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Elephant Jungle Sanctuary – straight out of a dream


*you can now click on any image in the post to enlarge it! :D*

Chiang Mai was the first place where we showed up to our first choice hostel and it was full. This entire trip we have not reserved anything but simply showed up and gotten beds. Well Chiang Mai was apparently very full for some reason. We tried 4 hostels and then gave up and found lunch because we were tired, hungry, and annoyed that we had no where to sleep yet. After lunch we tried some random place that ended up not being full with a reasonable price (he gave us a discount probably because we looked so desperate)! After this two hour search was finished we went to sleep excited for our elephant experience.
Before picking an elephant adventure in Chiang Mai I did my research and found the perfect place. There are many riding camps in Chiang Mai that mistreat their elephants or ride them improperly which hurts the elephants. The spine of an elephant is very exposed and riding one is very harmful. Thankfully there are many Sanctuaries in Chiang Mai that get their elephants from riding or logging camps and simply care for them, love them, and allow them to be happy. Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is one such example, and I honestly can’t think of anything that would make this sanctuary more perfect. It is run by the Karen people, a hill tribe people in northern Thailand that originated from Burma, and they treat their elephants like family.

Day 1

Our morning started off with a nice uphill ride to the sanctuary. By nice I mean uncomfortable, long and with a lot of “how the hell is this thing still going” moments. We made it without anyone throwing up, although Shannon was apparently minutes away from having breakfast twice. We then arrived at one of nine camps of the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and our guide talked with us about how our day was going to go. Pretty much we were going to feed the elephants, then have a mud bath with them and wash off together in the river. After that we would separate from the rest of the group and join 4 others to make our way to our overnight location. Or how our guide Copy called it: “better than a five star hotel because you can see all the stars from your bed.”

Feeding the Elephants

Simple 3 step process – 1) yell “bon bon” at the elephant (the command to get the elephant to open his/her mouth), 2) insert banana into elephants mouth, 3) take your hand out before elephant mistakes it for banana. Some people were successful while others took the easy way out and just gave the banana to the elephants trunk. I was surprisingly successful and gave all my bananas away quickly to a very hungry and large elephant. Never thought I would be able to, from experience, say how weird an elephant’s tongue feels. It’s like the softest and slimyest pillow. Anyway, we all had a blast feeding these elephants and dodging approaching elephants.

Mud Bath (aka mud fight)

Is a mud bath really ever only a mud bath? Not saying lathering the elephants in mud wasn’t fun, cause it was awesome, but lathering and throwing mud at people just adds to the enjoyment. It started with me harmlessly taking two fistfuls of mud and covering Shannon in it. For some reason she felt the need to retaliate! Collin was quick to get in on it and then we just started throwing mud at everyone. The guides started throwing mud back and the war began. I did make sure to peg an elephant every other mud throw just to remind myself that I was in a mud pit with a bunch of elephant

Elephants love rivers

Never have I seen elephants so happy. As soon as they got in the river they immersed themselves and pretty much started rolling in the water. They absolutely loved getting splashed. That was our job – we had buckets and we were in charge of splashing the elephants clean. Obviously we were just as dirty as the elephants so I thought I would help people out and started splashing everyone around me until everyone was splashing everyone. It was a scene straight out of a dream. A water fight with elephants! If you asked anyone what animal they would want to have a water fight with (cause that’s a common question people ask all the time) elephants would be a pretty popular answer.
So after we spent all that effort getting all that mud off the elephants (such hard work, no fun at all…), the elephants decided that after taking two steps out of the water to just fling dirt on their back. While everyone left the river we were offered soap, which no one accepted except Shannon and I. Give me an opportunity to bathe in a river and I will never turn it down. After scrubbing ourselves clean we had a very nice lunch and dried off.

