The day before yesterday I spent a wonderful day just being a tourist at the Elephant Nature Park. Sometimes I go there to do something specific and sometimes I go there to relax. Wednesday a friend of mine had booked a day trip, so I decided to go along. As the day started I decided to just be a tourist for the day. So, what did I see? Compassion would be the one word answer. Gentle Reader, you know that I have background knowledge that the first time visitors may not have, but I sense that everyone feels the compassion that is so prevalent at the Elephant Nature Park.
Come see it for yourself. That may take a bit of planning; in the meantime you are welcome to see all the images taken on this trip at http://s935.photobucket.com/albums/ad200/jnelson1944/ENP20111228/
The morning started at the ENP Office in Chiang Mai where I met up with my friend David. We boarded a van. The driver and our guide, Khun Quan started the journey wending through the tiny streets of Ancient Chiang Mai picking up other tourists at their hotels and guest houses. Then we were off to the park. The trip takes a bit more than an hour but the time goes quickly. The guides provide information about the day, the elephants and the park. There is a DVD about the plight of the Thai elephant and the Elephant Nature Park that sets the tone for the day.
|Quan, our able guide.|
As we were pulling into the park I noticed the side of a new building (housing for long term volunteers, I believe) being adorned with a new flower garden. Several women were sharing this task and what do I notice, the founder of Save Elephant Foundation, Sangduen “Lek” Chialert is one of them! This is a roll your sleeves up and get involved kind of lady. As soon as the van stopped, I ran back down the road to get a photo. Now for a moment I’m not a tourist, but one of Lek’s volunteer staff. She wants a photograph with her fellow gardeners. She wants them to know how important their work really is and she wants everyone to know that the community around the park is very involved! The park and it’s several activities, is designed to provide the best care possible for the elephants and other animals the end up there. It also purposefully supports the surrounding community.
|6 beautiful souls, 7 counting the dog|
Every tourist begins his / her visit to the park with a safety briefing. We have the pleasure to interact with these gentle giants but we do need to remember that they are huge and powerful. The safety tips are pretty basic and tourists are always with a guide whose job is to make sure you enjoy your day, do no harm to any of the animals and do no harm to yourself. After the safety briefing we went to the shed where Chiang Yim, his mother and auntie were waiting for us to give them their morning basket of fruit. It’s always fun to watch people as they feed these elephants. Some are skittish and might drop a piece of watermelon; others take it all in stride. Each group, usually less than 10 people has a chance to feed different elephants. A good time is had by all.
From the shed we went out past the medical station to visit with Medo and her friend, Mae Mai. These elephants are so gentle, so sweet and have endured so much. You can read about them at www.elephantnaturefoundation.org and www.elephantnaturepark.org (The site’s have slightly different information). Medo is one of my favorite elephants. I remember when I first came to the park over a year and a half ago someone told me that elephants will pick up on your energy and that I should not feel sorry for Medo. Rather I should cheer her on. I make a point of doing just that. After all she has a good home, a best friend who shows much compassion and is in no danger of being further abused.
|Medo and one of her old fans|
|Medo and a family of new friends|
After our visit we returned to the platform to get ready for lunch. I noticed the new dog that has just been shipped up from Bangkok. He’s blind and just lost a leg due to infection, an infection that was flood related. Many people would have put him down but not this foundation. Another example of compassion hits me in the heart. This little dog will, I am sure, be one of my favorites. He has a sweet disposition and for reasons that escape me at the moment, seems to be very trusting of humans. Certainly his history before rescue would not justify the trust. He’ll be in good company with other three legged dogs and a couple of blind elephants.
|Starting a new life, a life of compassion|
At the Elephant Nature Park there is always a great lunch buffet. It’s mostly vegetarian with maybe a couple of chicken or fish dishes. Available are great curries, soups, rice, several kinds of noodles and delightful salads. They have huge plates, which I always manage to fill.
The afternoon starts with a trip to the river where people can enjoy bathing the elephants. The elephants come to the river in definite order, in shifts if you will. All caution is taken to ensure that there are never elephants who are known to have disagreement present with the tourists. The bull elephants never come to the river at the same time, especially if there are any guests near the river. All in all it’s really a great time and the elephants enjoy the water. Some just accept the bucket bath, some will get involved using their trunk and others prefer to wade out away from the guests for their own private bath. Like people, each has his or her own personality.
After the bath time there is usually an opportunity to get close up photos with some of the elephants. Depending on the day different elephants are close. Elephants show true compassion. Jokia is blind. Her abusive history is well documented on the websites mentioned above. When she arrived at the camp another elephant, Mae Perm adopted Jokia. They are inseparable and always among the tourist favorites. There are elephants who because of their injuries do not lay down because they would not be able to stand again. One such elephant has a best friend who come and stands next to her, then they lean into each other and sleep.
Mid afternoon finds the guests in the conference room for refreshments, and educational DVD and sometimes a live talk by the founder. Having seen the film on numerous occasions I took the opportunity to relax for a bit with a great massage. The park has a massage room offering both foot massage and Thai massage. The massage room is one of several community involvement programs that are ongoing at the park. It’s a great value and the massage ladies are really very good.
The last couple of hours afford the guests the opportunity to relax, or spend more time in close proximity to the elephants.
|Afternoon Photo Opportunity|
Somewhere around 4:30 the guests head back to Chiang Mai always happy to have seen the elephants and to have learned about their plight. There is one common complaint. People simply don’t want to leave. My solution is to sign up for at least one night. The extra day affords you a morning walk in the fields to see the elephants and more time to enjoy the park as a whole.
|Mud Bath in the morning|