Best Day Ever!
How should your free day in Bangkok be spent? Two words: Elephants World. At first, it was hard not to cringe at the thought of wasting 6 hours of our only free day on a coach bus headed to Kanchanaburi, Thailand. However, having experienced what I did that day, I can honestly say I would do it 100 more times.
Elephants World sanctuary started 11 years ago with only two elephants and since, has grown to accommodate 27. The organization rescues elephants from training camps and circuses in the area, where they are abused and overworked. Many of the elephants at the sanctuary lived lives in which they were force-fed steroids and stimulants to keep them awake to work all through the night. ElephantsWorld is a self-supporting Environmental Conservation Organization operating heavily on visitor contributions.
Each elephant at the sanctuary is assigned to their own “mahout” or human. It warmed my heart to see the way the elephants appreciated their humans and how passionate the humans were about caring for their elephant or “chang” in the Thai language. Mahouts share a special bond with their elephants considering they can be assigned to their elephants at as young of an age as 8 years old. Elephants are known for being one of the smartest, most self-aware animals on the planet. While at the site, we were shown a video on the competence of elephants. Studies have shown that elephants can have an interaction with a human or another elephant and recognize that person 20 years later, with total separation. I experienced, first-hand, how intelligent these mammals can be. When I gave a baby elephant a full melon, she cracked it with her foot into bite-size pieces that she could then digest. It was astounding to see how even the most premature elephants, use their available surroundings as tools in everyday life.
In order to “earn” our playtime, we had to work. First, we were asked to clean and sanitize the baskets of fruits. Elephants are ideally supposed to eat a tenth of their body weight every day, so this can mean a lot of work for the caretakers. Our group made an assembly line and were able to fill 10 baskets of fruit in under 10 minutes! We were then sent to the crop fields with machetes to cut down fresh grass for feed. We gathered bushels of grass and transported them back to the site, where we fed them to the elephants along with whole bananas, melons, and jicamas. The elder elephants can no longer digest the grass, so they were fed food balls. We worked as a team to make the food balls out of smashed banana and other grains. The leader suggested hiding their daily vitamins and medicine inside, and it was a success!
Although my skin broke out in an allergic reaction from the grass, the playtime made it all worth it. After plenty of mud fights and mud masks, the mahouts brought the elephants to join. We splashed around for hours trying to dunk the elephants and allowing them to wrap us up in their trunks with hugs. Interacting with these wonderful creatures so up-close and personal, was the most rewarding experience I have ever had.
We used our group’s bus driver to get us there and back and arranged the excursion through the concierge at the hotel desk. It was $100 a person for the elephants and a provided lunch and $20 for bus transportation. I could go on for days about how amazing this experience was, so if you ever have a free day in Thailand, I would highly recommend Elephants World!
Additionally, I would recommend watching a Muay Thai kickboxing match. Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand and the locals are very passionate about it. The match took place in a large arena called the Rajadamnern Stadium, located in the heart of downtown Bangkok. We had the bus driver drop us off and took a taxi home. The taxi from the arena only cost around $10 USD total for all 5 people. We paid the premium price ($60 USD) to sit in the VIP section and experience the fight ring-side. It was an unforgettable experience to be a part of the action-packed atmosphere. The coaches were intense, the fighters aggressive, and locals were fired up. I will never forget how loud the crowd got after a knockout or how skinny the boxers were (some weighing in at only 93 pounds)!
All in all, my experience in Thailand turned out to be more than I had imagined it being. Although the group sight-seeing activities and business visits were great learning experiences on the seminar, Elephants World and the Muay Thai boxing match were by far my most memorable moments.