amazing and weird as they grasped the fruit from our hands with their big trunks and crunched into the fruit. They feel so rough and hard, but are very clever animals. After breakfast we walked down with the elephants to watch them play in the water, walking alongside them was amazing and they were just so big. At the water we met two baby elephants, a girl and a boy who were rescued from street performing in Bangkok where it’s illegal. It’s so sad again to see how money overtakes all forms of compassion and care for wildlife.
They were super adorable and loved the water, it was great to watch and Nemochi has taken them under her wing as a surrogate mother! They all stayed together with To Me and another elephant. Once they had finished in the river we went to make sticky rice balls for the elephants with no teeth.
We were told at around age 60 elephants lose their teeth and slowly starve to death in the wild, living till about 65. It’s a ageing population control that sounds very harsh but allows the younger generations to have more food.
It was sad but good to learn and we then sliced pumpkin with machetes as rude boiled in a nearby cauldron. Adding the pumpkin to the boiling rice we had to use huge paddles to stir and ensure it didn’t burn. Once it was sticky enough we took of off the heat and continued to fold and stir in order to cool it down ready for the afternoon.
Next up, lunch time, we got an amazing buffet of rice, sticky chicken and cashew, chicken wings, fried fish in sticky mango and loads of veg. All of it tasted delicious and I went up for seconds.
We finished lunch and watched a short 5 minute video on elephants and how intelligent they are, they can recognise themselves in a mirror and understand it’s a reflection along with other higher brain functions. You can see just how clever they are, we watched them play in the mudhole to cool off in the afternoon sun and saw one using a stick to scratch herself! They also used big palm leaves to wave flies off and cool down.
It was so good just to watch them especially knowing they were all rescued from a horrible past life of being worked to the bone, one had a dodgy leg where a car hit it when she was performing in the streets of Bangkok. They started spraying mud all over themselves (and us!), so we took a step back.
We learnt a bit about what they eat and uses for their poo, then we went off in a truck to chop wild grass and collect it up for the elephants. I forgot to mention that they eat or forage for 16-18 hours a day and consume between 100-200kg in food depending on their size. Cutting the grass was fun but feeding them with the grass was even better. Nemochi’s boyfriend Johnny got all my bananas!
Once we had fed them grass and had some pictures we finished off the sticky rice balls by mashing the rice with vitamin pellets, rolling them into balls then rolling them in another fine feed. It was very messy but we were rewarded by feeding the balls to an older elephant with no teeth. It was so nice and she opened up her mouth loads so you could get your hand right up in there. Leia and I both had elephant saliva on our hands by the end.
We washed up and went back to the river where we got in with the elephants, cooled them down with buckets of water and washed them. It was awe inspiring and a bit scary as they could be a little unpredictable and rise up out of the water or start moving towards you at any moment. They loved being in the water though and we got sprayed by them, it was really fun.
With that it was ice tea and biscuit time while we dried off, then we had another go at feeding them fruit, this time feeling more confident with them now we’d got to know more about each one.
That was that and we were soon back in the hotel after an amazing 6 hours with the elephants. It’s clever getting people to pay to then spend a day working and preparing food for the animals, and as ethical as it is they’re still forcing the elephants into a daily routine of parading around in front of tourists. They seemed pretty well treated though and they had a lot of freedom, if they wandered off their mahout would try to bring them back once but if they weren’t interested they’d let them go.
I would definitely recommend it, it’s expensive at £46 a day but everyone in the truck back felt like it was worth while to do. I think if I had the time the months volunteering would be an incredible experience.
After resting up after a hard day looking after the elephants we watched the sun set and noticed two adorable kittens in the hotel. They were so cute we want to being them back with us, once we had dragged ourselves away from them we went to a nearby bar to play pool, which I lost, badly. I think the final score was 12-1 to Leia, it was pretty shaming but she was on fire, one game I think I had two shots and she cleaned up big style!
We knew that we wanted to do a tour the next day, preferably to Erawan waterfall which is supposed to be very pretty, we finally found a tour operator and booked to see the waterfalls, and also to go to hellfire pass, the death railway and the bridge over the river kwai! Just like the film.
Once we had booked we realised we had another early get up, ready for 8am so we got some food, pad thai and thai red curry and hit the hay.