For the love of elephants

When I decided to study abroad in Thailand, one thing I had my heart set on was was seeing and playing with elephants. On a mission to make this happen, I learned that inhumane treatment of elephants and riding them is sadly very common in Thailand, mostly to please tourists. I did not want to partake in such activities, so made sure to find a place that was a no-riding facility.

In Kanchanaburi, about three hours north of Bangkok, is a camp that focuses on loving elephants and letting them live their life without chains. I was very excited to find a place like this! So this weekend, my friends Val and Audrey and I went to Kanchanaburi.

Due to heavy Bangkok traffic, we arrived 30 minutes late to the bus stop and thought we’d missed our departure time. Luckily, “Thai time” is more relaxed and the bus had not left without us. We hopped onboard and made it to Kanchanaburi. Again, not quite according to plan, we struggled to find our hotel, a little bungalow outside of the city, but eventually, we made it.

On Saturday morning, we headed to Elephant Haven to see elephants. When we arrived, we were greeted by seven elephants! We fed them sugar canes. Some of them were very greedy and would take the canes from another elephant’s mouth. It was funny! But they were all very gentle and sweet. Next, we cut up A LOT of watermelons and made banana rice balls.

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The elephants loved the watermelon, and it was fun to see how they would use their trunks to pick up all the food. When they were done eating, we walked with them through the jungle. They kept eating all the plants—even though we’d just fed them. Elephants eat about 16 hours a day—which is crazy! During the jungle walk, the elephants began playing in the mud to cool off.

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They were constantly spraying us with mud—messy but a lot of fun! After the elephants were thoroughly covered in mud, we headed to the river where we washed and swam with them. We even got into a competitive splash battle with one of the workers. The water was moving quite swiftly, but the elephants used their trunks to hang onto us and stop us from flowing downstream. The sweetness of the elephants made my heart melt. I loved spending the day with elephants in a place where there were no trail rides, chains, or hooks to force them to do what people wanted them to do. The elephants were safe and free—even though this sometimes meant they would wander away to find good leaves to eat—and you could tell they were happy.

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The workers at Elephant Haven were very kind to the elephants and loved to tell us “No Danger,” which we thought was funny. We would literally be standing in an empty field and they would just say, “No Danger”.

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When we were done with our day with the elephants, we headed back to our hotel. Our host was so kind. He took us to his favorite restaurant where I ate fried bananas and pineapple. He then took us to the Bridge over the River Kwai and to a night market. Val and I bought about 20 bananas for a dollar, and then ate some amazing roti (flatbread). I can’t stop thinking about the roti—I probably could have eaten 10 pieces, they were so good.

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The next morning, our host said he wanted to take us to a Chinese temple, breakfast, a floating market, and a dam. Breakfast was delicious. Val and I split a raspberry cream cheese crepe and cashew chicken. (Thais don’t really have specific breakfast foods, so you can get rice and chicken at 9 a.m. with no judgement!) The Chinese temple was cool—different than the other temples we’ve seen in Thailand. Already in the early morning, it was 90 degrees and we were dying from the heat. The floating market was cool, too. It was located in an old film studio. There was also another great market where I could not resist buying an adorable shirt. After the market, our host took us on a 45-minute ride into the mountains to see the Srinagarind Dam. It was very interesting and reminded me of the Hoover Dam.

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It was fun that our host took us to places where there were no other tourists. In the afternoon, we hopped on a train back to Bangkok. We thought it would be fun because Kanchanaburi is known for its railways. When we got on, we discovered that there were only wooden seats and open windows. No air conditioning! As we pulled out of the station, we knew we’d made a mistake. Everyone had on masks because of the amount of dust swirling into the train. My phone was covered in a nice layer of dust within four minutes. We were miserable in the heat—and it was an extremely hot day (over 100 degrees). I was happy when that three-hour “train ride from hell” was over! Covered in a thick film of dirt, I was excited to go home and shower and sit in a nice air conditioned room. Kanchanaburi was great, but a bus ride home would have been a great end to the trip.

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