During my stay in Thailand, I spent one week in the Elephant Nature Park. Elephant Nature Park is a project set near Chiang Mai (Northern Thailand). It was created in the 1990’s by Sangduen Chailert (Lek). There aim is to provide a sanctuary and rescue centre for elephants. It is set in a natural valley, bordered by a river, which gives the elephants a wonderful place to live in. Often rescued from torture, or forced work in touristic places, the elephants are able to live a peaceful life in the park.
We started on a typical monday morning. My parents dropped me off at the main Office in the center of Chiang Mai. I did my check in and was given a shirt and water bottle with the name of the park on it (The water bottle was very useful during my trip ^^) . After completing all the paper work, we took a small bus for a 1-1.5 hour road trip to the park. During that car ride we watched a documentary about how the elephants are educated and what Lek does to help the animals ! It was really interesting and that gave me the ideas to complete one of my school papers ! Once we arrived everything was so big, and beautiful ! Landscapes where absolutely magical ! We immediately got the chance to wonder around the park to get our very first up close look at the elephants, and even got the chance to touch them ! After wondering off, we got the chance to feed the elephants and then went to eat our own lunch and I got the chance to meet a few of the many different volunteers at the park. Once lunch was over, we moved into our rooms, and met our roommate, mine was really nice 🙂 After settling in we got an information session on the main platform and had to introduce ourself. This session was also to tell us what our jobs would consist of during the week and most importantly the safety rules ! We then went to bath the elephants in the river, and it was just an amazing experience ! It was one of the moments we were able to be really close to the elephants in there natural environment. Then just before dinner we had a welcoming ceremony with a few members of a local village, and they granted us good luck by reciting a prayer and giving us a bracelet. We then had dinner and enjoyed our very first evening with the other volunteers ! We introduced ourself again, talked a little and played cards (this became our thing, and we did that every night with the same people. We more or less had teams and got the chance to learn new games. We would always have a great laugh and would be the last ones to go to bed ^^ ). One evening we also played music, singed songs and just simply enjoyed the little things that we don’t typically do in out everyday life.
After a good night sleep, we all met at 8am for our very first job. We got split in 3 different groups and each group had there own time table. Our first job was weeding. It is consisted of going in a rice plantation and taking out all of the bad grass. It was fun to do because we had our feet in water and got mud everywhere. The only negative part was that it was a really warm day, and our back got sore after a few hours, but it was a new experience and I enjoyed doing it. We then had lunch, and a very very long break before starting the work again. We got to talk with the members of the group, and learn more about each other. When the weeding was over, we went back to the camp, took a shower and of course played cards. Later that afternoon we had a presentation, where the owner of the camp, Lek, talked about the elephants and what her job was consisted of. We watch a few minutes of a documentary and then got the chance to ask all the questions we wanted to ask about elephants. We then had dinner and after played again some card games.
On day 3, we had an easy task, preparing food for the elephants ! We had to clean the fruits and vegetables , cut them up, and put them in large baskets (1 basket is for 1 elephants, and there is approximately 36 elephants in the park, so you can imagine the large quantities of food needed). We also had to unload the different trucks that came from Chiang Mai to deliver the fruits and vegetables for the day (the trucks came everyday). This was a really good team work, and we spent the morning listening to music to bring the good mood 🙂 When all the food was ready, we went to the main platform to feed the elephants and enjoy there presence by petting them, and sharing the love. We then had our own lunch, and when that was done, we went in the park to plant trees. While we where planting the trees, a family of elephants came and we got the chance to get up close and learn about them. I learned that a mother elephant always had a best friend, and that best friend becomes the baby’s nanny, which means that if something had to happen to the baby, the nanny would take care of it. I also learned that the nanny is also here to help the mother give birth. The family had a baby which was absolutely adorable, and so small compared to the adults ! After a hard day of work we had dinner, and as always played cards, having a small drink and talking with the volunteers that had now became our friends.
