Wherever I travel, I love seeing the animals. Whether it be Chinese Pandas or Thai elephants. It is so sad that around almost every corner, there are elephants tied up for show-and-tell. There are few elephant sanctuaries in Phuket, Thailand but none of them allow riding.
After a wonderful visit to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Christian and I went on a spree of the moment half day tour of Phuket, where they scheduled an "elephant ride". I knew they would show us a baby elephant, but the tour did NOT say elephant ride. I don't think anyone was expecting it. When we got to the location, they loaded us back into the van saying the wait was too long. On our way to a new location, we all realized that no one wanted to ride an elephant. Although we all "paid for it", we were all okay with skipping it. An Australian father in front of us in the van asked his daughter and wife, "it's a big cruel, isn't it?" Indeed.
Elephants in Thailand are mostly used for logging, to knock down trees. They are used for entertainment, shows, riding, and even just tied to a tree in an enclosed area so people can pay to feed and take pictures with them. Elephants can typically live up to 100 years. However, due to harsh living conditions and working them so hard, their average life span decreases quite rapidly. The health of an elephant’s spine is crucial to its quality of life. Contrary to many beliefs, an elephant does NOT have smooth, round spinal disks but instead they have sharp, bony protrusions that extend upward from its spine. Imagine a row of forks lining the elephants back underneath its skin. Now stick a human on top of that. Yeah, NOT pleasant.
These elephant sanctuaries typically rescue older elephants who were injured and can no longer work. Although they do have younger healthy elephants too. Logging companies and others who use elephants for work, do not have the time or resources to help care for and feed the excess elephants. Elephants typically eat anywhere from 200-600 pounds a day.
In Phuket, a popular sanctuary is Phuket Elephant Sanctuary. With all respect for this sanctuary, I chose to go to the Phuket Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. For one reason, I wanted to bathe with the elephants. Phuket Elephant Sanctuary has a no bathing policy because they want to give the elephants complete freedom to bathe as they please. To move around, stretch, kick, without humans surrounding them. Totally respectable. BUT...I didn’t care, haha.
The Phuket Elephant Jungle Sanctuary offered many packages. Their most popular was the
Half-Day Mud Bath they offered both in the morning and afternoon. They offer pick up and drop off at your hotel too! First things, they “taught you how to feed elephants” aka, you broke bananas apart and threw it in a basket, then proceeded to feed the very capable elephant bananas. Whatever, it's still very entertaining for someone who has never been in front of an elephant before. Isn't it more fun to feed a cat, than to watch the cat eat? The pictures are great too. They had watermelon and bamboo as well. Once the elephants were done eating, you’d be able to get ready and join the elephants in the muddy water. Although filled with elephant poop and pee, they swear on the cleanliness of the water. After the mud bath, you will all rinse off under the water pipes and then have a real human meal. This half day is 2,500 Baht which is about USD$70.
I figured that since I wasn’t planning to go back to Thailand anytime soon, and that this experience was “life changing”, I might as well do the WHOLE day with the elephants. Yay!....
No.....I had packed light for this trip and brought only a backpack. Which means I brought three pairs of shoes, my new black vans which were hurting my feet, my old hiking sandals, and a pair of flip flops. I wore my bathing suit, a dress, yoga shorts, and my hiking sandals. Now, Lindsay Lohan had JUST gotten bit by a snake in the Phuket jungle the day before. After we finished feeding the elephants, I realized two things:
1) Christian and I were the ONLY ones who had signed up for this hike with the elephants and,
2) for some reason I didn’t put “hike” and “Thai jungle” together. I’m from Ohio so when we go for a hike, there’s usually always a trail in the woods.
So me, my opened toed sandals, my dress, our elephant, Christian and our guide trek out to the Thai jungle. Christian is EXTATIC like a child who loves Christmas, on Christmas morning. I hold onto branches, vines, and step just right on the rocks so not to slip. The elephant cleared most of the paths for us. I did fall a few times, but I learned to hold onto a LOT of things since my shoes were so unstable. The hike lasted about two hours. I thought it would NEVER end! Did you know that elephants scare snakes away? Now you do.
After the hike, we came back to a private lunch for just the two of us. Hmmm, yummy. Yeah, no, it went RIGHT THREW ME. My stomach was so fucked up at the beginning of that trip. I honestly believe that if I go any time without pizza or pasta, that I get super sick. Have you ever read that children’s book You Are What You Eat ? Well, I eat a ton of pasta. I feel like my body goes through shock if I don’t eat pasta for awhile. Obviously, I’m being dramatic.
After a physically painful visit to the beach for an hour where I napped to escape my stomach pain, we went back to the sanctuary for our afternoon mud bath with the next group.
Social media versus Reality
You literally just stand in poopy water to watch an elephant lay sideways in the water. The photographers want you to splash a ton of water onto the elephant to make it look like you are having the time of your life. You get to stand back, and watch everyone taking selfies and pictures with the elephants. You get a TON of pictures of yourself with the elephant, and someone else's back while they are also posing with the elephant. It's mostly just a mass group of people taking pictures with elephants in shitty water. Don't get me wrong, standing in muddy water starring at an elephant is awesome. I do understand what a wonderful, priviledged experience it is. What I'm trying to get at is, the difference between a social media post "#blessed" and the humor which is reality. No? Only I find it humorous? Okay...
After the mud bath, you then get to rinse the elephant off under the water pipes next to the baths. And then eat. And these large group meals, the food is not spectacular. It’s good, but not spectacular. At that point, the workers had done this for the second time that day, and they do this every day. So they were ready for you to leave. Or maybe, I felt this way because I was just ready to leave.
Mind you, I was running on less than 2 hours of sleep! I wanted to check into our hotel in Kata, take a shower, and get into bed. No piña coladas for me that night.
The day was over! We took the 1-2 hour car ride to Kata.
Apart from my lack of sleep, and messed up stomach, the full day hike and mud bath was honestly the best, most personal option. Yes, it was USD$170 per person but I got to spend the whole morning alone with the elephant in the jungle without a ton of other travelers crowded around the elephants trying to take selfies.
They offer more packages, such as a 2-day or 3-day package. Check out their website for more information! https://www.elephantjunglesanctuary.com
If you are ever in Thailand, please don't ride elephants, and check out one of the sanctuaries!