There are several elephant sanctuaries throughout Southeast Asia. If you are planning to visit one, I implore you to do some serious research on the sanctuaries that are truly sanctuaries and not one that is masquerading as a safe haven for the elephants but is just trying to make money. From my own experience, which is minimal I can assure you, I have heard of and seen sanctuaries that exploit the elephants in order to create income. You can do a google search for an “ethical elephant sanctuary” and also read the reviews of one that you ultimately decide on.
I did my research and discovered the Happy Elephant Home Sanctuary (www.happyelephanthome.com). I liked the reviews that I read on TripAdvisor. The things that I most liked were no elephants were allowed to be ridden by tourist. When visiting the elephants, everyone had to change into clothes provided by the sanctuary. The purpose for this is the elephants became accustomed to the clothing. When a new group of people arrived for a visit, the elephants are not startled by unfamilar looks or smells.
The Happy Elephant Sanctuary is about an hour outside of Chiang Mai. They offer full-day visits or half-day sessions in either the morning or afternoon. David and I opted for a full-day visit. The van picked us up near our apartment and then made the rounds to pick up about 6 more people. An hour later, we were heading out of Chiang Mai and toward the elephants.
The sanctuary is in a beautiful setting.
We were given some orientation information of the plans for our day and then we were escorted to a shelter where we met our first elephant, Tambi; Sunshine, our tour guide for the day, and Tambi’s mahout. A mahout is the person who takes care of an elephant.
During this time, Sunshine explained how the sanctuary came to rescue Tambi. How old she was and how long they had her. I am sorry to say that I don’t remember the details of the elephants as I didn’t have my trusty notebook to take notes with. Sunshine gave us other facts about elephants, like how much they ate in a day – they eat between 12 and 18 hours a day. Being herbivore, their diet consist of grasses, tree foliage, bark, twigs, and other vegetation and they can eat up to 200-600 pounds a day….that is a lot of vegetation!! They can drink up to 50 gallons of water a day! An Asian elephant’s life span is approximately 48 years.
After Sunshine finished, we were able to meet Tambi up close.
After meeting Tambi, we went back to change our clothes so we could meet the two other elephants they currently had. At the time of our visit, the sanctuary had 4 elephants but one was at the vets getting treatment for a health issue. The other two elephants that we were introduced to were a mother and daughter team…Meet mom, Liam, and Baby Via a 2 year old male. Is he not the cutest thing? So darn cute that he could get away with just about anything!
Here is my costume for the day! A red top, blue capris and a straw hat. As I explained earlier this is so the elephants do not constantly have to get used to new clothes and smells of the variety of people visiting. We, also were given a “Thai tattoo” of our name on our arm.
Next step was to load our basket full of bananas to feed the elephants. Feeding Tambi –
Feeding Baby Via……
Feeding Tambi and Liam…….
Our next activity was to walk the elephants to the mud hole so they could drink water, cool off and cover themselves in the mud. Elephants cover themselves in mud and dirt to protect themselves from the sun’s damaging rays.
Elephants rub against trees to scratch themselves!
After the trip to the mud hole, we walked back with the elephants to gather some banana trees to feed them.
After a great morning, it was time for us to have a Thai lunch. It was really tasty and fun to prepare…..it was noodles, veggies, and for those who wanted it, meat.
Since I don’t eat meat, I filled my basket with noodles and vegetables.
The smaller section of the pot had hot water that we dipped our baskets in to “cook” or warm the food. We were instructed to dip it 6 times, put it in a bowl, add whatever condiment you wanted, and cover with a vegetable broth that was in the larger section of the pot.
I didn’t think to take a photo of the finished meal! My apologies! It was good though. After lunch, we got to bond with the “mascot” of the sanctuary….Meet Mopi:
Like most dogs, Mopi liked to have his tummy rubbed!
Our afternoon activity was walking the elephants to the river for their afternoon swim! Tambi, Via, Liam, and their mahouts.
We had bananas in our basket and when we paused on our walk to the river, Liam helped herself to the bananas I was carrying…..
At the river, the elephants went right in. I think, next to eating, they like swimming the best!
During the orientation, we were told that we could swim with the elephants. I kept waiting for them to tell us that we could swim so we could swim with them. I was really looking forward to it. However, when he announced it, evidently I didn’t hear him. The others in the group, heard our guide tell us we could go swimming but no one else wanted to. Before I knew it, we were heading back back. To say the least, I was disappointed!
At the end of the day, we did get to dip into the swimming pool at the sanctuary. It was wonderful spending the whole day with these magnificent, smart, gentle and loving animals. If you are planning a trip to Thailand, I highly recommend a visit to an elephant sanctuary but as I recommended in the beginning of this post, please, please, please do your research on the most humane sanctuaries.
Before I finish this post, I wanted to share with you how the universe works to bring us all together or as some call it “six degrees of separation.” While eating lunch, we were able to get to know our fellow visitors a little better. There were three friends who had gone to college together at the University of Massachusettes. Alyssa lived in Boston and worked at Ernst & Young, Syrena lived in San Diego and the young man, whose name I can’t remember, lived in Kansas City.
When we heard that Alyssa worked at Ernst & Young, David mentioned that we knew a young man, Kyle who worked at E-Y. We met Kyle on our trip to Nepal in 2017 and saw him again, when we were all in Madrid, Spain in 2018! That alone was interesting as Kyle lives in Boston, MA and we live only a couple hours away in southern Maine but we couldn’t connect with him while we were in the US. Alyssa said that there were many employees at Ernst & Young, so I pulled up Kyle’s picture on my iphone to show him to her. She knew of him because Kyle worked in the office across from Alyssa’s office! She had recently read an article about Kyle as he had been featured in the alumni newspaper for the University of MA, the same school Alyssa went to. She said the article caught her eye because it mentioned that Kyle worked for E & Y.! Once she got back to work, she introduced herself and said that she had met David and me in Thailand and that we said hi!
It turns out that we had contact with Syrena after we all returned to the states. At the time we were in Thailand, David was in talks with a company in San Diego for a possible job. We shared that with Syrena when we heard that she was from San Diego. She was so nice to give us her phone number and said that if we did take the job, she would gladly help us with anything she could.
David did take the job and we called Syrena to see if she could recommend the best areas to live in the city. She sent information for a couple of people that she thought might be able to help us find a place to live. We contacted them but didn’t have much luck with either person. Unfortunately, we had experience with a couple of potential scammers on Craig’s list. We became very discouraged with the house search. Once again, we called Syrena to see if she had any other thoughts or suggestions. She said that she would contact her landlord, Chris, to see if he might have something available to rent. Fortunately, Chris did have a lovely little cottage in the University Heights neighborhood…which is an awesome part of San Diego. So, now, Chris is our landlord, as well as Syrena’s and she lives about 2 blocks away from us!
It is such a small, small world and is getting smaller it seems!
Until my next post, I wish you sparkles, joy, and many blessings! ✨🎉🙏💖