Mahout for a Day: The Adventure Series – Issue 4

Each Thursday I share a travel experience from the past. With 4 years of non-stop travel and 3 years of part time travel I have a lot to get through! From the highs of skidiving to the depths of scuba diving – and everything in between, let me inspire you to try something new!
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The adventure series – Issue 4: mahout for the day

This week I would like to share with you one of the best days of my life. Bold statement, I know, but read on – I’m sure you’ll understand why having the opportunity to feed, bathe and care for elephants for a whole day is one of my most favorite travel experiences.

elephantmahout for the day – baanchang elephant park, chiang mai, thailand
There are quite a few elephant parks in northern Thailand – some are less reputable than others and some are downright horrible places where the elephants are exploited –  have you ever seen elephants performing like circus animals? Painting? Playing football? Not. Cool.
Baan Chang is one of the good ones. The park is actually a sanctuary for rescue elephants who were either street workers, jungle workers, or logger elephants and the park is renowned for their genuine care and compassion for their animals. Their program is called ‘Mahout for a Day’. A Mahout, in case you don’t know, is the traditional name in Asia for those who ride, care for and tend to elephant.
We were collected from our hostel on the morning of our experience and driven approximately an hour into the countryside. On arrival we were provided with a rather fetching double denim number (so you don’t get your own clothes dirty) and told for our first activity was to feed the elephants!! Eeeek! Some may be alarmed by the fact the elephants are chained and not allowed to roam as freely as those at other camps, but Baanchang are only a small park by comparison and they do not have the space to allow them to walk freely and safely. But back to the feeding – baskets upon baskets and kilos upon kilos of bananas and sugar cane were no match for these majestic creatures – who also decide if your not feeding them quickly enough – they’ll just help themselves! Cheeky monkey Elephants 🙂
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Adventure Series Mahout

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Our guide was brilliant and so knowledgeable that not only did we get to spend a whole day with the elephants we learn’t so much too. Did you know that the lighter spots on the elephants skin, more common in older elephants (check out the old lady above) are from where they have rubbed against trees to scratch themselves? And did you know that you can tell if an elephant is healthy by checking the texture and smell of their poop?!

Adventure Series Mahout

Go on. Take a sniff…

We learnt basic commands and practiced riding the elephant in the main area area before they take you on a guided walk through jungle which borders the facility. It takes some getting used to – riding an elephant. Their skin is thick and leathery, the hairs that cover their body are coarse and quite prickly (I actually got a little ‘elephant rash’ from trying to grip around our elephants body!) – and its definitely a thigh workout to keep yourself balanced up there!

Adventure Series Mahout

If you travel with a partner you will be given the option to ride your own elephant or share one, and if you share you stop at a rest area halfway through the jungle to switch. Let me tell you, being at the front is much easier!

Adventure Series Mahout

Best. Day. Ever!

Our guide was also more than happy to take pictures with our cameras and advised that all the ones taken with their camera would be available on the Internet for free download and gave us an address to access them. There are also professional photographers on site who will take pictures for you to purchase but there is no pressure – and should you decide to buy, all proceeds go towards the care of the elephants.

At the end of the day we were asked if we would like to help bathe the elephants. Hell Yes! And so dismounting from the elephant, the real mahouts led the elephants into the lake and once settled we were invited to join them.

Adventure Series Mahout

You brush their backs with deck scrubbers and brushes which they seem to enjoy, and we discovered that the younger ones really enjoy having water poured over them. This also led to a water fight. Oh yes folks, I had a water fight with a 5 year old bull elephant.

Adventure Series Mahout

Can you spot me behind the spray?

In going to Baanchang you pay a little less than at other parks but it does not mean they are not as good, both for the elephants and your experience. In turn your money is spent on caring for their current elephants and providing funds to rescue more. (The owner had just paid 1,500,000 baht to rescue a 2 year old baby from a company using elephants for illegal logging and hoped to rescue 3 more that year.)

 

I can honestly say this is one of the most amazing things I have ever done and i would highly recommend it to anyone. You’ll learn so much and you’ll even feel like you’re rocking the outfit by the end of the day. Or so we thought anyway…

Adventure Series Mahout

Have you spent a day up close and personal with these amazing creatures? Or have you just added this to your bucket list right now?! Share your story in the comments and lets spread the word about these amazing initiatives.

Happy Travels 🙂

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18 thoughts on “Mahout for a Day: The Adventure Series – Issue 4

  1. Ruth - Tanama Tales says:

    Have to say spending time near elephants is more than awesome. I totally understand your feeling about this being one of the best days of your life. Elephants are so precious. You see so much gentleness in their eyes. When I went to visit them, I didn’t want to leave. Hope I can repeat the experience.

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  2. Sabine says:

    So nice to read that you chose a decent elephant park. I’ve read so many horror stories about lot’s of them. I had the chance to interact with elephants in Africa (they normally are not abused there for tourism) and it’s such a great opportunity. I just love elephants, we can learn so much from them. They are smart, social, peaceful, relaxed and just awesome. So nice to read it was one of the best experiences of a lifetime 🙂

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    • Vicki says:

      Thank you Sabine – I’m heading to Africa later this year (Vic Falls, Botawana, Namibia & SA) and am so excited to spend time with these amazing creatures in the wild. I’m still researching the whole walking with lions thing that everyone seems to offer – I’d love to do it, but not at the expense of the animals – if you have any hints/tips/advice it would be much appreciated!

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  3. Stefan says:

    We did the same in Chiang Mai and loved it. But later learnt about how they are not made to be ridden and are beaten into submission when young to beat their spirit out and learn to obey their master. But Baanchang seems to take good care of their elephants and love that you get to bathe them 🙂

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    • Vicki says:

      Hi Stephan, thanks for stopping by. It’s pretty sad that you were told they have been beaten into submission – and I can see how it may happen where elephants are raised in tourist traps: I cringe every time I see an elephant with a cage on its back! Mahout’s are usually partnered with an elephant and with whom they share an amazing bond for the duration of their lives. Baanchang really do care for their elephants and they do amazing work in their rescue of these amazing creatures.

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  4. Karen says:

    What a wonderful experience — and so enlightening, though I’ll leave poop sniffing to the true experts! Thanks for telling us about the elephant hair — though I knew it was coarse. Your photo made that more clear, though. What are those hats on your heads? You look like elves.

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    • Vicki says:

      Hi Roma, thanks for stopping by.
      I did a lot of researching before we went to make sure it wasn’t one of the ‘other’ type of elephant parks. Unfortunately, there are still so many of them in SE Asia.

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  5. Anne | Girl Chasing Sunshine says:

    I’ve always wanted to ride an elephant but ever since I because aware of their situation in Thai parks, I got discouraged. I’m glad to know that you there are still places, like Baan Chang, that knows how to responsibly care for the elephants. Even pleased that you did your research well and did not just to any other park.

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  6. Zita says:

    I visited an Elephant Hospital near Chaing Mai and went to an Elephant Project in Cambodia, where, like this place, they are doing great conservation work to try and save the elephants and get them out of those horrible places and logging camps that you spoke of. Having spent the day with elephants, and bathing them like you did, it now absolutely breaks my heart when I see tourists riding elephants for “fun”… Great article!

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  7. Shobha says:

    This looks very cool! I’ve heard about the less salubrious elephant places and it seems so cruel for these gentle giants. I’m glad you had a great time – I’d love to do this with my children one day!

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    • Vicki says:

      Hi Shobha – if you ever have the opportunity to do this – don’t hesitate. There were some kids there on the day we visited and the looks of sheer joy on their faces was incredible!

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