We arrived in Thailand late at night and quickly crawled into our hotel beds and went to sleep. When morning came, my excitement was bursting to get out of that hotel, despite how lovely and welcoming it was. All I wanted was to get in the van that would take us to the elephants. At 8:00am on the dot the van pulled up and we gathered into the back rows, settling for our 90 minute ride to the Elephant Nature Park outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand.
I am a very big believer in kind treatment to all animals, and have long known of the suffering of elephants at the hands of humans. I wanted to help if I could when in that region and so we made the trip from Cambodia to Thailand to see what good we could do. The truth is, just going to the nature park was help, since the money goes to taking care of the elephants. But the more we could do, the better. I chose Elephant Nature Park very carefully, since a lot of elephant parks say they are taking care of elephants when they are actually using them as a tourist attraction. My rules were to find parks that 1) rescued elephants, and 2) didn’t allow people to ride them. This was one of two that I found in my search, and in doing so became inspired by the person who runs it as well. Lek, a woman on a mission, began saving elephants who were being mistreated and started Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary for injured and abused elephants. She now has more than 60 elephants, as well as many other animals, too – like hundreds of dogs, cats, water buffalo, and more.
To say this was a dream for me is an understatement. One of the only things I care more about than photography and art is saving animals, so I felt very at home. We started our tour by walking through the park and visiting the elephants, who have many, many acres to roam on. Each elephant has a mahout who has been trained to use verbal cues, never hurting the elephants, to herd them when needed. Otherwise, they take care of them day after day, tirelessly. We learned their names and got to touch a couple of them. We looked on as they bathed themselves in the river, splashed in mud, ate and played together. Elephants travel in families, and that was really heartwarming to see. At times the family (some adopted!) would circle around the baby when they felt threatened and slap their trunks on the ground as a warning. It was an amazing, prehistoric sight to behold.
We feasted there like we would never have believed, each meal having more than 20 separate vegan dishes to choose from. I was absolutely spoiled. Our rooms were just as amazing, mosquito nets hanging gracefully over our beds, windows surrounding us. Elephants would pass by our windows as they were led down the paths. Birds of many varieties could be heard in the trees, and dogs barked when they played with one another nearby.
I stood against the railing of my deck, pressing myself into it and leaning over the edge as an elephant passed under me. The sun dabbled through the thick branches and created a haze where it escaped. Each step the elephant took dust escaped the ground and flooded the light. I felt my heart beating to the rhythm of the footsteps, and each breath became a exhale of dust into the world. I can’t help but feel a part of something, incredibly connected to the world around me in those moments.
Our time at the sanctuary brought many highs. We were fortunate enough to listen to Lek give a speech about elephant cruelty and welfare, and what we can do to help. She also spoke passionately about the well-being of all animals, and that really sang to my heart. We watched children do traditional Thai dances as we ate our dinner that overlooked the sanctuary from up in a tree-house. We bathed the elephants in the river, and bathed ourselves in the process! We fed the elephants watermelon and pumpkin and bananas. We floated down the river in tubes, passing locals on the way and elephants drinking the water we shared.
Our time was over so quickly, but we treasured it beyond words. We boarded an evening flight to Bangkok and got in very late, arriving to our flat at 1:00am and crashing quickly. The next day we went exploring for a nice, healthy restaurant we could all enjoy, and ended up at an amazing one that we savored. After that it was off to a cooking class that I had been very excited for, though my dear Lindsay was less excited. I had never really cooked anything prior to 4 years ago, but since then I took a liking to it and cook all of my meals when I’m home. I’m not good at it, but I love it. Lindsay was nervous, which kind of excited me because it isn’t often I get to throw her into something uncomfortable. So I promised to take care of her as we cooked, which meant, obviously, that I abandoned her and took pictures while she was forced to throw ingredients into the wok.
In the end, the food was the best we had on our whole trip, and we each got to make three dishes! It felt really amazing to actually make pad thai in Thailand! After that we explored the street markets and got souvenirs, Lindsay and I getting matching shirts and pants. The next day we went early to a floating market, and though it wasn’t all I hoped it would be, it was an interesting look at the culture and way of life. I got a bow and arrow as a take-home, but when I got to the airport it was immediately confiscated. That’s what I get for only bringing a backpack with me!
Our Thai adventure was over, but I wasn’t finished traveling. I was going back to India with Amy and Laura to start the school I dreamed up a couple years ago, The Light Space. And open the school we did.
I’ll be sharing Part 3 of my adventure (in India!) soon…
All images were taken by Lindsay Adler.
Amani - It sounds like you had such a wonderful time, I’m so happy for you! And I really enjoy reading these blog posts, you write so beautifully.
Sending you lots of hugs <3
Julie - Oh I can’t wait… Thailand is on my list for 2016! What an amazing experience you’ve had… Be prepared for lots of questions for when I’m making my arrangements =)
FIT BMX - Wow, Thailand sounds like great fun! And your getting to spend time with elephants me so jealous! 😉