Chiangmai: Elephant Jungle Sanctuary 


We got picked up at 8am to head to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. We did lots of research before deciding to go as unfortunately many of the animal sanctuaries in Thailand are still not what they should be, however one of the group had volunteered at The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary for an extended period of time and only seen excellent and ethical animal treatment, so after a bit of poking around we decided this was the right place to go to in order to be able to contribute positively to the conservation of animals.

The tuk tuk to the sanctuary was supposed to last for 90 minutes but it was a very bumpy and uncomfortable 3 hours before we arrived due to some poor organisation by the company. Unfortunately we didn’t get the time back in the sanctuary that bad planning had cost us, but we were very relived to finally arrive. The location is very very rural, far out in the jungle in order for the elephants to have the most natural living environment possible.

We trekked on foot for for about fifteen minutes to get to the start of the reserve which was significantly challenging as the rains had been heavy. We were slipping and sliding all over the place and unusually it was Matthew and not me that ended up on their bum! He slid quite a way but was unhurt, just completely caked in mud!

When we got to the mini village we changed into kaftans provided by the sanctuary to protect our clothes and had a short briefing on how to treat the elephants and behave around them. We also learned about behaviours which would help us to judge what the elephants wanted and what to do should one become agitated (which had never happened at this sanctuary which I found rather comforting!) We then went trekking through the jungle, over trees, through mud and sludge, over rocks and many more besides before we saw an elephant and her baby sliding on their stomachs down a muddy hill on the far side of the valley. I couldn’t believe my eyes! The elephants were massive and careering down the hill as if it were a slide at a children’s water park! It was so funny to see them that way. They were making a beeline for us which made me feel rather nervous but our guide assured us it was because they wanted to have a look at us in a friendly way. There’s nothing quite like a fully grown elephant bounding towards you with nothing but steep forest behind you to try and run to, but I stood still and only took a few steps backwards as they bounded over. We had a small bamboo rail between us and the elephants at this point which isn’t customary, it was primarily because the baby hasn’t learned his size yet so needs the bar to remind him to be gentle! The elephants could easily have walked around it or bashed it down, but they didn’t want to.

I liked how much choice the elephants had, and once we had fed them for a while they just wandered off into the forest to do normal elephant things. We walked with them, watching them search for more tasty leaves and bashing the forest down as they went. They were just amazing to see in a relatively natural environment.

We trekked a little further to a clearing with some more adult female elephants in that didn’t need the bamboo barrier reminder, so they just wandered around us, being fed bananas by us and sniffing us interestedly. It was so cool to hang out with them so naturally and for them to be so enthusiastic about our visit. We were a little shy to touch them but we were encouraged that they liked the contact and once we started touching them their trunks were all over us, trying to seek out any food we may have stashed in our pockets! One of the elephants particularly liked me and would flap her ears excitedly when I touched her and talked to her.

The elephants walked off to go their thing as elephants do, so we hiked down to a lagoon and waterfall area and cooled off in the water. It was really refreshing but rather rocky and I managed to climb up the waterfall, but in true Hayley style, couldn’t get down. I had decided to wedge myself between two rocks so I could lower myself down, but there was a big rock below and a torrent of water rushing down behind me, making it difficult to control my move into the water below and away from the looming rock. Fortunately, Matt and Ryan had gone a different way down so could stop me from smashing my back off the rock in the water.

We headed back to the mini village for lunch. We were massively hungry after such a busy morning and were happy to find noodles and fruit for us when we got back to base. We sat in the sun and ate whilst chatting to the others that had joined us- we had a couple of guys from New York, a man from Israel and a Taiwanese lady, all very interesting to talk to and learn about their lives.

We changed into our swimming clothes next and waded into the river after learning how to make elephant snacks. The elephants joined us in the water and we washed them and scrubbed them with brushes. They seemed to be having a nice time but I was nervous they’d suddenly get up and stamp on my feet in the water by mistake! We then went over to the mud bath and rubbed mud into their skin which protects them from the sun and keeps them cool. The elephants kept spraying mud at us though so we had to carefully watch the direction of their trunks!

Once we had washed as much mud off as possible (which was a far cry away from being clean!) we hiked back to the tuk tuks and headed home. We didn’t have long to shower and prepare ourselves before we had to leave for the night bus to Bangkok, so we rushed around getting street noodles for dinner and trying to scrape the mud from our skin!