On day 4, it was poop day :p The job was to clean the elephants enclosures. It wasn’t my favorite job, but it had to be done. After that we had lunch, and when we had done eating, we took the bus to go visit a local school. It was a great thing to do, and we were able to see how a local typical school is. We got to play and interact with the childrens, and got to have a nice cold drink and some thai cookies (they where delicious !). After that we walked back to the park (which took about 20 minutes) and got to enjoy the different landscapes. Arriving at the park we got to prepare more food for the elephants and unload one of the trucks that came to deliver the food. We then had the elephant walk. It was one of those moments I will never forget. We walked around the whole park, and enjoyed the company of the elephants, and it was also during this walk that I was able to take my best pictures. We got to feed the elephants, observe them in there natural habitat and watch them play and defend there families. We watched them enjoy the simple pleasure of the water. As we walked we met Lek. She was her self taking pictures, and we where able to see the connection she had with those large animals. I asked her how many pictures per day she takes approximately, and she told me that she takes about 100 a day, and does that every day of the year when she is present at the camp. What was the most fascinating was the way the elephants just comes to her and trusts her at 100%, cuddles her, wants to play with her and how they listen to her. It is really one of the best things she does, she saves the elephants, treats them, help them to get better and in exchange they trust her and shows the love they have towards her. If you get the chance to go to Elephant Nature Park do NOT forget your camera, you will regret it other wise, cause you get so many opportunities to take wonderful pictures, and are ways to capture unique moments. After the walk we went to have diner and guess what we did after? Yes we did play cards :p
On day 5, we had a pretty hard job to do, corn cutting. We left right after breakfast, and the day was already really warm. We went to a field and started cutting corn with a machete. It was one of those activities where you really realize how hard the job of a farmer is, and I have a great respect of the way they work. It is also one of those activities you get to go out of your bubble, your personal space, your confort zone (whatever you call it). So we did the cutting of a large part of a corn field, we then had to tie them in bundles and carry them to the truck. I was impressed of the weight of a single bundle of corn, and what was even more impressive was that the local farmers where able to carry 2, 3 or even 4 on bundles on their back, and they have the strength to throw it on the top of the truck which was more or less 2-3 meters high !! When we had done cutting the first field we took the truck to another field, where we had lunch, and then started again. When it was done, we headed back to the camp on top of the truck ! It was really fun, and scary at the same time, because it is not something you do everyday, ride on top of a truck… We had the warm wind on our faces, and nothing in front of us except the road and the wonderful landscapes (As mentioned many times…)
On my last day at Elephant Nature Park, we got to prepare food, unload the truck, and feed the elephants. When it was done we had to take care of the mud pit, but it didn’t really go the way it was supposed to go. At first it started with a simple water fight… And then it turned in a mud fight ! It was so fun, everyone was covered from head to toe, and no one was able to avoid getting covered ! We all had an amazing time ! When the fight was over, every one went into the river to clean there clothes, and we then all headed to the showers before lunch. I then went to pack my bag, played a last card game and said goodbye to everyone, and before I was even able to realize, I was back in Chiang Mai meeting up with my family getting ready to leave for Koh Samui.
This week was one of the best things I ever did in my life. I was able to observe wonderful animals, learn many things about them, the way they live, survive etc. I learned about the wonderful job that does Lek to save the elephants, but also different animals such as dogs, cats and even monkeys. I was able to learn about different jobs done such as weeding, preparing food for large animals and corn cutting. And at last I was able to meet great people that became really good friends. If I could, I would go again to simply enjoy living in such a wonderful place. So after explain my amazing week, I give you the chance to enjoy a few of the pictures I was able to take during my stay and as always hope you enjoy !
Also do not hesitate to check out there website HERE, Facebook HERE and Twitter HERE, but also to contact me if you have any questions about the park, and it would be a pleasure to inform you about anything you would like to know or even give you feed back about the park !!
More pictures with me: