Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and overnight stay with the Karen Hill Tribes – Chiang Mai. 

Wow! Where do I even start with the last two days? Apart from the fact that I stink and have mud congealed in places I didn’t think was possible, it’s been a sensational experience. I’m writing this as we’re travelling back to our hostel in the Sanctuary’s truck; the first thing I’ll do is have a nice long shower and a good scrub! Then I’ll FaceTime home (must speak to boyfriend and family who probably think I’m dead as I haven’t spoken to to them in 48 hours and I want to see my baby niece who will now be 10 days old). 

We chose to go to a sanctuary because it provides a better treatment of the elephants; riding them isn’t something the Jungle Sanctuary condones and I’m thankful they don’t. JuJu (one of the guides) told us that although humans have used elephants for thousands of years to perform certain tasks, it’s not kind on the elephants and the numbers of Asian elephants have reduced by two thirds in this century alone, with most of those living in captivity.  

We started the day at the sanctuary (an hour and half drive from Chiang Mai followed by a short trek through the jungle with some stunning scenery) by feeding the elephants bananas and corn up a very steep and slippery hillside. We had to shout ‘bon’ at the elephants so they knew we had food and they used their trunks to sniff it out, grab it from your hand and then tuck it into their mouth. One of the baby elephants (4 years old called Peeta) was a naughty boy; he kept stealing bananas from other elephants and trying to run away. He had a bit of a moment and was play-fighting with one of the other baby elephants which was amusing to watch. Surprisingly, we had plenty of time to feed, touch and get photos with them.They’re just such wonderful creatures. 

After a couple of hours with the elephants feeding them and getting up close and personal to them, we had our dinner or ‘likkle buffe for you’ as the guides called it, which was a traditional Thai buffet. Dinner came with a view; we sat on a bamboo platform overlooking the elephants playing in the river with the jungle mountain as a backdrop. 

After dinner we got changed into our swim suits and shorts – it was time for the mud bath! I have never fully immersed myself into a mud bath before nor have I ever wanted to, but the fact that the elephants were coming over to join us made it more inviting. But there was me thinking I’d just get a little bit muddy – maybe on my hands and arms from rubbing the elephants – oh how I was wrong. As soon as this thought left my head, a big clump of mud hit my back from one of the guides in the camp. And then it just turned into a massive mud fight – everyone was covered head to toe. It was just insane. A mud fight with elephants! What an experience! We played in the mud for a good half an hour and then we followed the elephants to a river not too far away where we cleaned them and ourselves by throwing water all over them and each other. Again, the elephants absolutely loved it. They just fell into the water and let all the tourists splash them and brush them down – they were getting pampered by us all. Baby elephant was a little scared but the mother made sure it felt safe by staying close to it. 

Afterwards we moved to a small waterfall nearby to wash ourselves down with some soap provided by the guides. I’ve never washed in a waterfall and although it gets you somewhat clean, when you’ve got mud in places you didn’t think mud could go it’s not the best way to get a deep clean! Especially as me and Tom were staying the night with the hill tribes and would most likely be unable to wash! 

Shortly after the waterfall shower we got changed and said goodbye to the elephants and the guides; who by-the-way, really care about and love the elephants. We trekked back up the mountain to the pick up truck and after a short ride we were dropped off at a small shop (a wooden, open-front hut at the side of the dirt-track road) where we were greeted by our hill tribe guide, Cop, and three other tourists who were also staying the night in the village with us – Sarah and Hillary, two friends from San Francisco, and Suzanne from LA. Instantly, they invited us to ‘join the party’ so we bought some Chang beer from the little man in the shop and went and chatted to the girls whilst we waited for our truck to take us to the village. Behind the hut there were some spectacular views of the jungle, it felt so serene and wonderful that is be spending the night in it. 

After a while Cop took us deeper into the jungle to our village and showed us to our 7 bed bamboo hut we were staying in for the night. Our beds were practically thick quilts on the floor, with a hard small rectangular shaped sponge for a pillow and a mosquito net hanging above. The shower and toilet block was a small hike up a hill, however I skipped the shower as I didn’t fancy getting wet again and thought it might add to the authenticity of the jungle experience if I stayed as I was. The waterfall shower pretty much cleaned me anyway. All five of us decided to go for a wonder as Cop told us there was a larger waterfall nearby; we could hear it gushing from our hut. To get to it we had to walk across a couple of man-made bridges; it was a tranquil place to admire. Tom and Suzanne had a swim; I just hopped across the stepping stones to get as close to it as possible as Cop warned us about an undercurrent which would drag you under if you got too close. 

Afterwards, we walked back to the village and made our tea with Cop in their restaurant, which overlooked the waterfall. Cop was really funny and would randomly sing out western songs like Kanye West’s ‘Gold Digger’ – “She take my money when I’m in need, yeah she’s a trifling friend indeed, oh she’s a gold digger” – funnier in a high pitched Thai-English style voice! 

Then it was time for bed. We all got layered up in our mosquito spray and cocooned ourselves into the mosquito nets. As we were off to sleep it started to rain; the heavy pitter-patter was very relaxing and I felt safe and secure in the middle of the jungle. 

In the morning, we all woke up quite refreshed, despite our beds being made from bamboo and our pillows as hard as a heavy doormat. Breakfast was served in the restaurant – a nice plate full of scrambled eggs with vegetables, French toast and Thai jam. A random combination but it was nice. Cop was to spend the day with us trekking from one camp to be next to see more of the elephants but first we were able to feed the elephants in this tribe, which was extra special because it was only for the five of us. A load more tourists arrived and we were able to watch as they did the same as we had done the day before – mud bath and bathe them in the river. Shortly after lunch, Cop guided us through the jungle to a smaller camp where we were able to meet a baby elephant which was only one month old! It was asleep with its mum so we had a wonder to a hut where a Thai woman was weaving a scarf. She didn’t speak any English but she taught us all how to thread it through and create the pattern she was so patiently making. Cop told us it takes her a full day to make one scarf – she was charging 200Baht which is the equivalent of about £4. Not much for a full day’s work and then she’s depending on people coming this far up the mountain to buy them. 

As we were about to leave the camp, the baby elephant and it’s mum walked up the hill so we were able to feed them some sugar cane and pat the small elephant. Mum was very protective but as soon as she knew we had food she felt happy – her ears were flapping, her tail was wagging and she was swaying side-to-side. Baby elephant was so cute!

Then we trekked further into the jungle, through steep woodland and rice fields where the locals were farming, back up to where we’d first met Cop and the girls at the hut shop where caught our truck ride back to our hostel for a long, warm shower but what an extraordinary 48 hours we’d had. Something I will never forget and which has made me appreciate the smaller things in life like mattresses and warm showers.


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