At the very top of my Thailand bucket list was riding an elephant. I've been nerdily excited about this and it's literally the only thing that I planned in advance. haha I read about different Elephant Camps and this one was highly recommended by a friend. As an additional plus, I had been reading up on how to know if the elephant camp you're going to treats the animals well, and this place actually rescues the elephants and brings them here. Super cool, right?
So they picked me up at my hotel at 8:00am and we slowly wound our way through Chiang Mai picking up other passengers.
After about an hour drive outside of Chiang Mai, our driver parked the van and we walked down some curvy stairs on our way to the Elephant Camp. It's a really beautiful area.
The driver introduced us to the newest member of the camp. This little baby elephant is two months old. Apparently his mom and dad found each other in the Elephant Camp and he's the only elephant that wasn't rescued. He was sleeping when we arrived so we were hoping he would wake up while we were there so we could see the little guy.
They had us change out of our clothes and provided a one-size-fits-all shirt and top for us all to wear. The elephants work with one guide all day, everyday, so they hear his commands (spoken in Thai) and are very obedient and loyal to them. We then were instructed on the basic commands we would need to know when riding the elephants. She made sure to emphasize that we would need to yell the commands and say them at least four times. Truth be told, I forgot most of them shortly after we were taught so I was thankful for my companion on the ground who actually kept my pretty elephant going where she needed to.
They started us off slowly by having us feed sugar cane to a few elephants. As you can see, I was feeling a bit skittish. haha Something about those long, wet trunks made me a little nervous being so close.
Thankfully I found their trunks less nerve racking throughout the day but there were squeals and "I can't believe this is my life" giggles throughout the morning.
It was the craziest experience being so close to these animals. They're HUGE, their skin is super dry and they have really coarse hair. Even though I was with them most of the day, it was impossible to shake how amazing it was to be so close to them.
I was assigned to ride Mae Kue. I was the only one in the group that was riding an elephant alone. The rest of the group members came with a friend or spouse so they both rode on the same elephants back.
Seriously, I couldn't stop laughing. How am I petting an elephant right now like no big deal?!
The honeymooners in our group. This duo from England was so much fun. They came to Thailand for two weeks on their honeymoon. How do you not support a marriage starting off on such epic ground?!
They walk the elephant up against a wall where you essentially walk the plank onto their backs. You have to sit high up on their necks and bend your knees over your ears so it will be more comfortable for them. I assumed I'd be riding further back on their backs like you do with horses but I was right up in her business.
We spent the morning riding around camp. Mae Kue was really hungry. We went partially up the mountain so she could eat up. She scared the whits out of me almost trudging into a pond to cool off. I wasn't quite prepared for that at this point in the game.
The guide that works with Mae Kue everyday is named Eae Lei. (I'm sure I'm spelling that wrong). He is small enough to fit in the gap between her trunk and her front legs. I know that because he would sometimes get in there and push against her if she was going the wrong way. haha
I tried to take a few videos while I was on her shoulders. Mostly I love this video because Eae Lei is acting crazy below me and it kept me laughing all day. Using hang gestures and big expressions, we were able to have some fun chats. I even caught him singing a few times. haha He was really fun company to be a package deal with Mae Lei. I scored big time.
We eventually took a little break and ate some lunch. The camp provided this amazing coconut curry with chicken and noodles. It's not something I would have ordered but it was amazing. It was nice to get out of the sun for a little bit AND as a bonus....
The baby elephant was awake!!
I seriously could not handle the cuteness of this little buddy. He is so tiny--especially compared to Mae Kue. His tiny little trunk was killing me.
Mae Kue was hanging out inside so I went to say "hello" to her before we went for a ride in the afternoon. Being on top of her all morning, I forget how massive she is until I'm standing next to her. Eae Lei says she's 35 years old. Apparently elephants can live is long as humans can. The oldest elephant they had in the camp is 66 years old. The youngest, being the cute newborn tyke at 2 months.
We eventually got back on our elephants and trekked around the mountains for a little bit.
This was our view of the camp from up in the mountains. It really is a beautiful and secluded area.
Our whole group rounded up. We really did have a fun group. It was fun exchanging glances and laughing at some of the funny elephants other people were riding. We had some crazy elephants in the group. A couple splashed water, dirt or mud all over themselves--which, of course, got their riders completely soaked/dirty.
These ladies were behind me for part of our trek. Their elephant randomly decided to rub her face against the mountain and throw some dirt on them. Haha I thought it was hilarious so I stopped Mae Lei so I could get some video for them. My elephant was pretty well behaved. She did eventually splash water on her back/me on her back but it actually felt nice.
We were roasting so I'm sure the elephants were dying of heat as well. We went to a watering hole to rinse the beauties off and cool them down.
She was so funny in this big watering hole. Some of the elephants lied down on their sides completely--practically fully submerged. My little lady wasn't interested in lying down on her side. I dumped a lot of water on her and rubbed her down. Gosh she's such a pretty animal.
When all is said and done, sometimes if you want things done right, you have to do it yourself. haha You get it, girl.
After washing the beauties off, we walked back to camp and Miss Mae Kue apparently needed a little back scratch on our way back into camp.
Mae Kue laid down, I thought so I could hop off. She was actually doing a few little tricks before we had to say goodbye.
This was my guide Eae Lei. He was next to us throughout the whole day and took all of the photos and video that you see here. It was amazing to see how well she listened to him and responded to his voice. It was a lovely thing to see the bond they have. I'm really jealous that he gets to hang out with her for a living.
This whole day was unbelievable. It was everything I could have hoped for and more. I know it's a pretty stereotypical thing to do in Thailand but it's been on my bucket list for a very long time and brought me more joy than I can say.