Pampering a Pachyderm

First of all a ‘pachyderm’ is the type of species an elephant is. Kind of like apes or lizards but elephants aren’t the only pachyderms! I am using the word ‘pachyderm’ for my title because I think elephants are the most commonly-referred species of pachyderms. Alright! Cut the learning! You guys already get enough of that at school! But anyways we first left the hotel in Chiang Mai in a van headed for the Elephant Nature Park.  The van was pretty nice with comfy seats and lots of legroom and it even had a TV screen! The screen was the size of a car window (on the side not the front one!) but we weren’t watching movies! No sir! We were watching a cartoon film about the rules at the Nature Park! It was HiLARIOUS!!! The guy was old with white hair and glasses and one time it said not to stand behind an elephant but the guy did so and the elephant bucked him right there! He went flying off the screen and everyone in the van had a good laugh!! Another time the off-screen narrator-ish voice said not to tease the elephants and of course the guy did! He went right up to the elephant and was holding some bananas and then laughed a comical laugh that was like heeheehee combined with harharhar and held the bananas out to the elephant and it used it’s trunk to try to grab them and the guy moved his arm down. Then the elephant moved his trunk down and the guy moved his arm up! On and on this went until the elephant GRABBED his arm took the bananas and hit the guy with his trunk so that he went flying off-screen!! Once we arrived we were taken to our guide Eak’s reserved table and put our stuff down on it. Then we followed him down onto the grounds (which was HUGE!!) and right up to four FULLY GROWN elephants!!! We observed them for a while until the mom started making these loud guttural sounds which when I asked Eak what they meant, she was telling her baby to come back because he was like 500m away and since he was only 3 (but Huge!) she was worried about him. When the baby came charging back at 40km/h we all moved aside and he ran behind his mother as the four grown-ups circled him! Must be kinda nice to be a baby elephant. I mean hey you got your own VERY dedicated security detail for like 6 years until you are deemed ‘responsible’ enough to protect yourself!

After the FANTASTIC experience we went up to the HQ barricaded by 5-foot-tall stone towers to block the elephants and bulls from charging in! The lunch was exceptional except for the fact that it was vegetarian (honestly I never realized how much of my diet was meat! It was a huge change!!) buffet style! After lunch we went out to see some more elephants and seriously those things are HUMUNGOUS!! We actually got to feel their skin and once again I was amazed by how hairy they are! You don’t see THAT in picture books back home! One thing that was sad though is that two of the elephants (that’s 2 too many!!) had land mine injuries on one of their feet! It was horrible but the Elephant Sanctuary just got a HUGE donation from BTS (Bangkok Terminal Skytrain) and in a few years those elephants will be able to have surgery! I actually got face to face with an elephant as it scratched it’s back on a wooden log that was propped up on two smaller ones sticking out of the ground and I was underneath it and could’ve touched its face!!!After that we watched 7 of the elephants (they had formed groups of 5-8 elephants and five different groups) one of which was a different baby then the one before it was a year older too. The elephants were amazing lying down sideways to get their whole body covered they looked really happy and safe and at home!  It costs $250k a year for ALL the elephants to eat because they eat 200kg/day of fresh fruits, grass, corn stalks and other things!!! It’s amazing how the Nature Park accommodates the older ones who can’t eat fruits because of digestion problems or a lack of teeth so they give them rice instead!!

