On a Scandinavian cruise in 2014 with Elise’s Gran, I met a fellow traveler whose son was volunteering at an elephant rescue in northern Thailand. These many years later, we finally made it there and Elise loved it! Said it was the highlight of our travels so far – and given that we’ve had various adventures in 13 different countries, that says a lot.
The place was Happy Elephant Home, which allows visitors and volunteers to feed and bathe the elephants. They have a No Hook/No Riding policy (the wooden box saddles are particularly harmful to elephants’ spines and outfits touting such rides should be avoided). The adult elephants were rescued from logging and circus work, and the little baby, Via, now almost two years old, was born at the refuge. Elise adored him, and from the looks of it, he liked her, too.
We were given bananas to feed the elephants, and were told that they have a distinct preference for ripe bananas. Indeed, when we gave one of the adults little green bananas she tossed them aside and reached into our baskets for yellow ones.
There was a flash of monsoon rains which drenched everything and everyone. I held my camera under my wicker banana basket to try to keep it dry while I shot. The rain also made the muddy path to the river even muddier, though my rubber-soled sandals kept me from landing on my butt in a muddy puddle. One person’s flip-flop disappeared completely in the slimy goo and made a squelching sound when she pulled it out. In that moment, I had a flashback to the meticulous/time-intensive pre-trip gear planning, and felt the effort I’d taken to choose sandals had been worth it.
We made our way to the river and then bathed the elephants (and ourselves). The current was strong so a guide helped Elise reach the elephants in the middle of the river. I waded in with my camera (how could I not try to capture that scene?!) and somehow managed not to drop it or to topple over in the current.
Those giants sweeties seemed to enjoy their bath, but their cleanliness didn’t last long. As soon as they reached their favorite mud pit, the baby lay down and rolled around in it, and the adults threw mud on themselves….and on Elise, lol. She wondered whether she was just an innocent bystander, or whether they were trying to take care of her like a little baby elephant.
All in all, a wonderful experience that we will never forget.
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