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Welcome to the Elephant Nature Park

Day 1


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We were up early to meet up with the the rest of the volunteers at the local Chiang Mai offices of Elephant Nature Park. While there, we met Lek Chailert - the founder, leader, and motivating force for the park. She may be small (that’s what “Lek” means in Thai), but she has an amazing power. After we filled out our volunteer forms, Lek showed us some of the birds that she rescued in a recent Chiang Mai storm. One had two broken legs, and Lek was exercising the bird’s wings while the legs healed. She has an amazing drive to help - a very inspirational person.
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Lek and one of her bird friends

We left Chiang Mai around 9:30, and drove the 50km north to the Elephant Nature Park. On the way, we watched a documentary about the work that Lek is doing at the park.
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Although we saw our first Asian elephants on the way, they were ones being used to do tourist rides. Knowing that we were heading to an elephant sanctuary where these types of elephants (as well as ones used in the logging industry) are being given a chance to recuperate and live a “normal” life made us a little sad for those being forced to work, but excited for our upcoming experience.

Pulling into the park was an amazing experience. Our first view of the park was from the top of the pass heading into the valley, and we could see the herd grazing on the banks of the river.
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Once inside the park, we passed the dog sanctuary (home to over 400 dogs - many rescued from the floods in Bangkok a couple of years ago), and headed to “The Platform”. The raised platform is home to the kitchens (both the “human kitchen” and the “ele-kitchen”), as well as our meeting and dining areas. Around the outside of the platform is a a metal railing that serves as the pull-up feed bar for the elephants. Our first order of business was to help feed a couple of the elephants their lunch - a totally amazing experience to be that close!
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After lunch, we got a tour of the facilities, and were assigned rooms and volunteer groups. There are 50 of us here for this week, with about a quarter of those staying for next week (we are part of those).
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Our volunteer groups and schedule for the week - all subject to change, of course

We then all met for an orientation session with Lek, where she gave us a brief history of the park, an overview of the work that they do here, and a pep talk for the rest of the week. Unfortunately, Lek is heading to Cambodia tomorrow for other elephant business, but she’ll be back here for next week. We are all looking forward to learning more from her.
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Our volunteer group

We all enjoyed our first opportunity to get wet with the elephants - standing in the river hurling buckets of water at these giants was an extremely fun experience, and we all got very wet!
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We even saw one of the babies (a boy named Navaan), but his mom and nanny elephants were not in the mood to let us help bathe her! We watched from the bridge while they got a bath and then a snack.
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Our volunteer group all got together for a group blessing from the shaman and elders from the local village, and given our “good luck” bracelets in the ceremony.
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Then dinner - a great selection of food, but (surprise!) all vegetarian fare. Alex and Leah are both dealing with the menu quite well…
Now off to bed before our first full day of work, starting at 7am tomorrow morning. We’re looking forward to more elephant time, as well as more time with the dogs and cats - they are all over the place! This is truly an animal lover’s dream…
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Leah

Today at the Elephant Nature Park, we got to learn the ways of the Elephants. First off, we arrived, then our guide showed us around, and then…we got to feel Elephants! Yay! Then we ate lunch then got to our rooms. In the afternoon, we went to the river and gave the Elephants a bath! That was super fun! Tomorrow, I hope it will be as magical as today.

Anne

Today I was filled with excitement and that first day of sleep away camp nervous energy - Did we bring the right gear? Will the people be cool? How will the kids react to the elephants? What will the food be like? Turns out being a resident volunteer IS like summer camp! Our first day was filled with introductions, orientations, the official reading of rules and even a blessing ceremony by the local shaman. We have been divided into work teams effective tomorrow and I’m confident that our life here will fall into familiar patterns soon. One of the gifts I had not anticipated is the other animals here. There are hundreds of cats and dogs who make themselves quite at home. We have a dog sleeping on our balcony and there is something so normal and wonderful about being greeted when we return “home” to our room.
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Alex

Today was epic. I touched my first elephant, and I was so happy! We woke up at 8am to go to the Elephant Nature Park. We were picked up at 8 in the morning and got to the park at around 10am. We were shown the entrance to the park and the entrance to the dog park. Then we were shown the mess place where the elephant food gets delivered. It was a TON of food!
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Then we were taken to the mess hall, and that was immediately followed by feeding the elephants. It was so awesome - I will never forget the first time I fed an elephant. After a tour of the park, we had lunch. After lunch we had a volunteer orientation - it was boring but I did learn a lot. At 4pm we all went down to the river to wash the elephants. We all got soaked! It was a lot of fun!

Posted by noahv 07:56 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand elephants elephant_nature_park

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Comments

Wow! Loving these photos of you guys. Wish I could be there with you. "Soak" it up while you can :) Love you! -Sharon

by Sharon

Wonderful to hear all the details. It sounds like such an inspiring and connecting experience. One that will be a stand out in an amazing trip.

by judy k

Thank you so much for sharing your experience! We appreciate your support!

by Save Elephant Foundation

Hello, happy to read you about your stay on the park!

by Annie

I can't wait to be there, it looks like heaven on earth.

by Angela Lewis

Great post. We loved ENP too! Sadly we only were able to do one day but it was magical. We are in the midst of renovating house to sell it and downsizing our belongings in order to do long-term travel and we are already planning a second trip there. We will continue to follow along on your adventures. When you have a chance, you can read about our experience at ENP: http://travellingmudskippers.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/ethical-travel-a-day-at-elephant-nature-park/

by Travelling Mudskippers

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