Some major reasons for getting to Thailand include good food, new culture, amazing beaches, and of course, nature and what it has to offer. Rob, Jessica and I made our way north to Chiang Mai, Thailand and got our chance to really dig deep into the culture. Jessica was recommended a place to stay and a specific person for us to meet in Chiang Mai. Noi, she is the owner of a guesthouse called Rama House and was very happy to meet us. After getting to know her over the next few hours she recommended we go to her friends village about an hour away from her guesthouse. At this village they have a family of elephants and two babies. She explained that this would be a much different experience than your regular tour, like at the nature park or Tiger Kingdom…
This is a normal family who only opens its doors to people who are recommended to them from people like Noi. A majority of tourist attractions with elephants have tortured the animals for the first few years of their lives in order to make them tame. At Baanchang they start training the elephants with bananas at a very young age while being exposed to humans at the same time. So they are naturally very friendly and caring to visitors.
This is a small portion of their beautiful property. As we changed into some “get dirty” clothes we saw a few elephants roaming freely among their property. This gave us a very warm feeling knowing they aren’t chained down and beaten on a regular basis, like most of the touristic places are out here. We had to learn a few words in Thai before we headed out, so Jessica made a little cheat sheet of the most important words on her arm. Right, left, forward, backward, slow down…and of course STOP. Too bad all the words rubbed off her skin before we got to ride an elephant, but their training education at Baangchang was superb and we memorized the commands by the end of the first lesson.
Rob had his learning cap on. Before you knew it, we were off to feed and learn how to control while riding the elephants for the day. Here you can see Rob and Jessica leaping head first and feeding one of the mothers her first bananas for the day. As a way to say “thank you,” the elephants give you a kiss with their trunks. However, their kisses are somewhat overpowering since they have wet trunks that suck the air from your cheek as if they were giving you a mini hickey. Jessica was a little scared and still needed time to warm up to these large animals. Even her sisters and brothers would agree, she doesn’t like wet kisses that much, even if it’s from her favorite animal. They were so friendly you could pretty much do anything to them, like a little white puppy.
Jessica LOVES elephants, specifically baby elephants, so it was a real treat to bring her to such a beautiful setting. This shows you the massive size of these animals compared to Jess. This is baby Sky (1.5 years old), and mama Christina (22 years old). We let Jessica hop on first, then Rob and I. This experience wasn’t your ordinary tourist elephant ride. Typically you’ll see photos of people sitting on a little chair that is strapped onto the back of the elephant, with a guide leading. Not here though! Here we were taught the proper commands to ride bare back for the entire duration of the day – without any guides leading our route. The relationships between the elephants and their owner is one of a kind. The other amazing thing about where we went to do this, is the minimal amount of people. The family only allows a maximum of 6 people go. This gives visitors a more intimate environment while minimizing the exposure of large crowds to the elephants.
After a home made lunch from the family, we got to go for a ride in the forest and then bath the elephants in the river. We could feel the emotions in them, they loved it and so did we. Mama Christina must’ve thought Jess could use a bathing as well. Jessica, one of the mothers and two babies.
After we showered and cleaned up from the river, the owner taught us how to start a fire with a piece of bamboo and dry coconut hair. This was the fastest and most efficient “wood vs. wood” fire I have ever witnessed. Way to cool. Thank you Baanchang elephant park and family for sharing your home with us. We will cherish this day forever in our memories and hope to one day come back and visit!