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A SPECIAL NOTE ON OUR ELEPHANT SANCTUARY VISIT: Since posting this, we have decided to change our elephant sanctuary visit to a more natural experience. Travellers will learn about and observe rescued Asian elephants from a safe distance, as well as join them on a walk to a watering hole. However, the experience does not feature riding, petting, feeding or bathing the elephants. Although those activities seem innocent enough, in any situation in which a wild animal has been trained to interact with people, it potentially puts them in danger. 

by Lino DiNallo

Until my first Out Adventure to Thailand, I underestimated what a visit to the elephant sanctuary entailed. Before then, it was just a line item in our itinerary. After that day, however, I was a changed man. I bonded with these magnificent beasts and felt like the Jane Goodall of Elephas maximus – a patron of trunks, if you will. Read on to learn about our beautiful day together.

Lino DiNallo taking selfies with his new BFF.

First and foremost: know your sanctuary. While there are many elephant “sanctuaries” in Thailand, be aware they don’t all exist purely for the elephants’ benefit. If you want to visit, do your research and ensure you support a reputable organization. Avoid places that promote elephant rides or anything else that prioritizes your personal entertainment. Rest assured, Out Adventures has been working with a reputable organization, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, for years. They place the animals’ welfare, care and rehabilitation over human amusement.

After a two-hour drive out of the city, up to the mountains, and into a jungle valley, we came across the secluded sanctuary and camp. We were given a brief orientation, and then we dove right in to feed the elephants bananas and corn for breakfast.

After a steep descent into a secluded valley on a bumpy back road, we came upon this sight.
Our first time meeting the elephants. This is definitely not the zoo.

We met and fed three separate elephant families spread across the property. Then we stopped for lunch and savoured a much-needed siesta. When you’re out in the jungle with no air-conditioning, full of tasty Thai fare, it’s only appropriate.

Enjoying a little siesta after a hearty lunch.

Following lunch, we helped make ‘vitamin’ balls’ to supplement the elephants’ diet. This involved mashing bananas with rice and other nutrient-dense foods. Then, our hands straight to their mouths, we fed the elephants. Let’s say sticking your paw into the toothless maw of an elephant is a vivid, sloppy experience. Ahem.

Nik flaunts his fleek vitamin-pounding technique.
Making ‘vitamin balls’ to feed the elephants.

The highlight of the day was definitely our afternoon at the spa mud pit. Do you know when dogs roll onto their backs and beg you for belly rubs? Elephants do the exact same thing, and only they could crush and smother you. But hey, when in Rome, as they say. We stripped our pants off, got down, and got dirty.

Mike prepares a mud bath
There there, just let it happen
Rubbing the lotion on its skin

From the mud pit, we ventured to the watering hole and rinsed off. There were water fights, more splashing around, and the beasts kept begging for belly rubs.

The watering hole.
Off to the watering hole
We splashed around
We scrubbed them down

After feeding them, playing with them and washing them, our visit came to an end. Our bodies were exhausted, but our souls were invigorated.

All rinsed off after getting down and dirty.

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