Here I am with the third blogpost about my trip to Thailand and Cambodia. After having left Bangkok, we arrived in the beautiful town of Chiang Mai. We spent 3 nights and 4 days there, before catching our flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia. What we loved the most about this city in the north of Thailand was the atmosphere, the nature that surrounds it and the walled old town. Our hotel was really close to the centre, 10 minutes on foot. On our first evening out we went to the evening market and I had the best Indian dinner in my life (New Delhi Indian Restaurant, write it down if you’re ever going to Chiang Mai…I followed the Lonely Planet advice!).
During our evening walk we found an agency which was organising visits for tourists and, as we wanted to do something different from the usual, we chose to visit an elephant sanctuary.
Before choosing to go I visited the website of the sanctuary, I’ve read the reviews on TripAdvisor and I questioned the lady from the agency. As you may have understood if you follow me on Instagram I really love animals, I’m a vegetarian and I try to do my best to avoid anything that exploits or hurts animals. I sign a lot of petitions on Peta and Change and I avoid meat, the circus, “Seaworld” and similar places, leather, fur, products that are tested on animals, etc. To be honest I was sceptical and afraid of sponsoring a tourist-trap that was exploiting elephants, but I haven’t been disappointed at all by the Full Day Visit (they picked us up at our hotel at 9am and brought us back at 6pm).
Maerim is an elephant sanctuary one hour from the centre of Chiang Mai, it’s immersed in nature and it doesn’t allow people to ride elephants, because that is bad and stressful for them. They have seven elephants which were saved from circuses and riding camps for tourists, where they were forced to work and tormented with hooks. They are always looking for volunteers who could stay with them for at least 4 weeks so, If you’d like to do an experience like this, now you know 🙂 If I hadn’t different plans for my life at the moment I would definitely consider it.
When we arrived at the camp, at 10.30am, we met the guide and they gave us a blue uniform and a bag full of bananas (I was feeling like I was a member of Lost‘s Dharma Initiative… LOL). They showed us a video that explains why elephants shouldn’t be ridden, what they do at the sanctuary, etc. And then we finally met the beautiful, majestic animals that elephants are. We fed and pet them.
It was a beautiful experience, really. I totally recommend it. It was so emotional to be able to meet, feed and pet elephants, animals that we don’t have in the western part of the world, except in the sad zoos.
For lunch there was a cooking lesson: we prepared our own rice noodles (they fortunately had different broths, both for meat eaters and for vegetarians… Very organised, well done!)
After lunch we walked beside the elephants (scary yet exciting!) to reach a field where we fed them again and where we chilled with them, while the guide explained about their projects in the sanctuary and gave us a lot of infos about the elephants (did you know that there are three species of elephant? African, Asian and Sri Lankan).
Maerim is planning to save another female elephant from a riding camp, which of course is quite expensive, so they are always looking for more visits, they sell souvenirs in the sanctuary and they look for volunteers and donations. I only bought ethical souvenirs during this trip (and I hope to keep doing the same in the next ones): at the Elephant Sanctuary, at the ex-inmate employment centre (where we had our beautiful, traditional Thai massage) and at the Landmine Museum, in Cambodia.
What my boyfriend and I loved the most about this full day visit was the bath with the elephants. Unfortunately I don’t have photos of me washing them because, you know, I was full of mud and poo, but I let you imagine. There were two paddles, called “The Elephant’s SPA”: one full of mud, where we massaged them, and the other with (not so clean) water, where we rinsed them. It was so moving to see them lying on their side, trusting us enough to let us touch them. I was especially excited when I was massaging this majestic, female elephant and while moving I accidentally stepped on her huge, shaggy, hairy foot. What was my small foot in comparison to hers? The bath is very good for elephants, as they are always full of flies and bacteria, and also quite dry.
After bathing them we went back to the reception, the day was over, we swimmed and chilled by the pool, we changed back into our clothes, bought some souvenirs and we then took the pick-up back to the hotel.
I was really sad when the visit was over because I didn’t know when in my life I’d get the chance to stay with these beautiful creatures again. My thought at the end of the day? I still wish that elephants could live free, into the wild, because even if in the sanctuary they treat them well deep down it still feels wrong that they have to get their bath with tourists everyday…But I also know that visitors feed them, pet them, massage them and if they choose a sanctuary instead of a riding camp they must like animals. I have to be idealistic but realistic: in 2019 maybe elephants can’t live into the wild in Thailand, because horrible people would take them for their purposes: circus, riding camps, etc. Maybe elephants need this sanctuary to be safe and protected and I’m sure that 40 year-old Chock-Dee would live better in Maerim than in the riding place where she is right now. I hope they’ll earn enough to buy and save her. What do you think? Please tell me your opinion in the comments because I love reflecting about animals.