“Don’t just fly, soar” – Dumbo
As I mentioned in my post about Chiang Mai, Dumbo was my favourite movie as a child and elephants are my favourite animal, so when I was going to Thailand, I was dying to hang out with some elephants! However, before I left, all I heard were bad reviews. Everyone I spoke to about going to Thailand and other places in South East Asia told me that the elephants are poorly treated, forced to do things like dance or paint pictures, carry heavy loads etc. Everyone advised me against visiting them because I’d be buying into that cruelty. Obviously, I was shocked, but I was also devastated… All I wanted was to ride an elephant but the thought of elephants in pain or being mistreated breaks my heart.
Just as I was trying to convince myself that I would get over it and not riding an elephant while I was in Thailand was the best thing to do, I spoke to a friend of mine, Emily, who had travelled around Thailand a few years previously. She gave me the recommendation of Baanchang Elephant Park in Chiang Mai. She described it as a sort of elephant orphanage. So, I researched it and I was so happy with what I learned.
Baanchang Elephant Park is a rescue centre for elephants. They rescue elephants from circuses and elsewhere. They are against the practises of forcing elephants to dance, paint or stand on two legs – they consider these practices unnatural and abusive.
The premise is that you pay to visit (this is basically a donation) and you work for a full day as a mahout. A mahout is the term for someone who works with elephants aka. the dream job! When you arrive, you are given a Mahout uniform. Then there is an informative lesson, where the visitors are taught about best practices for elephants – we were told about their eating habits, the exercise they need, their bathing routines among other things. Some stories are also shared about the living conditions some of the elephants came from which were tragic.
Then we got to meet the elephants! We fed them bananas and got kisses off them. Then we were taught how to mount them in a safe and cruelty-free manner. After that we went for a trek through the jungle. I absolutely loved this part – I was in my element. You stop at the top of a hill where the elephant’s can have a rest and they usually roll around in the clay there – which is apparently therapeutic for their skin. Then we trekked back down the hill to a lake where we got down and dirty and bathed the elephants. It was so much fun because the elephants personalities really shine through – they’re so playful, they splash you and splash around with each other. It’s the most adorable thing! I couldn’t recommend a visit to Baanchang enough. It really is a once in a life-time opportunity. I did the one-day long visit but you can do a visit for up to three days.
Be careful though, on the Baachang Elephant Park website there is a warning where they say that there are other elephant parks that are trying to rip off what they are selling and are using the Baanchang name – so make sure that when you’re booking, you ask for “Baanchang Elephant Park” – otherwise you might be shipped off somewhere you don’t want to be.
Here I am, chilling out after a long day of working as a Mahout! If you go to Baanchang and have just as wonderful an experience as I did, I’d love to hear all about it. You can snap me (imperfectlyfree), tweet me or tag me on instagram.