Maesa Elephant Camp

7 Oct

Elephants!!

After the nightmare of mistreated, drugged tigers in Kanchanburi, I was nervous about the second animal adventure I had originally planned for our trip. This time, rather than ignoring boyfriend’s warnings, I decided to do my own research.

Elephants are basically the symbol of Thailand. Around Chiang Mai, there were multiple options for elephant camps – everything from a couple hours to a couple days. I researched ALL of them. Seriously. I was not going to another place that mistreated animals. I was a vegetarian for 10 years – I do have some conscience.

The camp I ended up choosing was Maesa Elephant Camp – about a 45 minute motorbike ride out of the city. I chose this one because from every site/review I read, I didn’t read a single bad one. And they closed around 2:30 in the afternoon so the elephants didn’t have to “work” more than a few hours and got to spend the rest of day hanging out in the jungle. I also read that the mahouts (the people that ride/train the elephants) took good care of these amazing animals.

Again, we opted out of the tourist package. Once we arrived around 9am, we paid the 200 baht entry fee. Immediately, people were selling bananas and sugarcane for 20 baths each to feed the elephants. I fell right into it – but those elephants are fast and they were all gone before Emilio could even snap my picture! The mahouts are very good at getting the elephants to pose with you though…

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And Emilio even got some elephant kisses!

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(I think this picture is just freaking precious).

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The elephants are also trained to want tips after the photo session! It’s typical to give 20 baht per elephant. When Emilio got his money out, an elephant immediately wrapped his trunk around him to take the money!

After feeding and a few pictures, we walked around and went to the nursery. We saw three baby elephants – all of which spend the first three years just living with their mama. They are enclosed, but it’s not really a cage because it’s wooden and except for the railing around the bottom, it’s all open air. The babies roam freely, but I did notice mama had a chain on her leg so she stays within her enclosing. I guess it’s a trade off – cages like zoo and no chains or open air and chain?

We then went to the show. You want to make sure you show up to catch one of these because they only happen three times. We caught the 9:40, and I think there was a 8:00 and an 12:00 or something. During the show, the mahouts come out and the elephants show you how they can sit, lie down, and “massage” the mahout – the mahouts lie down and the elephant steps on him!

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The elephants also kick a soccer ball and are painters! The mahout dips the brush in color and the elephant holds it with his trunk. I think the mahouts guide the elephants by holding their ears.

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And the final product…

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And these elephants make money! Notice the price tag – 6,000 baht — that’s about $200! There were five elephants who painted and when I last saw, four were already sold.

And then the highlight – the ride! For a 30 minute ride (which was a perfect amount of time), it cost 800 baht for two people on one elephant ($25). We were sitting on a box on the elephant, which was a little weird to me, but I guess it’s the equivalent of saddling up a horse. The mahout sat down on its neck to guide. He used his feet to guide the elephant and he did have this wooden stick with a metal hook at the end, but I only saw him use this to gently scratch the elephant. It looks dangerous to me, but I also don’t have the thick skin of an elephant. I don’t think it hurt the animal at all. I hope that’s not being naive.

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The ride was actually a lot of fun. The elephant treks through the jungle and goes into a river to drink (he sucks the water into his trunk and then puts it into his mouth). While in the river, another elephant kept showering water on us by blowing the water out his trunk – almost like a whale.

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A different kind of elephant kiss 😉

Overall, I would say it was a really positive experience. Elephants are amazing creatures. And they were very well trained and, I felt, well taken care of. I definitely left happy this time!

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