Monday, 15 June 2015

Thailand: Ran Tong Elephant Sanctuary

After a 30 minute flight, a never-ending queue at the Mae Sai border crossing and a 4 hour bus journey (all whilst Sarah was still ill!), we finally arrived in Chiang Mai. We stayed at the Teeraya Boutique Hostel which was run by a friendly Thai family, and our dorm room even had a pool-side view with a balcony.. how posh for £4 a night! It wasn't long before we discovered that we could book a visit to Ran Tong Elephant Sanctuary through the hostel and spend the entire day cleaning, feeding and helping out the elephants anyway we could. As tempting as it was, the price (£50) was putting Sarah off as we were meant to be travelling on a budget after all.. but the next day Bethan and Sophie surprised her by paying half each as an early birthday present, needless to say there was some tears of joy! They had chosen the option where you don't ride the elephants, just wash, walk and feed them because they'd probably had enough people taking advantage of them in their lives and didn't think it would be fair. 

We were told by the hostel to take some clean clothes, a towel, toilet roll, shower gel, shampoo and conditioner which we were confused by because we couldn't think why we'd ever need them (we later found out)! The sanctuary arranged a pick up for us at 8am and we were taken straight to the elephants and greeted by so many of them, it was incredible to see how happy and playful they all were. Nancy was our guide for the day who gave us a quick briefing on what we'd be doing for the day and sent us off to put on our mahout uniforms which were the most unflattering thing we've ever worn haha!

She then walked us slowly around the sanctuary introducing us to all the elephants and telling us the stories of why and how they were all rescued. Some stories were a lot better than others but it made us happy to know they were surrounded by love and comfort after suffering for so many years. One of our personal favourites was of course the little baby who was around 2 years old. Nancy had informed us that his mother was used for transporting heavy goods up and down rocky mountains all day in the heat, eventually she became so weak that she suffered a fall down the side of a mountain and didn't survive. Her captures were left with a newborn baby and no clue how to look after it, so they contacted the sanctuary to rescue him. Luckily, one of the female elephants took a liking to him immediately and took him under her wing.. they've been inseparable ever since! We were told that if they are ever parted, the adoptive mother starts calling out for him until he is returned to her because she hates not having him around. Another had been attacked by poachers for his ivory tusks and he was awake while they cut them off which would have been so painful for him to suffer. Thankfully he was soon found in the wild and taken to the sanctuary to recover where he's now started growing a new set of tusks!

Eventually we were shown to the elephant who we would be looking after for the day, she was called Mae Por and was the oldest at the sanctuary at the age of 56! Even though she was old, she had such a big personality and was quite sassy.. she knew what she wanted and wouldn't listen to any commands until she got whatever she wanted (my kind of woman!). We were also part of a group with some other tourists whose elephant was called Mae Bae, she was a bit younger (around 35 years?) but still had an amazing character. After feeding them a ridiculous amount of bananas, it was time to give them some exercise and walk them to the river where they used their trunks to munch on the tree leaves and nuts. Here the mahout told us about an old folk tale where some people believe it will bring you luck if you walk under an elephant, but you must be fast because if they start to move.. you're in trouble! He tried to get us to form a line and walk under Mae Por but the risk of being crushed was too real haha. Eventually, an older man who was looking after Mae Bae, put on a brave face and decided to go for it, thankfully Mae Por was too distracted by the trees to realise what was going on. We're still yet to hear if he's won the lottery! After a tiring walk and a few demands for more food by Mae Por, it was lunch time for everyone. We were given a wonderful traditional Thai dish of chicken with crunchy noodles and vegetables, delicious! Then it was bath time for the animals..

We were lucky enough to be able to join Mae Por and many others in the watering hole where we were given buckets to wash her. She really enjoyed the attention because it wasn't long before she flopped down on her belly and let us splash her with the cold water. Eventually she'd had enough and decided to leave but as she did, another two females entered the water who apparently both have the same 'husband' and began having a trumpeting competition to impress him.. it was hilarious to watch as the male was clearly loving it, typical haha! Then some of the younger elephants started playing with each other and rolling around everywhere.. they soaked everyone by flapping their ears around and splashing their trunks in and out of the water. This was definitely one of the cutest and happiest things we've EVER seen!

Once Mae Por had dried off and been taken back to her little home, Nancy showed us how to make one fo the elephants favourite treats which consisted of bananas, rice and sugar. All of the ingredients were then thrown together in a wooden bowl and mashed together with a wooden pole, it definitely didn't look very tasty by the end of it. Everyone grabbed a handful, rolled it into a ball and were free to choose an elephant to give it to.. Nancy wasn't wrong when she said it was one of their all time favourites, they went crazy for it!

Our sexy mahout uniforms!
"Thanks Nancy!"
Showing off his new set of tusks to Sophie :)

Helping Carolina to put her hat back on

Baby elephant and his adoptive mother, cuuuteee!

Happily flapping his ears around after enjoying some bananas

Time for walkies!

Casually taking an elephant for a walk.. as you do.
The mahout giving Mae Por some hugs
The mahout getting some luck by walking underneath Mae Por
Elephant friends!
Mae Bae having some snacks

Lunch break
Even more snacks, they're forever eating!
Dinner time!

Cheeky elephant trying to steal treats when Nancy wasn't looking, haha!

Bath time for Mae Por :)

Play time!
The world's happiest elephant!


The Happy Wanderers

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