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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Jumbo elephant camp

 On Monday we did an overnight stay at an elephant park. Chiang Mai is known for it’s over night stays in the jungle and treks but we wanted to do one with a lot of focus on elephants and we couldn’t have picked a better trip. Before I continue we are sure the elephants were looked after well, and later discovered that the elephants were taken to the camp due to the jungle/forest being made smaller for development causing there to be less room and food for elephants in the wild. At the park we found out there were 2 new arrivals that had only been there 2 weeks and these were thinner than the rest.

We were picked up at 9.00 on the Monday and the first activity was to play how many foreigners can you fit in a tuck tuck van, when there was 8 of us squashed in the back we thought the driver was joking when he said we were picking up 4 more people, he wasn’t!!! The group we were in though, turned out to be lots of fun to do the experience with. It was a 2 hour drive to the camp but after an hour we stopped at an orchid and butterfly farm (I think this was purely so we could stretch our legs and unstik ourselves from the person we were sat next to!). The orchids were beautiful but there wasn’t really much to see, mister Al and Dave weren’t really that impressed!!!

One hour later the trip really began. We knew the first 3 to 4 hours was a trek (by foot not elephant) through the forest eventually ending at the elephant camp. Well at one point after walking up a massive hill in the mid day heat dripping in sweat I began to wonder if we’d accidently signed ourselves up for some kind of extreme boot camp!!! We learnt the lesson of not going for a fast 6 mile run the evening before doing a trek the hard way!!! It was fun though, at one point we stopped and the tour guide (apparently named Jack) showed us a leaf that when rubbed together created a brown substance that can be used as face/war paint.

Eventually after being told again and again “it’s not far now” we arrived at the elephant camp, all of a sudden all aches and pains were forgotten and extreme excitement took over (see the picture on facebook I was genuinely that excited!!!) I’ve been looking forward to getting close to elephants since we left home but we wanted to save it for Chiang Mai as it’s meant to be the best place- the experience we had was more than worth the wait! There were 7 elephants at the camp in total, which also had some pigs and chickens. The camp was in a sort of circle with a hill set to one side where near the top the accommodation for the trip was. In the middle was were 3 of the elephants were with the others set to one side and round the back. In front of the accommodation was the area where the staff lived and the kitchen, campfire and little bar.

As soon as we arrived we did a short elephant trek around the surrounding area of the camp. There were 2 people to each elephant in a basket but with there being 3 of us the guides said I could sit on the neck of one of the elephants on my own. So Mister Al and Dave got on theirs but then as I was about to get on mine one of the Italian lads on the trip jumped in front! I was gutted but in the end still managed to sit on the neck of one with 2 other guys from the trip in the basket behind me, it was just a shame all 3 of us weren’t on the same. Sitting on the neck of the elephant was an amazing experience (also a little bit scary as I repeatedly lost my balance). My legs were right behind the elephants ears that kept swishing backwards and wrapping round my calf. I was loving it!!!

After the ride everyone was sat chilling and chatting before tea when I noticed the elephants were on their own eating so Mister Alex, Dave and I used this opportunity to get up close to one. She was really friendly and interested in us. A Thai man brought us some sugar cane and showed us if we held it in our hand and said “chub chub” the elephant would place her trunk on our other hand or chest and suck like a hoover (give us a kiss) before we gave her the cane. Talking to the Thai man we discovered some facts about elephants : they are pregnant for 18 months, eat every 3 hours (although it appeared they ate all the time!!), they only sleep for 4 hours every night and can live up to 100 years old.

After a tea of yummy green curry and stir fried vegetables we checked out our accommodation. It was like a thatched dorm with an open front overlooking the farm with 2 floors. As we had spent the free time with the elephant all the beds in the top floor had gone but that suited us fine, as it meant there was only us and 2 German girls on the lower floor. We had mats on the floor with blankets  and pillows and a mosquito net to tuck round. I made sure ours was securely tucked as I saw a massive black spider on the wall near our bed. I felt so proud of myself staying on the camp as I am scared of everything and there were spiders in the toilets, lots of creepy crawlies and I even saw a massive white and orange lizard or snake in one of the toilets that disappeared before mister Al and Dave could get a look. That evening we had a few beers to help us sleep with the rest of the group round the campfire.

We woke early the next day and it was amazing to wake up and have the elephants so close. We went to the one we’d fed the night before to say good morning before breakfast. After breakfast was bath time for the elephants in the river near by. Two of the elephants led the way and just as the second one got in the water she decided it was toilet time!!!! Never in my life have I seen so much poo and wee!!! We reconsidered getting in for a second but then everyone must have thought “when will I get this opportunity again” so we all jumped right in there!!! What followed was a massive water fight between humans and elephants. Being so close to them in the river was an incredible feeling especially when they sat down, they are massive and even though the experience was so enjoyable it was also daunting to be in such a situation. I got to ride on the neck of one again on the way out of the river. There was defiantly a rather unpleasant smell about us when we got out!!!

After a quick shower to freshen up (just wanted to say that so everyone didn’t think we spent the whole day smelling of elephant poo) we did the only thing we were asked to pay extra for-30 baht (60p) for a bag of bananas to feed the elephants. We were really shocked that we were the only 3 to do this out of our group of twelve, but again this was better for us as we got the opportunity to be on our own with the elephants again. This was also when we learnt about the camp as I said at the beginning and how it is also supported by the government as it conserves the elephants (one on the camp was also 16 months pregnant). We were all now much more confident with the elephants and got some fab pictures.

It was now time to say goodbye to the elephants. The rest of the day was spent visiting a water fall, luckily only a small walk as our legs were very sore from the day before, white water rafting which was fun but a little bit tame but gave us enough of an experience to want to try it again and bamboo rafting which we had the laziest driver ever who gave mister Alex the stick to push us along and the raft was slightly sinking. Bamboo rafting wasn’t all that great! The day finished by visiting a tribe but really these were just like most other Thai people but living in the forest (they even had big satellites for cable tv!) There were lots of cute puppies there though who entertained us. On the way back we were exhausted from the 2 days and all fell asleep in the back of the truck.

We had an amazing experience at the elephant camp, for me it was the best thing we’ve done since we set out on our travels. I’m writing this on an overnight bus back to Bangkok and then we are getting a mini bus early in the morning and then a boat to Kho Chang (an island we haven’t yet visited). I’m sad that we’ve left Chiang Mai though, we’ve had a busy fun-filled week, we are defiantly still being “wowed” by the travelling experience!!!

Miss everyone lots, lots of love xxxxxxxxxx

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