As a blogger for JulietteSpeaks, I was excited that my upcoming trip to Thailand was going to include a trip to the famous Elephant Nature Park. I promised to send photos and stories from the trip, and here is my first blog post from the field!
The Elephant Nature Park experience is hard to put into words. It was truly the icing on top of the cake during my travels throughout Thailand. Chiang Mai itself is full of delightful sights, sounds, tastes and smells around every corner, but a diversion trip out of this bustling city was definitely in order.
The Elephant Experience
Tour guides from the Elephant Nature Park, approximately 60 km north of Chiang Mai, picked us up in an air-conditioned minibus. Group size remained a comfortable number of about 10 people. Travel time was about an hour through picturesque scenery in northern Thailand.
Things really start to hit you on the gravel road to the ENP. We passed many elephants with riders on their backs, something ENP doesn’t participate in. Our tour will involve feeding, bathing and learning all about these peaceful animals.
We pulled in to the serene, lush setting of ENP and the vibe there is totally different: it’s one of hope, love and serenity.
Elephants graze on sumptuous green grass and slowly lumber throughout the grounds.It’s almost overwhelming to see the elephants up close and in person. We’re so close to them that it’s intimidating at first, but we’re soon all at ease within seconds of being around them: they are heartwarmingly gentle. We’re given a tour that leads us to a mother and her newborn baby.
This is a hopeful introduction to ENP, one that speaks of great possibilities and a positive future for these amazing animals.
Lend a Hand to Abused and Neglected Elephants
Volunteers also feed neglected and/or abused elephants such as Jokia, a female who had rocks thrown at her eyes when she refused to work. There are also other elephants saved from excessive tourist riding and elephants with healing injuries, but they are all surrounded by compassion now.
Despite this horrific abuse, volunteers are able to get up close and personal with these elephants while petting, feeding and posing for pictures. The elephants are calm and kind and very at ease with people: they’ve been brought into an environment full of love and compassion at ENP.
Lots of Feeding and Bathing
The highlight of the experience is bathing with the elephants. We walked down to the river bank and were given buckets to splash cool, refreshing water onto our new friends. One can just see the appreciation in their expressive eyes, which makes the whole trip worthwhile.
Visitors will pay to be a volunteer at the park, but this helps pay for the food the elephants eat. They eat between 125 and 175 pounds of vegetables and fruit a day. As a volunteer at ENP, you will be able to hand-feed elephants throughout your visit and gain a true appreciation of their healthy appetites!
You won’t starve, either: volunteers are provided with a tasty array of vegetarian foods, buffet style. While we eat, we can watch as elephants roam around the park, take advantage of scratching posts to relieve itches, playfully throw dusts on their backs after the bath, or just hang out with their friends.
I was lucky enough to briefly meet Lek Chailert, the founder of the Elephant Nature Park. If you visit, make the effort to chat with her: she radiates positivity and is a true inspiration for anyone wanting to make a difference in the world.
After more feeding, petting and bathing, we’re taken to a quaint room for a documentary showing. Parts of it are hard to watch as they document elephant abuse, but it’s an end-of-the-day experience that should be endured; viewers gain a greater appreciation and understanding of the lives and journeys of the elephants at the park.
The Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary
The Elephant Nature Park is expanding its reach to partner with the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary, founded by attorney David Casselman. Mr. Casselman is the lawyer for Billy the Elephant in the Los Angeles Zoo, and a longtime friend of Juliette.
Lek has already made the journey to find elephants to bring to the park. JulietteSpeaks will help make it possible for you to rescue and support many elephants to this new Project of Freedom. (Details coming soon!) The Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary will open to tourists sometime in 2013 and will surely benefit eco-tourism in Cambodia.
According to the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary website, the sanctuary covers approximately one million acres and covers two parts: the observation area and the conservation area. Visitors will be able to view wildlife in natural settings by cycling or walking through paths, walkways and elevated observation platforms.
How You Can Be Involved
You can tell anyone traveling to Southeast Asia that there are eco-friendly alternatives to elephant trekking and shows. The Cambodia project is now accepting volunteers and you can sign up to volunteer on the Save Elephant Foundation’s website (the umbrella organization for the Elephant Nature Park). Even if you can’t make it to Thailand or Cambodia, you can order something from the Elephant Emporium. Proceeds go to helping elephants and for general upkeep. Lastly, you can stay in touch by following the Save Elephant Foundation on Facebook and Twitter.