This post was hard because I had to cut down the ridiculous amount of elephant pictures I took. It was seriously the most perfect day and I tried to capture every moment. It was an experience we will never forget.
I think that everyone thinks of elephant rides when they dream of going to Thailand, I certainly was no different. The problem being, I am an animal lover to an extreme. I cried watching the recent documentary, Blackfish. It was really important to me that we have as humane of elephant encounter as possible. I knew that the most humane thing of all would be to not ride elephants at all, but it is kind of a hard opportunity to pass up. I did a lot of research and found that they live naturally in the Northern part of Thailand, so I figured that was the best place to ride them, not somewhere they weren't native to. I found lots of different places that offered elephant encounters. Some offered shows, rides on large seats, etc., but through reviews and research, I found that the best thing to do is go to a conservation. This is where elephants have been saved from illegal use in logging and other mistreatment. These elephants are very well cared for and all the proceeds go towards giving them a better life. They are not made to do unnatural tricks, hit with bamboo or sticks, wear heavy chains, wear unnatural seats, and are not mistreated.
There were a few that were highly recommended, but since we were there during the busiest time of the year, they were booked. We were able to book a half day elephant experience at Ran Tong save and rescue elephant centre. They had great reviews and offered a half-day program, which was almost half of the price. They are growing in popularity in the elephant tourism industry in Chiang Mai because of their wonderful treatment of the beautiful animals.
So our morning with an elephant went something like this:
8:00 We were picked up at our hotel in a pickup truck that hard been converted into a taxi with covered seats in the bed. This is very common in Chiang Mai. We were a little worried about the ride because it was kind of scary being in the bed of the truck in the open air weaving through traffic. It was a bumpy and dusty hour ride up into the mountains on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, but it was beautiful.
9:00 Arrived at elephant centre
We first got to meet the two baby elephants. They were so cute and very hairy! We all got to feed them bananas and they loved them.
She had just nuzzled my ear with her trunk.
9:30 We met a few of the other elephants and learned a bit about the elephant heard at the centre. There are 10 rescued elephants at the centre, ranging from 50 years old to 2 years. Some were used for illegal logging, taxis, circuses, rides with howdahs(seats not made for elephants), and even used to beg for money. It was sad to see some of the scars from their years of mistreatment, but great to see how happy they were at the centre.
This guy stole my heart. He was so majestic.
10:00 We changed into our mahout (a person who works with elephants) outfit, and we got a kick out of it. We decided Jake looked like MC Hammer.
10:15 The mahouts showed us how to correctly ride the elephants. It was easy to see how much they each cared about the elephant that they worked with.
10:30 It was time to ride! We were introduced to our elephant. We rode Come Moon, a 17 year old female that they think was used for logging and definitely mistreated due to the scars all over her body. She was very sweet and gentle. It was hard to get on and to sit comfortably. My main concern was to make sure I was sitting on her correctly so that she was comfortable and that I would not fall off. We made our way through the forest to the river.
Stopping for a drink of water
We stopped at the river where the elephants plopped right in. They absolutely loved the water! They even laid all the way down with only their trunks sticking out for air. We were given bowls to wash them with. They really liked the water being poured over their heads. I don't think they wanted to get out of the water.
We then got back on our elephants and headed through the forest up the mountain. We went quite a ways up and the view of the valley was amazing. Our elephant decided to stop and play in the mud, eat some leaves, and drink some water. She kind of did whatever she wanted, which was fine with us!
We look so small compared to her. Yes, I almost fell of multiple times
She was really hungry
12:00 We reached the top of the hill and had to hop off our elephant. I was sad to say goodbye. We changed into fresh clothes and were then treated to a wonderful meal of soup, vegetables, rice, and fresh pineapple.
Oh, it was the perfect day. It was such an amazing experience being up close and personal with such a large, beautiful animal. Elephants really are beautiful creatures, so gentle and kind. It was great to see the effort the people in Chiang Mai are making to give these wonderful animals a better life. I struggled with the decision to ride elephants, but knowing how great they are treated and how my money was going towards giving them a better life, I was ok with it all. If you do ever get the opportunity to ride elephants, do your research and make sure the elephants are being treated as they should be. I would definitely recommend Ran Tong if you are ever in Chiang Mai.