Is anything more iconic than the elephant in Thailand? Probably not. So no trip to the kingdom would be complete without a visit to one of the many sanctuaries for the animals. Strewn across the country are tons of people that imprison and abuse these beautiful and intelligent creatures for personal gain, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is definitely not one of them. This sanctuary is not to be missed if you find yourself in the second largest city, located in the north, Chiang Mai.
So gather up some friends from the hostel and hop in the back of their tuk tuk and make your way through an hour and a half of winding mountain roads. Run by the Karen Hill Tribe, the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. 8 of us from our hostel along with a few strangers who quickly became friends made the journey together. We decided on doing the half day afternoon trip which included transport both ways, the full mahout(elephant trainer)experience, a full lunch spread and a swim in the waterfall. Now to some backpackers 1700thb or $50 is a lot of money(which it is)and could eat up two days of travel budget. Skipping a night or two out could easily offset the cost though so try and think of it that way.
Our guide for the day was Lulu. A fun, energetic and very funny local who you could tell was very passionate about the elephants. After changing into traditional mahout attire we got to meet all the elephants. Bon Bon! Lulu shouted and we quickly learned that was the command to have them open their mouths for some yummy bananas. Being that elephants eat several hundred pounds of food a day it makes sense they charge what they do for the tour. And seeing how well they were treated and that the money also goes towards helping save other elephants from horrible situations I have no regrets about the day.
Next we were all off to the mud pit! Nothing says making new friends quickly like a giant mud fight with strangers. Rubbing down the gentle giants and covering everyone head to toe in the brown muck we all received some more background on their project and passions at the sanctuary. Enough of the mud bath we needed to wash off so we began our small hike through the jungle down a small path.
And into the river we went! Everyone grabbed a small plastic pot and before we knew it we had an all out water fight. Elephants included. We began to wash the animals while throwing pot falls of water at each other and jumping off the ledge into the river. Definitely the highlight of my day at the camp.
After a long ride up here early today and all the activities we were starving. And waiting for us was a typical extravagant traditional thai spread. Currys, vegetables, rice, fruit and plenty of juice. Our group opted for a good ol’ chang shotgun instead to celebrate the amazing day. Needless to see the older visitors were not impressed with the debauchery but hey, we’re young backpackers just trying to have some fun.
Last on the itinerary was rock jumping at the waterfall. In typical me fashion I immediately lost my brand new sunglasses by jumping in forgetting they were on my head. None the less we had a great time and just one of those moments when you have to make the best of the situation and not let things bother you too much. Throughout the entire trip I lost or broke 9 pairs so in the grand scheme of things it didn’t really matter. Things could always be worse and along the road these things come up so be optimistic and enjoy life.
We then walked back up to where we started to say our goodbyes. To Lulu, his fellow mahout, and all the elephants we met during the day. Loaded into the back of the tuk tuks and down through the mountains to the city we went. Ear to ear grins, sore butts from the uncomfortable truck benches, and a case of Changs and we were on our way. To recap, by far the best money I’ve spent to date in Thailand. The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is doing amazing things for the elephant population across the country and continue to open more locations namely in Pattaya and Phuket. If you are in northern Thailand and have room in your budget a visit here is a must do..Bon Bon!