Stay As The Elephant Nature Park As A Guest Or Apply To Be A Long Term Volunteer
The Elephant Nature Park is situated on a large piece of property along a river and back dropped by mountains. It’s located approximately one and a half hours drive outside of Chaing Mai. At any given time there are several guests staying at the park as well as long term volunteers. We booked a stay of 2 nights and 3 days. It was enough to give thorough experience of the park. We were not obligated to help our during our stay, but it is a working park with a lot to do. Help is always appreciated and it’s a great way to get right in there with the elephants. Long term volunteers pay a small amount of money for their room and board and help out with the daily tasks that are required to care for the elephants.
There are bamboo structures on the land. Some are the sleeping quarters for the guests, others are the living quarters for the mahouts who look after the elephants.
The sleeping rooms for guests are nothing fancy and the beds are a little firm, but it’s all part of the experience.
The evening meal waiting to be served to the park staff and guests.
Nighttime is the park is peaceful and relaxing.
There were about ten guests including ourselves on the day we arrived at the park. We were greeted by one of the staff and given an orientation and history of the park. Elephants started to slowly work their way into the park grounds as the lady was speaking. It was quite an amazing site. As certain elephants came into view we were told about some of their individual stories and how they had come to live there.
Feeding Time For The Elephants
An unimaginable amount of food has to be trucked into the park to feed the elephants. Pick up trucks pull up to the feeding platforms. Everyone helps unload the food into baskets to prepare for feeding. They are full of bananas, squash, cucumbers and pineapples.
The elephants know the routine like clockwork. As soon as they see the trucks they start to gather around the edges of the platforms, eagerly waiting to be fed. They stick their trunks out and start smelling and feeling for food as they make noises as to say “hurry up and give us something to eat!”
A chain gang forms to unload the trucks. All the food has to be washed to rid it of any pesticides, which are heavily used on Thailand produce. It wouldn’t be a good thing to keep exposing the elephants to. After a good washing it is put into the baskets. They are lined up along the platform and the frenzy begins.
The elephants are so funny. They get very picky about what order they want to eat the food. They generally want the pineapple first, then the squash and the cucumbers are left for last. At first they will pick the green heads off the pineapple, but return to them . If there are bananas they are held back. The elephants will pig out on them and not want to eat anything else.
During the entire feast there are loud crunching noises and lots of sniffing and snorting. You have to pay close attention while you are standing on the platform. At one time I had some food in my hand and turned to talk to another person. I got a trunk batted across me to let me know not to stand there holding onto food. Jack got a good dose of elephant snot across his foot!
After the elephants are satisfied we can all sit down and enjoy our own lunch. The food prepared at the park is delicious. The local Thai ladies work very hard to prepare the meals. Pom a tiny lady, who’s as strong as an ox was overseeing the meals during our stay. We saw her carry a log across her back one day that would be a feat for most men. She’s just as sweet as she is strong, we became very fond of her during our stay.
Elephant Bath Time
After lunch it is time to take the elephants down to the river for their bath and scrub. They especially love this on the hotter days. Everyone treks down to the river gets in with the elephants. Buckets and brushes are handed out and the scrub down begins. This is some of the younger elephants favorite play time. The elephants get out of the water on their own time, some days they like to stay in longer than others.
Within minutes of exiting the water they start to re-apply dirt and mud. Elephants have very sensitive skin and need to do this to protect their skin. Some like to itch for a while before the application. They rub up against fallen tree trunks. It’s fascinating to watch one of them pick up a stick with its trunk and use it as a scratching device. They have incredible dexterity with their trunks and their feet.
After bathing there is some time to just sit around and relax. It doesn’t seem like much time passes and then it is off to the river again for the elephants final dip of the day. After the second bath the elephants are chained up for the evening. This will have to be done until Lek is able to obtain a mass amount of property. The elephants would wander off in the night, most likely to farmers fields where they could be harmed or even shot.
The evening meal served to the guests is just as tasty as the lunch. There’s more variety of dishes served up here than we have experienced anywhere in Thailand. You certainly won’t go hungry during your stay. Evenings are spent sitting around a fire, or playing games as we did one night. It was a cranium challenge. Someone also brought all the ingredients to make smores, something we were not expecting to eat in Thailand.
The mornings consist of getting up and eating breakfast and being ready by 9am to take the elephants for a walk. They get led down the road to a larger area of land where they can have more space for grazing.
The Ice Cream Man
Everyday at the park the ice cream man shows, up, what an experience! It’s a small Thai man that comes from a nearby village. He has a motorcycle with an ice cream freezer attached to it. He even plays the ice cream truck music as he enters and exits the property. He is the sweetest man with a smile that goes from ear to ear and he loves interacting with the guests at the park.
We were told a story about the helmet he now wears while he drives. One day he arrived at the park with quite a bit of road rash on his face and head. Apparently he had been driving the ice cream bike while he was a bit intoxicated and he took a tumble. After this happened a second time, someone in the park was concerned he was going to get seriously hurt. A shiny blue helmet to match his bike was purchased and presented to him. He now wears it with great pride knowing his head is safe.
Here’s a link on youtube of a little video someone made at the park called the Icecream Boogie!
Max, The Gentle Giant
Max is one of the tallest elephants in Chiang Mai. When his mate Siam died at the age of 85 in 2004 he wept over her body. He only left her to slowly saunter to his food before returning to her. He continued mourning after her burial with large drops of tears rolling down his face. Everyone who saw it wept along with him.
Max was left to die after he was hit by a twelve wheeled truck that broke his front legs. He was getting old so his owner didn’t think the cost for medical attention was worth it. He was rescued by the park and made a good recovery. He doesn’t bother much with the other elephants in the park and they don’t with him. He stands at an angle due to the damage that was done to his front legs when they were broken. He walks very slowly and methodically, but he eventually gets to where he’s going.
Jack and Max seemed to have some special connection, they immediately bonded. It was like they were two old souls who somehow understood each other.
It’s Hard To Say Goodbye When You Leave The Park
We had an amazing time here. Even though it was only for three days it felt like we were here for much longer. We became very attached to certain elephants and it was very hard to leave. I can’t imagine what it’s like for long term volunteers when they finally go. We can’t say enough about this place. It’s hard to come here and not leave a piece of your heart behind. There are many repeat visitors, I hope we get the opportunity to be one of them.
The park area serves as an interm project. Leks plan is to have a large area for the elephants to wander freely in a safe area where no harm can come to them. She hopes to change the way people view elephants in Thailand. Not as a tourist attraction for riding. She wants it to be more like what we experienced in Africa. Going to huge nature reserves to see them roaming in the wild as they should be.