I grew up with a momma and an uncle that was obsessed with elephants. My Uncle Felix and my mom had a real “thing” for these beautiful creatures, but their love came with a prerequisite. The trunk had to be up! Apparently, this meant good luck. I don’t know how or when it happened, but one day I caught that same “bug.” It’s so bad that every single room in my house has an elephant… somewhere. I wear a diamond elephant necklace around my neck and pretty soon there will be a rather large one tatted on my leg. Stay tuned…
I remember years ago watching a documentary on tv about the white elephant. The show followed someone who was in search of this extremely rare animal in Thailand. The white elephant. From that day on, I had a running joke that I would one day go to Thailand in search of the white elephant as well. Just like the person in the documentary! Truthfully, I just wanted to spend time with the animal that I’d grown to love so much! Be it white, grey or speckled!
When I began making arrangements for our trip to Thailand, I knew that elephants had to be a part of it. I wanted to ride an elephant or (with the way my fear is set up) at least take a photo on the back of one. As I researched different parks or sanctuaries where I would be able to make this dream come true, I stumbled across more reasons as to why riding the elephants wasn’t a good idea. Tourists (like myself) have the most interest in taking part in such activities such as riding elephants making it a tourist attraction. What does tourist attraction equate to for locals? Business! Money! Bands! lol, Poachers will capture elephants from the wild sometimes stealing baby elephants from their mothers where they are then tortured into submission.
We are talking beaten with clubs, pierced with bullhooks, forced to live in confined spaces and even starved. I can only imagine that the treatment worsens as the tourism industry increases. SO… I chose to seek out a more ethical park for my trip. I couldn’t allow myself to be a part of such cruel practices. I stumbled across The Elephant Retirement Park Phuket during my search. They are a sanctuary for both rescued and retired elephants.
When I tell you that these people take GREAT care of the elephants there, they REALLY do and it shows. They make sure that the guests do the same. This was a dream come true to me! I thought I felt happy when I first entered Phuket and saw the line of elephants walking down the side of the street as we passed. I thought I felt happiness as I witnessed from my window, elephants just grazing and roaming freely in their natural surroundings as we were en route to the park. No. When I stepped out of that van and walked right up to those magnificent beings, THAT was PURE bliss! There they were! BIG as HELL! lol, I won’t front like it didn’t take me a minute to get used to them because it definitely did! I eventually built a rapport with them and before you knew it, I had them eating out of my hands. Literally.
Our morning started out pretty early. Our driver met us at our hotel at 7 am. We were moving a little slow that morning and made it down to eat breakfast at about 5 til 7. The driver arrived promptly at 7 and gave us 5 minutes to eat. How kind of him! He had already done one pickup before us and there were about 2 more hotel pickups before we were headed to the sanctuary. The total driving time was about an hour. We chose the half-day program which ran from 8:30 am-noon. This was plenty enough time for me to become acquainted with my new not-so-little friends! I did just that. The guide allowed us to have our free time with the animals while offering elephant trivia along the way. The total group which accompanied myself and my best friend was fairly small, so no one was fighting for time with the elephants. We prepared their food (bananas & sugar cane) and also fed them. This was probably the most fun for me. Watching how they use their trunks was pretty dope! Well… until that one decided to use his trunk on me for a cheap feel!
After feeding, it was time for the mud. Now. Originally I was a little hesitant about the idea of getting in the mud with these guys. Friends or not. I have boundaries and had to draw the line somewhere! Well… it ended up not being there! I decided to jump right on in there with them, but NOT without plenty of faces which told of my disgust! There were moments when I was quite sure that whatever I was stepping in, WAS NOT MUD! Yuck! But I flew all the way to Thailand for this experience and decided to immerse myself in it. Including the subsequent bath in the pond! Yep! I went all in! Now, would I do the latter again? Probably not. Been there, done that and even wrote a blog about it! lol But I do not regret it and am happy for the experience!
After taking care of the elephants, it was time to take care of ourselves. They had outdoor showers set up in the back, which was kinda cool UNTIL… a HUGE pink frog jumped on the wall inside of my changing station. Thankfully I’d only taken my shirt off at that time because there was about to be a whole different kind of show going on! I ran out of that thing so fast! Won’t get me! I don’t do amphibians! lol After getting ourselves as together as we could outside, the guide gave us a quick Thai cooking course before we were free to partake in the buffet lunch. I tried everything but a soup-like dish because it looked too milky for me and… I was already pretty paranoid about what the food over there could possibly do to my stomach. They even had fried chicken and YOU KNOW how black people love their chicken! It was actually really good too.
I forgot to mention that The Elephant Retirement Park has its own photographer that takes photos of your entire experience for you. So, let say you didn’t want to take your own photo’s you’d be covered and it’s free! While everyone is eating, they play a video they’ve prepared with all of the photos from your program and you’re able to purchase a copy as well. I thought that was pretty awesome. All the money goes back into the sanctuary.
Welp, the clock struck 12 and it was time to load up and head back to the hotel! I said my goodbyes to the elephants, the amazing staff and even a few guests I’d shared a couple of laughs with. As much as I loved my time there, I was ready for some hot water and antibacterial soap on my body! Until next time!
A HUGE shout out to my best friend Kuturah who truly only spent time with the elephant because of my love for them! Not her thing but she took one for the team making my experience that more memorable! She even fed and touched them a couple of times! #bestfriendgoals
Oh!!! let’s not forget the table that they allow you to write on. I love reading things that other travelers have written and I ABSOLUTELY love leaving my mark. I actually left a couple!
Stay tuned for more details about my trip!