The Elephant Nature Park was really my main reason for wanting to go to Thailand. Of course I also knew there were beautiful beaches, delicious food and super nice people, but my heart was with the elephants. <3 I’ve always been fascinated by these gentle giants and for as long as I can remember the very first thing on my bucket list was to ride an elephant in Thailand.
When I started planning my trip to Thailand the first thing I did was research places I could go to interact with elephants. I started finding all kinds of places that allow you to "train" or ride the elephants and when I would watch videos, although I was amazed at the elephants’ abilities, I started wondering how happy these elephants really were. Most of you probably know that I studied wildlife conservation in college, and it definitely opened up my eyes to the ugly side of wildlife based tourism.
What I realized was that these circus tricks and rides are not what elephants were born to do, it isn’t natural for them, and after a little research I found that the majority of these touristy places mistreat the elephants behind closed doors. Not to mention, in order to make the elephants do these tricks that they don’t want to do, they must go through awful torture so that their spirit is completely broken and they are forced to obey these mahouts(an indian name for elephant trainers). As for riding elephants, the majority of elephants that you can ride are giving as many rides per day as they can, without much of a break in order to make as much profit for their owners as possible. Although elephants may seem huge and strong, their backs were not built for carrying the 500+ pounds of the ornamental seats and multiple people for hours and hours every single day. After years of daily tourist rides this slowly deforms and breaks the elephants’ backs, and this is definitely not something I want to support or contribute to.
Luckily it’s not all doom and gloom on the elephant tourism front anymore, thanks to places likeElephant Nature Park
. Once aptly known as "elephant heaven" this elephant sanctuary and rescue center is truly like a little slice of heaven for the elephants and humans alike. Instead of riding the elephants, we got to feed them lots and lots of watermelon and bananas and we got to bathe them in the river. But the majority of our time was spent following them around, hearing the stories of where they came from and just getting to watch them interact with each other in their natural habitat. Most of them are very friendly and would come up to us in search of more watermelon, which allowed for some great photo ops. Sadly a few of them still associate people with pain and we were told not to get too close or it might upset them.
We stayed in beautiful little bungalows that were situated in front of where the elephants sleep each night, so we were woken up to the sounds of hungry elephants (which was pretty awesome). On our second day we were given the task of hand-making some healthy rice balls for the elephants who needed a strict diet due to stomach issues or who needed a little extra help in the vitamin department. We mushed together bananas, sticky rice, corn and all kinds of vitamin powders and then we got to hand feed the rice balls to two of the oldest elephants in the Park. This was probably one of my favorite activities, but honestly it’s way too hard to choose a favorite.
If ever you find yourself planning a trip to Thailand I would absolutely recommend staying at least one night at the Elephant Nature Park, and if you have the chance you can even stay for an entire week and do more serious volunteering. I cannot wait until I get the chance to come back to Thailand so that I can stay for the full week and really get my hands dirty and make a tiny difference for these sweet creatures.