By Rachel

After a pretty much perfect day in Chiang Mai, as a send off on our final day before Phuket, we decided to go play with elephants (Amee, Sonia, Shelly, Nitin, Samir and I).  I had been looking forward to this forever – even before we knew we would even be going to Thailand – I’ve always loved elephants and even though I’d ridden one in India once a long time ago, it was just a short ride. But, we took the opportunity to do a full day mahout training (elephant trainer) which included feeding the animals some snacks (bananas and whole sugar cane), learning a few commands (which really the elephants were trained to listen to their actual mahouts but was still fun), ride the elephants for about an hour and then finally bathe them – we also had lunch in between.

Thanks to research by our friends Arati and Anu, we were assured that the elephant sanctuary we were going to took good care of the elephants – Baan Chang (website: http://www.baanchangelephantpark.com/)

The elephants were amazing – each of their faces had such character and different personalities – there were ones that appeared to be smiling, laughing, bored or playful. Since these were Asian elephants, they were smaller in size (and had smaller ears – thankfully since there ears kept smacking our legs while we rode!). I’m so glad I had to opportunity to really watch and feel the elephants for a few hours.

Feeding the elephants – this was so amusing – we could stick either a whole bunch of bananas or a foot long piece of sugar cane into the elephants curled trunk or directly into its mouth – they would just chow down! I don’t think they were taught to chew their food several times to they could digest it (judging by the size of what came out on the other end, I’m pretty sure I’m right!).

Riding the elephants – because the sanctuary wanted to take good care of the elephants, we rode bare back rather than on a saddle. This was PRICKLY!! The park gave us a change of clothes so ours didn’t get dirty during the day but for some stupid reason they were a little longer than knee length. The elephant’s hair against my legs felt like I was actually riding a porcupine – I kept telling myself that at least my legs were getting exfoliated! Other than that, the ride was fun – not too long because we would have definitely been sore if it was! On the way, our mahout would randomly break out into song. I had a nice conversation with our horse, Manoi. She used to be a logger in Vietnam with her brother Hanoi, but then she decided that logging wasn’t really good for the environment so she headed to Thailand instead (clearly, I’m making this up – though the elephant’s name really was Manoi and I did actually have a one-sided convo with her). The funniest was when an elephant had an itch – it would just find a tree and scratch the bark right off with its rough skin! Looked like it felt GO-OOD!

Mounting the elephant – getting on and off the elephant was definitely a bit scary the first time – you have to hold on to its ears as it lurches itself up which I felt bad about but I guess they’re used to it. I was also really amused by the mahouts who could mount the elephant by commanding the elephant to lower its trunk and climbing the trunk and perching on its head! I think I could do it 🙂

Bathing – this was a lot of fun (once you got over the fact that there was elephant dung and pee all up in the water) and I enjoyed our final send off to good ole Manoi.

Overall, definitely recommend going to Baan Chang – but I think once was enough for riding for me! Or at least bring an extra pair of long pants (which we actually had but we didn’t know it was going to be so prickly!).

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