Animal interactions in Thailand are plentiful and animals are very much a part of the life and culture of the country. Animals are pretty much my heart, so when I travel, I really do try to make wildlife a central part of my experience if possible. Before arriving in Thailand, I did a lot of research on how to have these experiences responsibly without participating in any experiences or supporting businesses that cause harm to animals. I won't get on a soapbox and pretend to be an expert or tell you how to live or travel, but I do encourage you to take some time to do your own research and follow your heart if you plan to make animals a part of your travel experience.
Asian elephants are a beautiful and important symbol of Thai culture and they are also endangered, so I knew I wanted to learn and experience them while I was there. I choose the Elephant Nature Park for my experience based on lots of research and some inspiring bloggers experience there. It is run by a wonderful woman named Lek, who started the park years ago when she rescued an elephant from the illegal logging industry. She believes elephants should be respected and trained using positive reinforcement and love instead of hooks. The money raised with tourism to the park goes toward the elephant care and towards buying other elephants in bad situations in need of rescue.
The day started out with an hour drive from Chiang Mai into the beautiful mountains, we watched a video about the park and about elephant treatment in Thailand as we drove. Once we arrived, we met two of the park's residents - two old girls, one blind from being shot at with a slingshot in her time as a logging worker, the other her best friend who never leaves her side and has protected her for years. The story of these two friends brought me to tears and genuinely inspired me with their way of loving. We fed them their favorite snacks of melon, squash, and bananas and they waved their ears (a sign our guide told us meant they were happy - like a dog's tail wag).
Next, our lovely guide, Kai, took us for a walk to meet some of the other herds around the park. She told us stories about where each elephant came from and she was full of knowledge about each of them.
We had lunch at the park and then watched a documentary about elephant phajaan or "crushing" - the way most elephants are tamed to work in logging and tourism in Thailand. The movie was heartbreaking at hard to watch, but it was important and I felt grateful that education was such a large part of the mission of this park. It really made me understand why elephant riding is not acceptable & I would be careful to make good choices in my travels.
After the movie, to soothe our heavy hearts, we came to one of the best parts of the day - bath time! We met our elephant, Medo, at the river with buckets and gave her a nice cooling rub down. Medo had a very obvious broken hip for being forced to haul more than she was able in her work in logging, but she was sweet as can be and seemed to appreciate the attention.
The rest of the afternoon, we followed our guide to meet more of the herds - including these sweet little babies!
All in all, the Elephant Nature Park was an incredible day! I learned so much and had experiences that will stay with me for a lifetime! My dream is to be able to visit Thailand again and spend time volunteering for them.