Holding out a banana slowly, I’m unsure of what to expect. In a heartbeat, a massive trunk snatches the tiny piece of fruit from my bare hand and whisks it into his mouth. Astonished, I face the 10,000 pound Asian elephant in disbelief. It’s not every day that you get to hang out with an elephant. The elephant however, is no stranger to humans as he eyes the bunch of bananas sitting in my arms. His trunk makes a dive towards the bunch but I hide them quickly behind my back. You think you can outsmart an elephant? Think again. The trunk goes in for another lunge and this time, wraps around my entire body in hopes of grabbing the fruit. Refusing to give them up, the hungry animal picks me up off the ground. Shocked at his strength and quite frankly a little panicked; I accept defeat and hand over the bananas. He lowers me gently back to solid ground and proceeds to gulp down the bananas which are gone in milliseconds. Stroking the elephant, I take in the texture of his tough grey hyde. Inhaling deeply, the scent of ripe bananas and the warm humid air of the surrounding wilderness flow steadily through me: jungle surrounds me and is as far as the eye can see. A wave of serenity hits me and I can’t help but smile. I give the magnificent creature a hug and head off to find more bananas so I can do this all over again.
Do you crave adventure? Embark on the road less travelled? If so, trek into the deep tropical forest of Chiangmai, Thailand to find something extraordinary and unforgettable.
The Maesa Elephant Camp, found in the Maesa Valley, is home to one of the largest assembly of elephants in the north of Thailand. It is a haven and sanctuary for the endangered species.
For centuries, elephants were victims of man. Often abused and hunted, the beautiful Asian elephant was used in transportation, timber logging and war. The camp’s founder, Choochart Kalmapijit’s, possessed a deep love for the animals and purchased elephants from all over the country. In 1976, the Maesa Elephant Camp was established. With a philosophy to create a natural and healthy environment for elephants while working toward conservation, you can rest assured that the elephants are well taken care of. Each animal has their own mahout, an elephant expert and caregiver who look after the elephant for their entire life. The bond between elephant and mahout is unlike I’ve ever seen before. With a mutual respect for each other, elephant and man understand each other and live harmoniously together.
With its doors open to the public, the camp gives visitors a real glimpse into the lives of elephants. Not only did I spend hours feeding the banana greedy creatures, I also got to take an elephant ride through the jungle which was an experience I’ll never forget! Riding in a howdah on the back of an elephant, the journey took me on a scenic route of the waterfalls, streams and mountains of the Maesa valley.
Today in Thailand, there are less than five thousand Asian elephants. With this startling statistic, the camp is motivated to get these numbers up and have implemented a highly successful breeding program. Spending much of my day at the nursery, I had the chance to play, feed and interact with baby elephants and their mothers. The young ones stole my heart instantly with their adorable miniature features and playful demeanour.
Prying myself away from the nursery, I attended the elephant show which showcased how incredibly intelligent and amazing these animals are. Elephants showed off their dancing skills and played games of soccer with each other. They also gave massages to their mahouts and impressed the crowd with their dart shooting skills.
However, it was none of these talents that left me in awe. What left me in shock was the fact that some of the elephants knew how to paint. Not just paint scribbles; I’m talking the painting of many abstract and realistic pictures. Working with art teachers for years, each elephant develops their own unique and distinctive brush strokes producing works of art that can never be replicated.
After witnessing an elephant paint a bouquet of flowers better than I ever could, I wanted nothing more than to purchase a picture from one of these gifted animals. The Maesa Elephant Camp is complete with its own exhibition gallery, which is the only one in the world featuring paintings created by elephants. My family and I purchased two works of art and left extremely happy knowing that a portion of the proceeds go directly towards the conservation of Asian elephants.
A day of magic and bewilderment, I will never forget my time at the Maesa Elephant Camp. Price for entry which includes the elephant show costs 120 Thai Baht or a measly $3.90 in Canadian dollars. Elephant rides can be taken for a half hour to an hour with rates starting at 800 Baht which is approximately $25 Canadian dollars. A once in a life time experience that won’t break the bank, a trip to Southeast Asia would not be complete without a pit stop to Chiangmai to visit this elephant sanctuary.