Thus far, we’ve had many “firsts” in Thailand… first time having a mango lassi (OMG GUYS I CAN’T IT’S TOO GOOD), first time eating passionfruit, first time getting a *real* thai massage, first time to a Thai temple… and one of the biggest ones: first time seeing ELEPHANTS.
We knew we wanted to see the elephants as that’s what Chiang Mai is famous for… but we didn’t know much about the controversy among the elephant trade here. Truth is: you can make A LOT of thai baht moola if you have elephants and use them for tourists, which is obviously why most “sanctuaries” have elephants. We still wanted to see them, however we wanted to do so in a respectful, natural environment.
We ended up choosing to go with Karen Tribe Native Elephants, mostly because of the nearly 900 5 star reviews on Tripadvisor and other review sites… and we are sure glad we did because it ended up being SO MUCH MORE than just splashing and playing with elephants.
At Karen Tribe, the elephants are family. The tribe takes care of the elephants like they have for hundreds of years… and you get to help in the process. Here, they only let about 8 people come a day, and each person has their own elephant that they help take care of. We learned ALL about the elephant trade in Thailand and how most places say they rescued elephants and that there is “no riding”, but really that is a marketing ploy to get people to come to their place. They advertise all over Thailand and have signs that saw “NO RIDING”… when Thai people of the Karen Tribe, for example, have lived with and rode elephants since they became a part of the culture. An elephant is 7000 kilos – we are not even 1% of their body weight. It doesn’t “hurt” them at all. Of course you want to be careful at the places where they have 50+ tourists a day and they each ride the elephants… that doesn’t seem ethical. And to us, neither does 50+ tourists washing one single elephant. That can’t be fun for the poor guy every day?
More things we learned about the elephants: they need to be eating ALL DAY, since it takes about 2-3 hours for them to digest their food and it to come out the other side. Seriously, there is not a moment when they are not eating – when they stop, you know they a not feeling well. You have to haul all that food to them, chop it up, give them their medicine, and feed them! You also have to wash them and give them loads of water all day. It’s tough work, which is why Karen Tribe has us help out as literally part of the tribe. It was incredible to experience such a trust and foundation of a relationship with your elephant that day.
So, none of the tasks that we did were for “entertainment” for us, they were all helping keep the elephants healthy and happy. We also learned how to tell if the elephant is happy and healthy with various tests (in their poop, eyes, skin, ears, etc). So much to learn!!
We spent the whole day with our particular elephant so by the end of the day, we were quite attached to our mama elephant. She had just had a baby in which they named “David Beckham” to make it easier for people to remember lol…
All in all, it was a fantastic experience. I would highly recommend Karen Native Tribe Elephants as they are “rescuing” elephants from the “rescue” places to come back to the tribe where they came from so they can roam a little freer and have a better quality of life than 50+ tourists a day splashing them in the face and crowding around them… My advice is just do your research to make sure you are supporting a place that takes care of the beautiful, majestic and magical elephants. They are truly incredible. (Also – Karen Native Tribe does not use advertising so any word can help them).
Hope you enjoyed these facts!! Until next time 🙂