Speaking of accommodation we checked into our room on the premises after the elephants came out of the river and then Max and I went to Cat Kingdom where, as it sounds, there were cats EVERYwhere! We watched one climb a tree and some take a nap and Max even got one to roll over. All of these cats had been rescued from the Bangkok floods (yes we were in Thailand but at the Elephant Nature Park we could’ve been practically ANYWHERE!!) or abuse or the streets or malnutrition. After this we headed back to our room and I read Neil Flambé: Aztec Abduction and Bubs read Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows the final book!!!! After a bit of time Max and I went to look for the 430 dogs at the Sanctuary rescued for the same reasons as the cats plus the illegal meat trade (if you ever visit Thailand DO NOT eat dog meat or shark fin soup!!!) but when when we got there of course all the dogs started barking so we stood there for a while unfazed (or at least I was!) and waited. After a while the dogs stopped barking at us so we walked around and just watched them all for a while until we got bored and left. We went into our room and fell down on our beds and just read for like an hour and then Jay woke up from his nap and said "c’mon guys! Let’s go eat dinner!” It was a special occasion that night because the volunteers were leaving the following morning so a local school had come to perform a dance! The dinner was amazing but the dance was EVEN BETTER!! They looked like they were doing some kind of traditional dance and they were 7-12 years old. Overall it was pretty cool!

The next morning following a GREAT sleep we went down to the grounds with a new guide named Sunshine! Obviously it wasn’t his real name but it was pretty funny. Just as we were leaving a lot of dogs started barking at each other ( about 40 dogs are allowed to roam free once they are deemed ‘safe’) and half of them took off from the HQ to follow us! I was pretty nervous then but they just went in front of us and Max kept going up to some and petting them. We walked through a large open field with those dogs all around us and saw like 13-15 elephants in the distance all eating together!! We headed over there and watched for like an hour until the elephants had finished. Then they started coming towards us for food so we took off!! After that we walked past where some other elephant were milling about then headed towards a river with the dogs at our heels! I had hoped the dogs would stop once we started crossing the river but NOPE!!! They jumped right in with us and once we got to the other side I made a distance between us because I know what dogs after they get wet and I figured these ones would be no different!! I was right because the second after they got outta that river they SHOOK IT OFF!!! All the people beside them got wet except for Max and I because we were the smart ones!! We walked a few hundred meters down the river with our dog entourage behind us and then saw some MORE elephants with a baby there as well!! The baby split up from it’s parents and crossed the river towards us!! At first I thought it was coming for food from us so I started backing away but then it grabbed at some plants a few meters away from my feet! I moved in closer to get a look at it but then it’s mom on the other side of the creek started thumping it’s trunk on the ground (stay away!!!) and doing he guttural-noise thing(come back!!) and so I moved away as the baby (looks more like he’s my age except much MUCH wider!) turned around and ran back to it’s group! We kept on walking up and came across another trio of elephants but Max couldn’t touch these ones because the dogs (who were still with us!) annoy the elephants like crazy so they hate small things (apparently I’m big enough that 9inch difference come in handy!!) so Max could make them angry! Trust me though I know how they feel about small annoying brats who live with you annoying the HECK outta you (cue Max!) and so I understand them!!

After that we headed EVEN FARTHER up the creek with those dogs STILL following us! We turned left until we couldn’t see those elephants with the baby in their midst and came across SIX MORE elephants with ANOTHER baby!! I think there are like 2-4 babies in this park TOTAL because their are like five groups with 3 subgroups of no more than 3 elephant so there couldn’t be more than four babies! Anyways… we observed these elephants for a while and Sunshine told us these elephants were so far away from the rest because they still retained some of their natural instinct so they wanted to keep them like that!

After that we headed back to HQ bringing back those SAME dogs that had been with us the WHOLE time!! After that ordeal we went back into our rooms did a sweep and left just like that! The parks motto is “Bring nothing but necessities. Leave nothing but memories!” which I think is a pretty good motto! After that we headed back into Chiang Mai for one last night at the Night Bazaar Boutique Hotel and then got a shuttle van to The Friendship Bridge built (like every other bridge in Southeast Asia it seems) by the Chinese. We crossed the border at like 5:30pm and got into our first hotel in Laos at 6pm! We just got into the room but now my stomach’s a-rumblin’ and so now were gonna go eat! Tomorrow were going to do the Gibbon Experience for 2 days 1 night in a National Park in the tallest treehouse in the world!! It might even be better zip-lining than Arenal volcano in Costa Rica!!

Adios! We’re in Laos!


P.S. Laos is pronounced like this: Laowss