I Do Hope We Get A Small Elephant....

Trip Start Oct 02, 2012
Trip End Mar 31, 2014

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What I did
Baan Chang Elephant Sactuary

Flag of Thailand  ,
Wednesday, October 24, 2012

After months of looking forward to visiting an elephant sanctuary in Thailand the day has finally arrived. We had booked a place at Baan Chang the previous evening and our minivan was waiting for us as we excitedly/nervously skipped into the reception area of Green Tulip.

Baan Chang seemed like the best option available after we did a bit of research. There are a great number of places you can ride elephants in Thailand but a great deal of these places should be avoided for a number of reasons. A portion of them make their elephants perform tricks or do things outside an elephants nature, such as painting, standing, wearing seats on their back (which pulls the elephants skin and leads to distortion in time) etc. All things we would class as abusive and disrespectful. Baan Chang is one of the sanctuaries that actively tries to save elephants from abusive owners and give them as normal a life as possible without freeing the animals back into the wild. A thing they would love to do but would end swiftly with the elephants death as they have no experience of the wild and if they didn't starve, the farmers, whose crops they would undoubtedly eat, would shoot them.

Anyway, as the minivan ferried us to Baan Chang (about a 50 minute drive away) our guide for the day turns in his seat at the front and addresses the 12 of us. His name is Sumit and he tells us about Baan Chang and the elephants. He runs through the days program and warns us about the dangers involved. Tells us over and over to be careful and stay near the mahout at ALL times. (A mahout is an elephant carer - each nellie has it's own mahout). He explains that they are after all, massive unpredictable animals. They weigh 3 - 5 ton, can run at 30kph and could break your body with a simple swat of their trunk. Okay. We start to feel a little nervous now. Sumit is a revelation, he is full of information, friendly and very funny. His 20 minute talk is littered with jokes and he finishes the talk by warning us that he is about to turn around and sit down. It was very funny but you had to be there...!

We arrive and although we were expecting to see elephants, the sight that greets us is still a shock to the system. In front of us their are 21 elephants of varying sizes, including 3 under 7 years and 1 pregnant lady, who at 10 months into her pregnancy, still has 12-14 months to go! It is an awesome and slightly terrifying sight. Sumit walks us over to a large pile of baskets containing sugar cane that has been chopped into elephant size chunks. After being shown how to feed the elephants, without loosing a hand or hurting them with the sharp sugar cane, we start to grab handfuls and cautiously approach the herd. They are intelligent and their trunks are incredibly dextourous, reaching out and taking the food like it was a hand and arm. We feed a few close by nellies then head over to a baby one. We are pretty sure it won't be a baby for long though as everyone wants to feed her!! She is totally gorgeous.

Afer the feeding Sumit sits us down on a bench and two big elephants plod over to us with their Mahouts. Its time to learn how to get on and off an elephant. Anna's eyes start to look a bit wild. She starts to tremble. Riding an elephant looks f**king scary! Everyone has started to look nervous as they come to a halt in front of us. The two elephants are a couple (awwww) but at 10 and 12 they are still too young to mate. This small fact and the assembled audience does not stop the young male from having a go though. It's hard to be polite and not look when 'cassonova nellie' is wafting his elephant sized dong about! We all laugh and the tension eases a little bit. As Sumit demonstrates the commands and how to mount/dismount without falling off - it's a long way down off the top of an elephant - Anna's trembling turns into outright shaking.

After a couple of the group have taken their turn Sumit points to Ian and a very small amount of wee escapes him as he nervously stands up and approaches the randy male. It's not as easy as expected to get on but once in the air Ian feels comfortable and marvels at the fact he is on an elephant. As he gets off and walks back to Anna he can see the panic on her face. She is next. Mustering up the courage she swallows her fear and climbs up onto the elephant (also the randy male). She is very brave and even manages to fake a smile for the camera as Ian takes her picture. Okay then. Easy bit done. Now its time to use voice commands to walk them around a tree 50 feet away. We learn how to say stop (how), go (by), left and right (both kway whilst nudging the ellie's ear for direction). Ian is feeling more confident now. Anna is not and is still shaking. The tension is broken again as the female sits down and lets out the longest, loudest fart anyone has ever heard. It must last for a full minute. Thankfully no smell follows the fart, just an abundance of childish laughing :) We all take turns in mounting the elephants and walking them about. Although Anna is ready to run for the hills she is a trooper and walks Cassanova about with a smile on her face. It is quite a feeling being on an elephant. They are unexpectedly hot and hairy. And the tops of their heads are quite squishy! You feel very small and honoured that the huge majestic animal beneath you is allowing you to go for a ride. A wonderous experience and appetite building, good job its time for lunch!

After the staff at Baan Chang feed us a massive amount of food we lounge about on hammocks for a bit feeling very pleased with ourselves. After digesting enough food for a small town, Sumit calls the group together and we divide into pairs. It's time to be paired with our elephant for a trek up into the mountains. The shakes that had calmed down during our hammock time started up again. Anna started to silently pray to be paired with the baby elephant. Her hopes looked certain to be fulfilled as we were the smallest couple in our group. We would definately get a small one. Definately.

Five minutes later we are being helped onto Saboon. Saboon is massive. He is the male bull elephant, leader of the herd, king of the jungle, forty feet high and several hundred tons in weight. He is so big the mahouts have to help us clamber up onto his back. Saboon probably didn't even notice, we are like birds perched on his shoulder. Anna sits at the front so she can hold on for dear life to Saboon's hairy head, while Ian sits on his back clinging desperately to a tiny piece of rope. Then we are off! Saboon plods forward like a small mountain and when he trumpets his whole body vibrates. The commands we have been learning are useless now. Saboon pretty much does what he wants, mainly eating everything in sight, as he goes at his own pace while we cling on for the ride. He knows where he is going though and his Mahout is always at his side, singing songs in Thai. We trudge up the mountain while the rest of the herd follow in our wake. It is amazing and we laugh in a mixture of elation and hysteria.

When we reach the top we dismount to drink water from the bottles Bann Chang has provided. One of the mid-sized female elephants is very playful and intelligent, she manages to get into the middle of our group and then begins to sniff out the water with her trunk. She pokes, prods and teases with until one of our group empties their water bottle into her trunk. She drinks half and sprays the other half onto her back to everyones delight. It's hot and we all want our water but nellie wants it too and she won't be denied, most succumb to her charms and pour their water into her waiting trunk.

Then it's time to let Saboon take us back to camp. The descent is just as amazing as the climb and the landscape of beautiful jungle covered mountains adds to the brilliance of it all. We are headed for the watering hole where the elephants bathe three times a day. Elephant skin is so thick that they can't sweat through it, the only pace they can sweat through is around their toenails. Not a vast area considering the size of them, so they love the cool water and make a (slow) dash for it. We dismount at the waters edge and the Mahouts lead them in while we tool up with buckets and scrubbing brushes. Saboon is almost entirely in the water with just a bit of his back and the top of his head poking out. Although that is still quite a lot of elephant! We set to work throwing water on him and giving him a good old scrub. He loves it. We have to press hard with the scrubbing brush, or he just won't feel it through his thick skin, and are soon grateful of the cool water as washing a monster elephant is hot work indeed. Job done we say goodbye to our wonderful Saboon and thank him for not killing us. Then it's a short squelch to the showers for a wash and a change of clothes before the trip back to our guesthouse.
It has been a totally incredible day.

Thank you Saboon. Thank you Sumit. Thank you everyone at Baan Chang. Words are not enough to express how fantastic an experience you have given us.
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