Elephants have always been my favourite. When I was little I knew every line from Dumbo and used to embarrass my parents by walking around in public pretending to be an elephant, with my arm extended in front of my face in an effort to look like a trunk, occasionally emitting ‘elephant noises’ I’m sure were completely inaccurate impressions. So when I was planning my trip through southeast Asia I knew I had to see some elephants up close.
Prior to my visit to Elephants World I wasn’t aware just how damaging the trekking industry is for the elephants’ health, but I knew that riding one or seeing a show where they were trained to do completely unnatural things was not what I wanted to do. I wanted to go to a place where I could be among them. I came across a list of animal-friendly places to see elephants throughout Asia, which is sadly a very short one. Elephants World was the most practical to fit into my itinerary, so I went ahead and booked.
At Elephants World the focus is on working for the elephants, rather than having the elephants work for the people. It is a sanctuary for retired and rescued elephants, most of whom come with a sad story from their past. The one-day visit includes feeding the elephants, preparing their food, and washing and swimming with the elephants in the river. It’s certainly not an easy day — it was hot and we really did work, but I enjoyed every minute and was happy to know I was genuinely contributing to helping this place fulfil its purpose.
Upon arrival we fed the elephants from a big basket of fruit and vegetables. I was a little intimidated at this stage, as I stood in front of this enormous animal which took each piece of fruit from my hands with such strength, but as the day went on I quickly felt quite comfortable walking near them. Every elephant has their own mahout who takes care of and directs them specifically, and they do a great job of monitoring their elephant’s mood and making sure visitors and the elephants are safe.
After the first feeding we watched the elephants go for a swim, then began preparing the sticky rice balls for the older elephants.
Some elephants are tied up but it is only temporary — they are new and need to get used to all the other elephants, and the other elephants to them.
A delicious lunch is included.
After lunch the elephants were delighted to take a dip in the mud pool.
Then we prepared the elephants’ fruit baskets ahead of their afternoon feeding. This involved putting all the right fruits and vegetables in each basket according to dietary needs, as well as some hardcore scrubbing to ensure everything was clean.
After lunch we finished preparing the sticky rice balls, then fed them to the two older elephants. We were joined by a cheeky elephant who wasn’t supposed to eat the rice balls, but kept coming to us and opening its mouth in anticipation of tricking the unknowing visitors.
After the rice balls it was time for the highlight of the day — swimming with the elephants. One of the things we learned that day was that elephants can carry up to 500kg on their neck and up to 100kg on their back; this is why the trekking industry, where elephants carry up to four tourists on a heavy seat, is so cruel. So, the elephants can happily swim with one or two people at a time — and they certainly seem to enjoy the playtime.
At first sitting on this very powerful, large animal was a little intimidating, but apprehension soon turned to laughter as my elephant kept dunking both me and his mahout. He held my legs with his ears — they were unbelievably strong — keeping me quite securely on his neck. It was truly amazing and though the whole day was wonderful, those few moments eclipse all the rest of my memories at Elephants World by far.
A lot of people choose to do more than one day at Elephants World, or stay in Kanchanaburi, the town nearest to Elephants World, overnight. I chose to day trip from Bangkok and found it to be a very easy option. In the morning I took a 6am local bus from the Southern Bus Terminal (Sai Tai Mai), which is oddly enough actually in Bangkok’s west, for 100 baht. It was comfortable and convenient, and I arrived with plenty of time to scout around for a coffee before the Elephants World truck picked me up for the free transfer at 8:30am.
For the return journey to Bangkok I ended up taking a minivan, which stopped at the Victory Monument. That may have been a more convenient final stop but I did regret my decision as the minvan driver was 100% crazy — I really was unsure I was going to make it.