A night to remember

Most people would assume that we would get to the next camp/village and just relax until it was time to sleep. Well, we did some of that but we were not ready for the drinking that would eventually ensue. We got to the new camp and were given free rein to walk around and explore until dinner. We did just that and discovered some beautiful views along with a few new friends. We then ate some dinner and the real party began.
Our guide for the overnight and day 2 portion of the trip was Copy (Shown on the guitar). He was amazing and when we had to leave we wanted to take him with us in our bags. Anyway, the night went on with a fair amount of drinking games. At first we were playing with beer, but then Copy’s friend Jade came along with some Chinese whiskey and that’s when things got interesting. Chinese whiskey is awful; warm Chinese whiskey is even worse. So naturally we killed two bottles of this stuff. However, I use we as a very liberal term because I am pretty sure that Copy had a whole bottle to himself (and most certainly regretted it later). Jade was a character. He was a monk for 9 years and left because he “couldn’t resist the western girls”. Let me tell you his game was on fire that night. He was focusing on a British girl, Lucy, who was with us and I dont know how she resisted line after line from Jade. Unfortunately, he had to leave but he promised he would be back. By the time he had left we (again mostly copy) had finished the whiskey and were just hanging out. We didn’t even notice but Copy suddenly disappeared. We assumed he must have gone to sleep since he had an early morning of taking care of elephants and guiding people. We stayed up until Jade’s phone rang (he left it with us playing music). I wasn’t sure whether I should pick it up, and I am not sure why, but I decided to pick up the phone (not knowing who was calling it) and said hello. Turned out Jade was calling us! He made sure we were still awake and promised to be back in fifteen minutes. An hour later, and no Jade, we decided it was time for bed.
While we (Collin, Shannon and I) were getting ready for bed we hear a scream come from the bathroom. I was incredibly confused but then we all hear a yell coming from the bathroom from Lucy: “there’s a firefly in the bathroom!”. She had never seen one before and was incredibly excited to see a firefly. She also let us know that she was still peeing. When she came out we looked out into the forest and realized that there were hundreds of little lights flying around. It was a really cool sight. Lucy decided she wanted a firefly in her water bottle so she could feel like a princess, so Collin went out to catch one. To make a long story short Collin is a firefly murderer. He caught a couple but never one that was alive. RIP.
When we were finally getting to sleep Jade opens the door and pops in. He realized that we were still kind of awake and so he starts serenading Lucy. Again he spit out some amazing lines about her dreams and him. Then he started singing to her. He actually started making up a poem and then decided to sing her a poem he had made up on the spot. I don’t really know if it was any good but it was a valiant effort. Somehow we managed to get him to promise to give us moonshine the next day for our hike (cause who needs water).
That was the night and we went to sleep in a little hut with heavy duty mosquito nets (which worked wonders). I have to mention one thing before continuing to day two. The rooster. I hate roosters. This entire trip has been plagues by roosters waking me up at ridiculous times. They dont even wait until sunrise. This rooster decided 3 AM was a good time to stand on top of our hut and not stop cockle doodle doo’ing for a good hour. I fell back asleep wishing lunch would be rooster the next day.

Day 2

The plan for the day was to play with the elephants at this camp, including a 3 month old baby elephant!!! After that we would hike to a Karen village and learn a little about the culture. We would finally end the day with a hike to a waterfall where we would be able to jump off of if the water was not too high. This waterfall was next to the camp, that housed the oldest elephant at 80 years old, where we would take a truck back to Chiang Mai. Side note about the promised moonshine; Jade pulled through and we had moonshine but kept it unopened for the next couple of days (saving it for a special night).

Playing with elephants part 2

I cant begin to explain the joy and happiness we all displayed when feeding and bathing with the elephants. I thought doing it all over again wouldn’t be as fun as the first day but I was so wrong. The elephants seem so happy which just makes the world seem happy. Oh yeah, and the baby. All animals are better as babies. Elephants are no exception! We also showed the new group of people that arrived for their day tour how to properly bathe in mud (aka throw it at people). 

The hiking activities

Hikes are great and are only made better with a fun guide. Copy, in case you missed it above, was awesome. We were able to ask him where he disappeared to the night before and his answer was hilarious! Unfortunately, he had a little too much to drink and passed out on the table outside right next to where we were hanging out. We had no idea, but he must have been sleeping next to us the entire night! We couldn’t believe that he was up and about early in the morning with no signs of what was a pretty rough night for him! Anyway, we hiked through some gorgeous views, stopped at a Karen village where we saw how they hand make their scarves, and then made it to the waterfall.
I am a big fan of jumping off of things and this was no exception. At first we all jumped from the lower ledge, but then Copy got up to the higher ledge and jumped off that. It looked crazy since you really had to jump out while dodging vines and trees to make it to the water. Naturally, I went up there next. Copy came up to make sure I jumped off the right place and I told him to go first to show me. Seemed, easy enough just jump out and hope the hanging vines dont hit you in the face or stop your momentum. I jumped off and it was awesome! When I jumped I was able to convince Shannon to do it as well. She was terrified the entire way down. Like really terrified – beautifully captured in a time lapse. I did this jump one last time before we had to visit the last camp before leaving. 


We arrived in the last camp to a group of worried people standing around an elephant on the floor. As soon as I saw it I immediately thought that it was not alive. It was not moving or making any signs of life. That was what they were trying to figure out. The elephant was doing just fine that very morning but then suddenly started throwing up and collapsed in the afternoon — there was nothing anyone could’ve done. To the Karen people you could tell it was truly heartbreaking. It was heartbreaking to all of us, but to them it was practically like losing a family member. Copy could not stick around because it was too sad to watch and so we quickly departed with heavy hearts. This was obviously a very sad sight but I got a glimpse at how the Karen people truly cared for the elephants. It gave me hope that elephants that are mistreated in Thailand, and in Southeast Asia, have a fighting chance for a happy life where they are truly loved and cared for. That is what made the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary an experience like no other. We got to share in this endeavor; even just for two days. Even though it seems like this trip ended with tragedy, it actually ended with hope. A hope that the Elephants in Southeast Asia can finally get the life they so deserve.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in a elephant-poop-shell

It is very hard to write and convey what an amazing experience this was. I couldn’t have imagined a more amazing two days with elephants and new friends. If you ever find yourself in Chiang Mai this should be on the top of your list.

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