I’ve been thinking of how to start writing about my journeys in Thailand and it’s taken me more time than I had anticipated. I’ve come to realize the reason: too many options. There are so many things I’d like to tell you. I could work chronologically; I could be general; I could talk about the locations, or the food, or the experiences. I’ve decided to just start with one of my favorite experiences. Just one. The Maerim Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai.

It’s important to know two things before you continue reading.

  1. Not all sanctuaries are actual sanctuaries. Many places continue to use elephants in unnatural ways for entertainment. Activities such as riding elephants is actually quite cruel and requires a cruel process to get the elephants to acquiesce. The one we went to, Maerim, is smaller than some others, but for much less money and a more intimate encounter (they only have 4 elephants, all rescued from the circus) it’s a top choice in my book.
  2. There will be some spoilers of the experience in this post. I’ve thought about this long and hard. My conclusion: It’s quixotic to think that most people will get to a place like this in their lives. I realize the great blessing it is that I had the means and opportunity to go. So I want to share this with those who may never go. I think everyone should be able to see the beautiful world we live in. And hopefully this post will inspire those of you who can make it to go! Go!

So these darling elephants, an adult female, a teenage boy, and two little sisters all live at this sanctuary on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. They are each given a human companion who stays with them for 20 hours a day; the men sleep only 4 hours. Imagine the love and dedication.

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The elephants have their own “little” mud bath where they love to go and roll around. We got the pleasure of helping them to cover themselves in it. And we got more than enough on ourselves as well.

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A bunch of bananas under my arm and he was following me like a puppy… or a man. Whichever you prefer, food is the main thing, really. We were going down to the river to rinse off, man and woman and elephant alike.

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Sharing his knowledge.

As you can imagine, the waters of the river got pretty muddy.

Next we brought the darlings to a huge field of banana trees, were given machetes and license to start cutting. They love to eat every part of the tree, as made obvious by their poop, which resembles matted hay covered in dirt. Imagine my horror when the two dogs that run the place started eating the fresh poo like it was any old peanut butter and jelly sandwich. How could they? Elephants are vegetarian and eat a very healthy diet. That ain’t enough just cause for me, but the dogs seemed pleased to get their daily fiber. Besides, they looked healthy and happy enough. Nature: the gift that keeps on giving.

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All of the photos shown here were taken by volunteer photographers at the sanctuary. While I did take many photos of my own, these candid and varied shots are so beautiful and only cost a few hundred Baht. And the money supports the sanctuary. So much better than paying a fortune for one stupid automatic camera shot at Disney. This is care and quality and a work of love.

I’ve always loved elephants. I was looking forward to this experience more than most of the others, and it didn’t disappoint. I was, and am, incredibly happy. I’ve grown in love for these creatures who are at once big and rough yet incredibly gentle and soft-hearted and playful.

May they always be protected.

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