ELEPHANT HAVEN, THAILAND
SAVE ELEPHANT FOUNDATION & ELEPHANT NATURE PARK
10 Day Thai Trip
Story #3 of 4.
Ok.. Part 3 of 4 is finally here and I’m sure this is probably the part you guys have been waiting for. The elephant sanctuary! Before I begin sharing my story and experience, I want to open your eyes a little to an issue that goes overlooked every time people travel to Thailand: elephant riding. I know it looks fun and cute and adventurous but there’s much more that goes behind elephant riding than our eyes can see. These babies get tortured in order to act and walk in ways that entertain us. Someone once told me elephants don’t even like humans that much, which got me thinking… How in the world can humans sit on an elephant for hours and take selfies if elephants are not used to that at all? Well, I found my answer online… the devastating reality most animals face nowadays! The training process is called Phajaan, or “the crush”, and it involves separating baby elephants from their mothers and confining them to small spaces, cages or holes where they can’t move. Then, they are beaten with sharp bull-hooks, starved and deprived from sleep for days. All this to show them we, “humans”, are in control. That we have the power over them and they have no other choice but to obey or keep getting beaten and starved.
Two years ago when I found out about this- same time I started WaterThruSkin- I decided to work with nonprofits that were providing safe havens to rescued animals. And there they were! Save Elephant Foundation & Elephant Nature Park. I’ve been donating 10% of everything you guys buy on my shop to that charity and hoping that one day I could visit them myself and see firsthand where that money was going to. And so I did! This dream finally came true two weeks ago during my Thailand trip.
To Know: SaveElephant works with different elephant sanctuaries throughout Thailand offering daily or overnight packages to tourists so they get their elephant experience in a different way: by giving elephants love and watching them be elephants for an entire day or two. The days depend on which package you choose. I chose the overnight in Kanchanaburi’s Elephant Haven.
Ok, so details! From River Kwai Jungle Rafts Pier, we took a taxi at 7am to Kanchanaburi’s bus station where the Elephant Haven team picked us up at 8am. An hour later we reached the camp and were welcomed by 6 beautiful and HUGE elephants waiting to be fed. This camp has about 19 elephants that were exploited for human entertainment for years until this sanctuary was created. Now, these magnificent animals get to enjoy their days roaming freely around acres full of trees, rivers and mud-pits, get to enjoy delicious and healthy snacks throughout the day, and even get refreshing baths by humans and their buckets in the river. Once we got there, my friend and I were directed to our little house. I have to be 100% honest, if you want to stay the night you have to go mentally prepared. You’ll be in the middle of jungle and will sleep on a mattress on the floor with a few bugs flying around you. There’s obviously no AC but the rooms do have small fans and electricity, of course. You also get your private bathroom. I was completely ok with this because it was all part of the adventure and I have this crazy adventurous soul, but my friend freaked out a little. I’ll give you some tips on what to take with you later. About 9.30am the same day the team gathered us to teach us how to prepare elephant superfood balls, aka “Cookies”. This part blew my mind away! We prepared 6 fist-size balls full of rice (healthy carbs), tamarind (Vitamin C), bananas (potassium), salt (minerals), and protein powder for our babies. According to our guide, feeding the elephants these cookies prior to fruits and leafs helps them digest food better and remain healthy. Once we were done with the cookies, we walked towards a small fountain where dozens of watermelons floated. Each of us washed and cut 10 watermelons, put them in a basket and headed towards the elephants. First, you feed them the cookies, then you feed the watermelons. This part was hilarious! I would be feeding Boon Me (my elephant) and suddenly Chopper (the youngest elephant in the tribe) would try to steal watermelons out of my basket even though my friend was feeding him at the same time! After breakfast, we walked with the elephants to the nearest river where they immediately submerged and splashed water everywhere. I think this was the part I enjoyed the most! Walking next and in between these gigantic creatures that can eat up to 250lbs of food per day, and not being afraid of them at all. I somehow trusted them and for that they trusted me in return by