Happy Elephants in Thailand
When I heard you could hang out with elephants in Thailand, I admit I was hesitant. I’d heard stories of animal abuse – drugged tigers you could pet, and overworked elephants carrying tourists around and around on their backs. But then someone told me about Happy Elephant Home, a rescue refuge that takes elephants out of hard labor and gives them a life of supposed relative ease,
And I have to admit, they look pretty happy! A young man who loves elephants decided to rescue one who was suffering with wounds from a box that carries tourists rubbing constantly against its side. But elephants are expensive, to buy and then to feed, and there were lots of elephants that needed rescuing, so the young man had an idea…he suggested to a man who owns a bunch of elephants but was abusing them, that he allow this young man to lease the elephants. “How would you like to have someone else take care of your elephants, and feed them, and you just sit back and collect the money?” was his proposal. And the young man took the elephants out of hard labor and brought them to a place where they can eat bananas and play in the river all day. It was explained that since the elephants are already domesticated, it’s not possible to just let them go free, but compared to hard labor, the elephants have a pretty easy life here. (FYI, no riding is allowed, although some would argue that it’s no different than people riding horses).
It all starts with bananas…
After being told the rules about hanging out with elephants, (like don’t stand behind them, watch their ears and tails for signs of whether they’re happy or frightened or angry, and watch out for naughty Bang Bang, a teenager), and donning some traditional garb over your bathing suit, you are given a bunch of bananas, which makes befriending the elephants pretty easy, as they LOVE bananas!
There are 7 elephants that live at Happy Elephant, including 2 babies who were born here.
After the banana feast, you get to follow the elephants to their playground, the mud ponds, and go in and get down and dirty if you wish. The mud is slippery and slimy and you sink in to your knees, making walking a bit tricky.
The elephants love this – one snuck up behind me and sprayed my back with mud from its trunk! If you’re a germaphobe, this may not be the place for you, as besides mud, there is plenty of elephant dung around as well. Strangely, it doesn’t smell bad!
From there, it’s a procession down to the river…
…to get cleaned up and play some more.
There are water fights…
…and elephant kisses.
And everyone gets nice and clean, until…
…the elephants head for the dust! Then it’s time to meander back. It’s located in a beautiful spot right on the river, and the elephants are mostly allowed to roam free.
Sometimes they can surprise you…
They are big and weigh a ton (or two!) but are very gentle creatures, and although I was a bit scared at first, that fear was soon replaced with excitement and awe.
So if you love elephants, head to Happy Elephant Home near Chang Mai in Thailand and have a play day with a pachyderm or two!