Note: if you’re not an ellie fan you might want to just skip this post. I talk about them. A lot.
We hadn’t originally planned to come to Thailand again on this big trip, but things got shuffled around and we loved it so much the first time we decided to come back. There were two big attractions: 1) ellies, 2) the lantern festival; both took place in Chiang Mai or nearby.
This ellie day was a completely full day and one that I won’t soon forget. As the majority of you know, I love elephants. The love began two years ago when we were in Chiang Mai and went to Elephant Nature Park and got to spend two days with the ellies, spending the night at the park. It continued on in Africa where we were lucky enough to spend some time observing those amazing creatures. Yesterday was like coming full circle – back to ENP, but this time to do the full day Pamper a Pachyderm program.
The day started with them picking us up around 8:15 a.m..
There were a couple other stops to make to pick up additional guests and then we were on our way. The park is about 1.5 hours out of Chiang Mai and we stopped at a rest stop about an hour into the drive. The stop had a coffee shop, 7-11, and Western bathrooms. We had switched our bag situation around for this trip (I didn’t bring my purse, instead we brought one backpack), and since I wasn’t carrying the bag I was cruelly reminded that you always take tissues and hand sanitizer into a Thai restroom. Always. So that’s how the day started. The good news is that it got exceedingly better quite quickly.
Once we arrived at the area of the park where the program occurs, our first task was to mix up the food and make balls of it. It was disgusting. Wet and gooey and messy and felt gross. But hey, it was healthy for the ellies and spoiler alert: they loved it.
As soon as we were done making the balls the woman in charge called out to the mahouts and ellies to come and get it. The ellies were Happy & Lucky (forgot her Thai name) who were besties, and Sa-ah, who was a loner. They were all female. Sa-ah was the ellie we fed and she was wolfing those gooey balls of goodness down faster than we could give them to her. Her mahout was my favorite, as he spoke some English so we could communicate a bit, and he had a sense of humor and I saw him petting Sa-ah a few times. It was sweet.
After the goo balls we fed her some watermelon. This took longer to chew, so she slowed down a little bit. She loved them.
Ellies eat. A lot. They have huge stomachs to fill, so it makes sense. This day would be about spending time with the ellies feeding them in various ways: at the main building, while walking, and in the water while they got a bath. After we were done feeding them at the main camp, we washed off as best we could (my poor fitbit) and walked to the water with the ellies & dogs. I made this short video at the beginning to show our niece Megan the ellies and how they follow when they know you have food.
ENP has hundreds of dogs they’ve rescued, and there are about 15 that hang out at the Pamper a Pachyderm project and follow you everywhere. We had to cross this ‘bridge’ over mud to get to the river and rafts to cross it.
While this wasn’t particularly high, crossing via a structure made of two bars shoved together really tested balancing skills or lack thereof and got my heart rate up. It had to have been in fat burning mode (forgot to check). Ha. I moved inch by inch and couldn’t look anywhere except down directly at my feet. Balance, balance! I didn’t fall, but I was slightly agitated that a dog was crossing right after me, eagerly waiting for me to get going and get over the ‘bridge’ already. One of the other participants had the same issue and cried out, “That was so stressful!” once she reached the other side. Nobody wants to fall into that water/mud; God only knows what lurks there.
We got across the ‘bridge’ and to the water where the rafts were waiting for us. We got into the rafts and immediately found out the hard way that they had several inches of river water in them. I had been wearing my socks and Skechers. Oh boy. Squishy squishy the rest of the time. We got across pretty quickly, even though there was a good current, and the ellies and dogs swam across to join us. They knew we had the food. I’m not sure why the dogs continued to follow us – they didn’t get any treats. They seemed very happy, though.
As expected being near the river and with ellies around, it was quite muddy in some spots, especially around the water and at the beginning of the walk. The mud sucked my shoe right off my foot. This is the second time this has happened to me with ellies, so I’m practically a pro. The walk was nice and not strenuous. It was pretty slow; our girls were in their 60’s and 70’s, I think.
We got to the lunch spot and quickly washed and then ate a nice vegetarian meal with lots of options. Yummy. And you really can’t beat the view. It is so beautiful there.
After lunch we walked back down the mountain, with ellies & dogs, and made our way once again to the river. We took so many videos it’s hard to decide which to post! Here are some samples:
Once we were back to the river again that meant getting back in the boats. We went further down the river this time to a place where we would wash the ellies. Of course the dogs and the ellies both swam back across to join us. The ellies had it good; while people splashed them with water they had a basket of food to eat.
They just don’t ever seem to stop eating. I opted out of most of the washing as I really didn’t want to get (more) wet. We saw two friends throw buckets of river water on each other. One had her mouth open. Crazy Aussies.
It was time to say goodbye to our three ellie friends and the dogs, and make our way to the river rafting. I opted out of this after Doan, our guide, said there were a couple spots that were tricky and he was a little worried about me since he knew I was already nervous about it to begin with. I can barely swim, after all. So I said that was fine and Sal did the rafting instead.
He had fun and said it wasn’t scary, however if I had been on the boat I certainly would have screamed. After I watched the video I was glad I opted out. While they were rafting I got to go back to the main camp and watch the ellies and just enjoy the beautiful surroundings and scenery.
Soon the group was back and we got to go back out to observe Yindee and his family. Now Yindee was our favorite little elephant from the last time we were at ENP and it was great to see him, much bigger, again. Yindee is the dark gray fella on the right.
Doan earlier in the day had told us about the new baby ellie and had asked some of the mahouts where he might be. We saw them across the river. Toan asked if we wanted to go closer to observe them and said he didn’t know when they would cross back. As luck had it, they crossed right as we were drawing nearer.
The little baby is so cute! And she’s part of the family that has a 5 year old girl that I remember from the last time, so it was good seeing her all healthy and happy, too. We took lots of videos of the baby. I’m only going to post one because -shew!- this is a long post!
Sadly it was time to say goodbye to the baby and her family and go back to the main building to change and shop. We hadn’t brought a change of clothes for Sal, but we had a towel so it was all good on the drive back except for the traffic. It was very bad because of the festival these next few days and it took over two hours to get back.
A shower has never felt so good. I washed my feet three times. We were pretty pooped as it had been a long day, but we were hungry so we ventured out. In the nearby old square they were already having some entertainment for the first day of festival.
Hopefully it gets better. Hahaha. The good news was there were quite a few food stalls there and we got some tasty dinner. Mine was about $1 and pretty decent pad thai. We decided to give our poor feet a massage after the 12K steps we’d done over the course of the day. Sometimes you get what you pay for – the 1 hour massage that cost US $6 was pretty crappy. She actually hurt me and that night I woke up twice from charlie horses. I don’t think it was a coincidence.
We ended the evening with a beer at Baan Na Na again. The show there was a kitten who had a cockroach as a play toy. Naturally the kitten won, but watching it prancing around with a cockroach in its tiny mouth was beyond gross. I gulped down my beer and we headed back to our hotel.
What an amazing day. Probably my favorite in Thailand this trip, and that’s saying a lot because Clay’s birthday was great and we really had fun in Bangkok. But you can’t win against a full day with elephants as far as I’m concerned. Bliss.