Finding an ethical ‘Elephant Sanctuary’ in Thailand is a daunting task. By now, you have all heard of the tons of ‘wildlife’ camps in Thailand that are mistreating the animals for tourists to have amazing pictures. There really is a market for this. I never went to those camps- I don’t have pictures with tigers or lions- I do have pictures with elephants. I did a lot of research before deciding on the one I booked. With hundreds of 5 star reviews on ALL the platforms- TripAdvisor, Google, Facebook and beyond… I easily was set on visitng Maeklang Elephant Conservation Community.
I booked an overnight stay at the sky camp- a newly opened attraction, through this link.
This was something I had been looking forward to from before I ever purchased my plane ticket to Thailand. It did not dissapoint. Please, I cannot stress this enough, do your research! If you cannot go to MaeKlang, or are not in Chinag Mai- MAKE SURE if you visit elephants ANYWHERE to really support the camps that ARE helping elephants.
This camp rescues elephants-
it was very evident that they truly cared for their animals.
Day 6: 4/19
Today started in such a haste. Now I’m laying on a wooden deck overlooking Bambam and Mae Khummoon. They’re 2 Asian elephants.
It took 2 hours to get to the first camp. They had 5 adults and 1 baby. I cannot remember all their names. All of the elephants here are rescued. Many of them carried lumber through mountains and forests. Others were used for rides. Another one stepped on a landmine on her owners site in Cambodia. She was my favorite, she was very docile and didn’t seem as food aggressive as the others. The mother to the 4 month old baby seemed the most aggressive to me. They are all food driven- eating all day and pooping every hour.
Maybe because her baby is always milking from her and shes hungry! The baby stayed with the mom, always by her side. Just one time the baby came into the banana area, where the American guys were. They wanted to get pictures with it. The baby had other plans. It ran into the kitchen and started grabbing plastic wrappers with its trunk! One of the workers yelled at it and took away the plastic and the baby knew he was not allowed in there. It scurried back to mom.
Baby elephants are like human babies, super curious and wanting to put everything in their mouth. The baby was still not allowed anything other than milk and obviously not allowed to eat plastic. The elephants are free to roam around here but they mainly stay together. I learned a lot about elephants just in the brief minutes before we got to feed them.
Elephant lessons: food = friend. If you walk, they walk; if you run, they run. Don’t stand behind one- they walk backwards and can’t see anything behind their ears. Also, if you stop, they stop. I didn’t find the last one to be true. I learned if you hold your hand up high and say ‘bone’ they open their mouth for you to directly put bananas in thier mouth.
After feeding them 3 bags full of bananas I joined in to give them a mud bath. There was mud that sucked me down to my thighs and it was hard to move. One elephant sat on another and the guides told me to “move quick!” The elephants are clumsy in the mud. After we got all dirty, we went to the river to rinse off with the elephants. It was so fun, they smacked their trunks on the water to splah themselves but got us soaked. Then they would spray the water up to the sky like a sprinkler- pictured above. Once they were all clean we headed in to take real showers- with soap. Afterwards we had a big group lunch and everyone left. I was alone.
I had booked an overnight stay.
Pal, the English guide at the lower camp would now be my personal guide as well as photographer.
Almost an hour later, by car, we reached the ‘Sky Camp’. I am at the top of a mountain with 2 elephants and an embryo. There are usually 3 but the other 1 is with it’s owner for some sort of celebration (I still question this). Mae khummoon is 13 months pregnant. It takes 24 months for an elephant to have a baby. They rescued her while she was working and pregnant. She pulled lumber with chains. She has some scarring on her neck and by her ears from working. Bam bam was moved up here for getting in fights with Nunu, an elephant at the lower camp. They would fight over food and Nunu attacked Bambam so she secluded herself from the others. They moved her here to be happier. She pushed me with her trunk when I was too close to her and not feeding her. Otherwise she loved her bananas.
Before I fed these ones I made them medicine balls.
Medicine balls are made of banana, salt, tamarind, rice and some bitter thing from a tree.
The balls have been sitting in the sun to dry; I made 4 total. I fed the elephants their medicine balls and took a whole bunch of pictures. I really like getting up close to them, I am close enough that when I zoom the details are intense. Yet, I am giving them space as they’re eating. Again.
Sleeping with Elephants
It’s nice here. Very tranquil. There is some music being played in the background, I hear an engine to my right and someone raking the corn husks beneath me. There’s also a constant breeze. We are going to have BBQ pork tonight. Tomorrow a group is scheduled to arrive by 09:00. The elephants wake up around 05:00- I’ll be waking up with them. I finally settle into my cabin- it’s not luxurious. Then I showered and hung out with Pal. We talked a lot about traveling and I shared some pictures of my American roadtrip. He recognized Lake Tahoe and Delicate Arch right away. He said they were on the computers in his school- the Windows wallpaper. I thought that was funny. I guess I assumed Windows would have different wallpapers depending on the country? Seems reasonable. Nonetheless he said he wants to travel more. Even just around Thailand. We are a lot alike so he’s been giving me some recommendations. I’m happy he speaks English so well. It’s nice to talk to a local.
The sun is setting now and the sky is blue. It has been really quite yellow from the pollution the whole week. I can not reiterate enough how tranquil it is here. Still breezy, lots of greenery, trees blowing… the mountains are right in front of me where the sun is tucking slowly behind them. Pal is cooking on the table. He made a fire. I already wish I could stay here longer. Right now overnight is the longest option. They opened this camp 5 months ago.
Pork BBQ in Thailand is completely different. We are cooking on a Mukata, the pan has a dome like middle to put the meat on. The dome is directly above the hot coals with about 3 inches from the curvature. Around the dome is a broth, we are adding Mushrooms and Morning curry to and then boiling some glass noodles and tofu in it as well. The stove-like pot resembles a kiln. Whereas the cooking method reminds me of broth fondue. We are cooking as we eat.
Day 7: 4/20
Sleeping in the hut was a success. I wore leggings and a tank top and drenched myself in deet. There was also a mosquito net I wrapped around my bed. I was afraid of mice and snakes, but found myself safe. It was a full moon last night. Way south of here is a big party to celebrate the moon. It happens every month on the beach during the full moon. I wouldn’t dare go, I’m not huge into partying- this sounds like the ultimate party!
I was up for sunrise and so was Bam bam and Mae Khummoon. They only sleep about 4 hours. I didn’t catch them laying down. They went to bed after me and woke up before me. I washed my face and brushed my teeth and when I came back to my hut Mae Khummoon was in my window looking for bananas.
This morning and all of yesterday has been so magical. I really enjoy just observing the elephants. They’re so impressive. This morning before I came out they were making noises. I’ve heard them make the typical noises you hear at the zoo and movies. This morning they sounded like dinosaurs. So crazy. They’re warming up to me a bit more.
Bam bam let’s me get really close and gets jealous when I’m around Mae Khummoon too long, even though I was only taking her picture. It’s kinda sweet really. I’ve read about elephants and their loyalty. I see them listening well and being kind with the farmer and Pal.
Today I got to experience that as well. It takes a while for them to warm up. I’m so incredibly grateful it was only me here; I think it helped speed up the process. Anyway, I just had breakfast- fried rice, plantains and sticky rice. The other group should be arriving soon. We are out of bananas so I can’t feed them again until they arrive. I had a private photoshoot with them earlier. Pal got some epic shots I will hold onto forever.
I forgot to mention, lastnight Pal helped me translate a message about myself and what I want in life in thai. I have scheduled an appointment to get a Sak Yant with Monk Rung when I return to Chiang Mai.
Click here to go back to that post and learn about the rest of my time there.