An elephant walks into the room… no, but seriously, he does for real. His name is Moji and my two babies are close by feeding him bananas. This was how we spent our Saturday at an elephant sanctuary with kids in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Elephant Rescue Park. The once homeless elephants of this sanctuary are now provided individual full-time care, a second chance at an uncaged life, daily baths, and are becoming part of the bigger conversation behind Thailand’s elephant tourism crisis.
Yes, taking your kids to an elephant sanctuary can be a little outside of the normal list of activities, but it is great for teaching kindness and patience while being surrounded by some magnificent animals.
Why it’s Important to Research your Elephant Adventure
There are dozens of elephant adventures offered throughout Thailand, and for the most part, the majority of them allow you to ride these majestic animals. PLEASE, DON’T RIDE THE ELEPHANTS! Elephant Sanctuaries are not in support of elephants in entertainment. Elephants are wild animals with complex physical, mental and social needs. So, training, performing, confinement and travel of elephants is not natural to them.
What to Expect when going to the Elephant Sanctuary with Kids
We strongly encourage you to go to an elephant sanctuary with your kids rather than an attraction, if you want to have a visit with these extraordinary animals. Make sure you’re ready for the day to be a bit crazy, a little hectic but a whole lot of magical. We showed up to Elephant Rescue Park with two babies, a carrier/wrap, some extra socks, sticky rice and an open mind, and this day is one of our favorite days to date. I’m sure that if our babies could talk, Maverick would say, “Let’s go back and see the ellie’s!”, and Cardiff would say, “It was the best nap, ever!”
The day started with a ride from our guide and his father, picking us up from the hotel and stopping at a street vendor along the way to grab ingredients for the elephants “medicine.” Sticky rice is a main ingredient in their medicine balls, which were personally made by us with the assistance from tiny baby hands. They make each person touch the medicine balls, so the elephants recognize your scent as a positive smell.
When we get to the sanctuary, we all change into an elephant approved recognizable outfit — babies included. This was so the elephants saw us as friends. Next up we get to walk to their stomping grounds and Maverick has a break down. Literally a tantrum right when we start to get to the good stuff. The group continues on to feed the elephants their daily dosage of bananas, “medicine balls”, pineapple, and whole sugar canes. Maverick recuperates with just enough time to help feed them bananas and you can see the joy on her face immediately. After feeding time came a homemade lunch, which was necessary energy for the work that was to come.
Lunch came and went. We were able to take the elephants for their daily walk through the muddy hillside, finally ending at their water hole for relaxation time and a much needed bath. The elephant sanctuary allows you to get in a reservoir with the elephants and help wash the mud off with scrub brushes. Finally, they let you get your photo opp in and then you say farewell. The mahouts then take the elephants back to their roaming grounds.
Like we said, elephant sanctuary with kids or babies, in general, is a little tricky. But, all the tantrums, unscheduled naps and bugs aside, we had the time of our lives.
Some Interesting Things We Learned About Elephants
- It’s okay to smack the elephants on the rear or their sides — this lets them know that you’re behind them and that you’re not a bug, so you don’t get smacked with their strong tail.
- Medicine balls are really just salty, and sweet sticky rice that they comprehend as treats – this gets them to drink water.
- When trainers make their food, salt is used to also get them to drink water.
- Elephants have huge molars that allow them to crunch on all the sugar cane, wild vegetation, whole bananas, and large pineapple chunks that they absolutely love.
- Once an elephant knows your scent, they will likely remember you for the rest of their lives.
- They mourn for their dead.
- Female elephants usually don’t have tusks, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t grow them. If a female elephant grows tusks, they typically remain short when compared to males.
- Elephant pregnancy can last 20-22 months. After learning this fact, we were calling Marina an elephant, because she was pregnant close to two years with Irish twins.
Tips For Taking Kids To Visit an Elephant Sanctuary
- Pack extra clothes for everyone. Whether or not you go in the water with the elephants, you are going to sweat and at the end of the day, you’re going to be soaked. Most importantly, bring extra underwear, socks and a bra for you ladies.
- Bring a bag for wet clothes. We had nowhere to store ours, so we used a trash bag that one of the workers happily gave to us.
- Bring a lot of water. We can’t stress this enough. Even in the rain, the weather will bring you to a boil and can cause dehydration easily.
- A lot of bug spray, especially for the kids. We use deet free bug spray for our babies. The mosquitos can be extra invasive in this area due to the surplus of water. We let a family use some of ours because their daughter was getting bit badly.
- Bring snacks because depending on the sanctuary, you might only get one predetermined meal. To answer your question, yes, eating any of the sticky rice, bananas, and pineapple that you prep for the elephants is looked down upon. Travis learned that the hard way.
- Come well rested because it is a long day, especially in the heat and humidity.
- Ensure your devices are charged because the moments you’re about to witness are once in a lifetime (for most people).
Enjoy Your Family Getaway!
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