Very early in my trip, maybe the second day(?), I went to an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai. It was awesome. I didn’t have a huge interest in elephants before this little excursion. I mean, I liked them? In general, I like animals, but I’m not obsessed. I used to cry too much at the Sarah McLachlan humane society commercial, that now I just change the channel if it comes on and we had a dog growing up that I always loved, but that’s the extent. I know plenty of animal lovers and they’re a few notches above me. But, I had heard cool things about visiting the elephants, so I figured why not?
After about 30 seconds of research, you find that there are 2 types of elephant excursions in Thailand – 1 that is for people entertainment primarily. The elephants play soccer and paint and you get to ride them and they do tricks. Sounds a bit cheesy but probably cool? Welllllllll elephants are mistreated in those shows 😦 They are clearly trained and the training and the act of carrying people and doing shows is bad for the elephants 😦 There’s hooks and other things. I got distracted during the history of the elephants because I was too distracted looking at them… which leads me to the other type. It’s a sanctuary. The elephants who were in the other types of show parks and situations where they were at risk go to the park. Here the elephants roam free. I realized there are degrees of sanctuary-ness even within this world. But, I went to the travel agency place by my apartment (there are about a billion of them. No need to book a thing before you get to Chiang Mai) and said I wanted a sanctuary and I didn’t want to drive like 3 hours to get there.
At the one I went to first you feed the elephants sugar cane. It’s a treat for them. Makes sense that it encourages them to come an interact with the visitors, right? Then you play in the mud with them because well it’s Thailand so it’s f*cking hot. There’s mosquitos and flies and stuff, so why not cool off and lose the bugs? Then you play in the river because nobody wants mud stuck on them all day!!
Anyway, first you get there and put on a super sexxxxy outfit of a cotton tunic and pants with the crotch slightly above the knees and tie at the top. It’s a good look. Then you chop up the sugar cane. Then you go and feed the elephants the sugar cane! You hold it out and they grab it with their trunk 🙂 Makes sense why they voluntarily interact with the visitors; they get treats! There were about 7 elephants with us. The oldest was 30, but elephants live about a human life, so it wasn’t old. 32 means I have a long way to go, so same with the elephants, right?! Then there was a baby and a little elephant and then a couple of teenagers. One of the teenagers turned out to be my friend Bao.
Here is the story of me and Bao’s friendship. I was going around saying hi and feeding and scratching all the elephants. I didn’t have a favorite. To be honest, I was just mesmerized and having fun and didn’t think to differentiate them (sorry Bao). After I was getting comfortable with the elephants, I started to engage them more. One of them wanted to wrap his trunk around me, so I gave my phone to one of the other guys to take my picture. Welllll Bao saw this canoodling and came over and put his trunk right up in my face and wanted in on the action too 🙂
I’m greeting Frenemy while Bao lurks in the background : Frenemy is giving me a lil hug and Bao comes in over the top : Bao and Frenemy doubleteam me with kisses
Next, when we were in the river, the guide took my pic rubbing mud on Bao’s frenemy. After it was done, Bao came from behind me and sprayed mud in my face! I mean, what are we in 3rd grade? Is the way to get a girl’s attention to throw mud at them? In the Thai Elephant world, apparently so. I wasn’t ready to commit. I mean, should I encourage that behavior? But vacation Vanessa thought why not, and I just scratched and mudded him too.
I’m playing hard to get, petting Frenemy while Bao watches on : After the fact, I have a mud on my face. Lesson learned.
When we were in the river, I finally learned my lesson and splashed and played with Bao right away. I kept an eye on his frenemy though, I know what a jealous elephant looks like. We splashed and sprayed and had a nice time. Then, when we got out of the river, the guide offered to take my picture with them one more time. It was with Bao’s frenemy. So naturally, Bao came over and tapped me on the shoulder and had to say goodbye himself.
Posing with Frenemy while Bao lurks : Boa taps me on the shoulder, startlingly me : OMG, haaaay Bao! I didn’t see you there! : We hold hands and Frenemy walks away
My friend Niall and I had a joke that like 5 billion people in the world wanted us. We’re just that awesome (it’s not true, they don’t want us, we’re not that cool). Well, I think I can up my number substantially now that I know I have elephant game! My courtship with Bao (and his frenemy) was quite short, but I mean they say elephants never forget, so I think it’s pretty meaningful 🙂
The other random fun facts about the elephant day is that:
1) Everyone else in my group was Chinese. Apparently it was a Chinese holiday. The first interaction I had with an English speaking Western was in cooking class with a Brit who lived in Taiwan.
2) I asked the guide for Bao’s name and his frenemy’s name. They don’t really have names, but then I was like, come on you have to call them something? He probably said, “Dumb girl,” or “Stupid American” in Thai, but either way, I couldn’t understand his frenemy’s name and Bao probably isn’t Bao’s name but I’m going with it.
3) That night at the night market, after we got back and I had enjoyed a couple of drinks there was a woman painting a colorful elephant picture and then selling others. I was still love drunk from Bao and I bought this big bright painting that doesn’t fit in my suitcase. It’s a huge pain. I have to carry it in a shopping bag. I checked my backpack on the flight from Chiang Mai to Koh Samui so I could be sure I could carry my painting on. When I got to Koh Phangan, the taxi was a moped so I’m riding on the back, wearing my backpack, my suitcase between the driver’s legs, and then holding this shopping bag with a painting in my arm against my body as I held on to the driver. I took the ferry from Koh Tao to Koh Phangan with my scuba friend and he was like, yeah, that’s not going to make it home… but I mean, for now I still have my delightful oversized bright elephant painting 🙂