It was midday when we arrived at the elephant camp an hour north of Chiang Mai. Our guide for the day named “Off” gave us some background on the camp and its mission, which is to adopt and care for elephants that have been abused or overworked in logging camps. Each elephant has a dedicated mahout (elephant care taker) and aside from feeding time they roam freely. After this he explained that for safety we would need to change into denim jumpsuits so the elephants would recognize us.
Now that we were changed and looking ridiculous it was time to see the elephants. We left the main building on the compound and took a short walk up to a field where about 20 elephants of all sizes were waiting with their mahouts for us to feed them a snack of bananas and sugar cane. The smaller ones were bashful and cautiously accepted our presence while the larger elephants who knew the drill happily flapped there ears and and reached for us with their trunks. Bananas – bunches of a dozen or so, peals included – were the most coveted and it felt like handing out candy to kids on Halloween as the elephants happily chomped away.
After snack time, we were escorted to a clearing where two elephants waited with their mahouts. The larger bull elephant was happily scratching an itch by rubbing himself on a 50 foot tall tree, which shook like a sapling. This is where we were taught to ride and after learning a few commands we climbed up and started riding.
After a couple turns we were assigned our elephant for the afternoon named Nomi, or Lady Gaga as the mahouts affectionately referred to her. She sat down for us to get on and let out a colossal fart – possibly more, though lucky for us we weren’t on that side – only matched by her immense size. “Ohh lady gaga, she poo poo every time!” Off enthusiastically reassured us with his shrill thai accented voice as the other mahouts laughed. Not sure what to make of Nomi’s gesture, we hopped on and left the clearing with our group for a ride through the forest with the occasional stop for Nomi to grab some leaves along the way.
At the end of the ride we made our way to a small pond on and we’re given a bucket to bathe Nomi. We didn’t really need the bucket though as the elephants promptly made it a priority to start spraying each other and all of us with their trunks.