We had the absolute pleasure to go on the 1/2 day elephant sanctuary tour through Lanna Kingdom Tours. This was an excellent adventure with kids in Chiang Mai – I felt safe, we really got involved and we felt like we helped the Asian elephant population by supporting this company.
The Lanna Elephant Sanctuary has rescued 4 elephants since it opened only 5 months ago. Two of the elephants come from an animal circus, one of those being a 2 1/2 year old named Lanna. One of the elephants had to be moved to an elephant hospital because of her mental health – they are hoping she will return soon. And the fourth elephant was rescued from a community that was using her to transport lumber.
Our time at the sanctuary started with us getting special outfits to wear, they are the traditional pant and shirt of Thailand. Then we got to meet the elephants up close. I was a little nervous at first – not sure how the gentle giants would react to small people like Blake and Jaida (and me). We all nervously petted them and took photos next to them. Then the mahout came out with banana tree branches and he chopped them up with his machete for the elephants to eat. The elephants gobbled up these large branches like they were pocky sticks. Then we were given baskets full of ripe bananas to feed the elephants. I was not keen on getting my hand near their mouth so I nervously held the bananas out for them to grab with their trunk. I can’t believe how quickly and gently they can snatch the banana out of a human hand and stuff it into it’s own mouth.
We next went over to the medicine hut to make a mash of tamarind, banana, salt and sugar cane. We chopped and mashed with our large wooden mortar and pestles and created 2 meatballs of the medicine. We were instructed to put the mashed medicine balls directly into their mouths. After I saw a little toddler doing it (another tourist), I had to toughen up and do it myself. The elephant was extremely gentle even when my hand was in it’s mouth, she just licked off all the goop and moved onto the next person that was ready to feed her. They were all so amazing.
Next it was time to bath them, the mahoud brought the elephants into the big mud puddle and we all followed. Most of the tourists got thigh deep into the mud pit with the three elephants and smeared mud all over them. Lanna, the young elephant, was so playful, she kept wiggling around flopping from one side to the other. She was super cute but I stayed well clear of her. Then we all went over to the small watering hole where we got waist deep into the water with buckets to wash the elephants off. This was where Lanna really had fun swimming and splashing around. It was really good fun, everyone was getting wet and laughing.
When we got out of the water, we had to wipe down the elephants with rags that were dipped in tamarind water. I’m not sure why but they wanted us to try to smear it all over their skin. By this time, I was very comfortable being right next to the elephants, I felt a connection with them. They really are amazing creatures.
We had a little lesson about the differences between the African and Asian elephants, about declining elephant populations and about different industries that exploit elephants. We saw a picture of an elephant skeleton and we learned how they are not built to carry a load. They asked us to make sure to NEVER ride an elephant and pass this message along to our friends that might not know. There are many tour companies that offer elephant rides and the elephants carry hundreds of people a week. The Lanna Kingdom Tours do not offer elephant riding.
We ended our time at the sanctuary with a wonderful lunch – a vegetarian pad thai. The owner of the sanctuary came over to talk to us. He told us “Since the elephants are vegetarian, we also had to be vegetarian”. He was a very sweet fun man who managed to save up a bunch of money while he was a monk for 5 years. He said he didn’t need to spend his money on anything so he just kept saving. He stopped being a monk, got married and had a dream to own a Mercedes. When he went to the dealership to test drive the car, he saw an elephant that needed rescuing. He decided to spend his money on buying that elephant instead of the car and he is so happy that he did. He says it brought him so much happiness to help the elephant, purchasing a car could never do the same. He and his wife happily manage this elephant sanctuary and have plans to purchase more elephants to remove them from their current unhealthy environments.
I highly recommend this as a 1/2 day trip if you are in Chiang Mai. The kids loved it and I loved it.