being gentle and loving. There was one elephant, Mali, I connected with the most. She would literally follow me everywhere, look for me and just stand next to me. She would let me hug her and caress her and talk to her. It was beautiful! I also connected with Vinnai (I hope his name is spelled that way!). He is the elephant whisperer at the shelter. The most kind-hearted soul I've meet in a while. He sings and talks to the elephants and they follow him everywhere. All I wanted to do is hug him too!! Seriously! After the river, the elephants stayed in the forest while we, the humans, returned to the shelter to eat lunch. You guys might not believe this but the shelter had the BEST vegan Thai food I tried during my entire Thailand trip. All recipes were switched with tofu and fake shrimps instead of meat, chicken or seafood. I was in heaven. Literally! After lunch we got a few minutes to rest and were then taken to town to visit the ‘Death Railway”, which made me wonder how something so astonishing could've caused so much pain. This railway was built by the Japanese during WWII to support their forces during the Burma campaign. More than 200k laborers worked on it, of which more than 100k died trying to build this 415km railway. Hence, the name Death Railway. In town, you’ll also get to walk through the market with vendors selling arts and crafts, boho fashion, Thai beers and so much more. Around 3pm, we headed back to the shelter just in time for mud-pit playtime! Yes! Elephants and humans get to play with mud!!! The elephants enjoyed this so much. Splashing mud everywhere! And of course, I got covered in mud from head to toe! Once the babies were done playing, we walked to the river again, grabbed buckets, got in the water with the elephants and gave them a refreshing bath. It was something out of a magical book! The activities ended around 4.30/5pm. Since we stayed overnight, we got the chance to take a shower in a our tiny yet cozy house, had a coffee (they offer water and hot coffee 24/7), relaxed a little, watched the sunset from our window which looked directly into the river, and I even got time to read a few pages of my favorite author’s book, Paulo Coelho. Dinner is served around 6.30pm. Vegan yumminess as always! The team was extremely welcoming and nice and they even took us in their motorcycles to town to buy some REALLY cold Thai beers and walk a little. The next morning we followed the same schedule starting with breakfast at 7am and elephant pampering activities at 9.30am until 4pm. Then we got to say goodbye to the elephants and the team, and the driver took us back to Kanchanaburi’s bus station.
I recommend this experience 105%, guys! It will open your eyes to a world of freedom… a world were the power of humans over animals ceases to exist and instead humans finally become one with the animals. You become part of their tribe. I think there’s honestly no better way to invest your money than this! Remember that as a tourist (and as a human being) you have two options: 1) follow the crowd and support activities that seem cool and comfortable but harm our planet and animals or 2) step of your comfort zone, perform your research and look for planet-friendly options. From eco hotels to animal-loving activities. It's simpler than it seems and it makes a world of difference! Let’s choose love and freedom, babes. Always!
Things to know:
-The prices range between $100-$150 (That is US Dollars) depending on the activity you choose. Overnight was about $150 and it included everything! Transportation, vegan meals, elephant activities and a room with private bathroom.
-Take natural and eco repellent or aromatherapy oils. You will need those.
-Take a bathing suit, comfy shoes (I would recommend sneakers and flip-flops. Take both!), clean outfit to use after you shower, sunnies and a hat/cap
-Take natural and eco sunblock
-Take a CAMERA of course!
-Take a book or good music if you stay overnight
-Take CASH ONLY!!! To pay for activities and for the Death Railway Market
-Book your stay by clicking here.
Planet-loving brands I used:
-Bear Tee: made from organic cotton meant to protect our environment and endangered species by PureofHeartMe.
-Sunnies: made from natural materials and help different charities by Westward Leaning.
-Headscarf: made from natural materials (such as soy and bamboo fiber) and helps raise awareness of animal extinction by WildzbyJD
-White Sneakers: recycled plastic sneakers made my a company that reuses 99% of water, waste and unsold stock from previous collections by Melissa.
-"Not Yours" Sweatshirt: raising awareness about animal cruelty by Nois. Use code "waterthruskin" to get 20% off your purchase through Earth Month (April)!!