I’ve always adored elephants, which is strange considering I’m not an animal person whatsoever. I am also not an outdoors person. So much so, I don’t like grass taller than my flipflops, and not even cats and dogs.
About eight months ago, I started looking for elephant sanctuaries in the U.S. Only one place allowed you to see them, and the price was ridiculous for a one-hour tour. I asked a friend if she, her youngest two children, and my niece wanted to drive to Oklahoma. The more I thought about it, I realized I could pay relatively close to the same flying 8,600 miles without bathroom stops and hearing “Are we there yet?”, “She touched me”, etc., only an hour-long visit, a hotel, and food.
In May, I decided to look up other countries. Africa was off my list completely, since they trophy hunt elephants there. Then I came across a huge number of places in Thailand. Every night in bed, I researched places for well over 100 hours. I decided I was going to go. I surprised myself and everyone who knew me that I was going to take this 20-hour flight and an independent adventure on my own. I planned each step by myself.
I wanted to find the most humane place to go. No hooks, whips or chains. I read hundreds of reviews and decided on Elephants’ Home and Nature. I corresponded back and forth with the owner, Tong, who provides tours. Every review had five stars, beautiful pictures and six healthy-looking elephants. They offer different packages and tours, and they have a two-day/one-night stay, but because I was only going to see the elephants, I was able to arrange a three-day/twonight stay.
I started by getting a legally-sealed birth certificate and a passport, then I waited two weeks to make sure I was really doing this and ordered my ticket from Delta. I then put a deposit toward the elephant place I chose. I read reviews and booked my first two nights in a hotel that included breakfast so I could catch up from a 20-hour flight and a 12-hour time difference. Then I would be picked up at my hotel for three days and two nights sightseeing and staying in a hostel.
I flew into Bangkok and stayed in the hotel for two nights. In the morning, a driver picked me up, and then we picked up Lily, my English-speaking tour guide who accompanied me the whole time, and drove three hours to Kanchanaburi. Lily was kind and very funny. She also took about 1,500 photos.
The elephants greeted me at the entrance and gave me flowers with their trunks. I knew at that moment, I was in love. Over the three days, I bathed them in a dirty river that had alligators and snakes, but thankfully I did not meet any! I gave them mud baths (they love to splash and play in the water), brushed their teeth and tongue, gave them treats (they like Mentos candy), fed them, played with them, rode them bare back, prayed to the monks with them and loved them. Elephants eat a lot of food. While walking to the river, they would stop and munch on foliage along the way. Each elephant has their own mahout (caretaker).
On my second day with the elephant workers, we went to see a baby leopard, baby lion, a baby panther and a six-month-old tiger. I went in each one’s space (except the panther) and bottle fed them. I gave just grass and a bone to the tiger. I was here for the entire experience, so I chopped bamboo shoots and blades of grass over five feet tall and picked watermelons for the elephants.
My once-in-a-lifetime trip has now made me think I will be back every year. I’ve also contemplated moving there. I made beautiful friendships that I will remember for the rest of my life. My oldest nephew graduates this year, and I offered a gift of me paying for both of us to go.
This 44-year-old woman would’ve never gone on her own, got in a dirty river with snakes and alligators, been in grass taller than her flipflops, cut bamboo shoots, long grass, or picked watermelons for these amazing creatures. My hands were all the way in their mouths while feeding them.
I hired Lily for my last day of sightseeing. I saw watched monks chant in beautiful temples, tons of little shops, and food stands with some of the brightest, biggest vegetables and fruit I’ve ever seen, and a lot of things you would never catch me trying: chicken butts, alligator, pig rectum, pig intestine, cow stomach. They don’t waste a thing.
I wasn’t going to buy anyone anything because this is the first time I’ve done something for myself, but I bought so much I had to buy an extra suitcase for everything.
This was by far the best experience of my life! Thailand is very cheap, and shop owners are willing to bargain. They even sell suitcases for your merchandise.
One of my most special and memorable moments was honoring dear friends Taylor and Josiah Feth, whose baby was born stillborn on Aug. 14, 2018. Whenever she thought about her beautiful boy, Augustus, she thought of a baby elephant. I quick changed into my “team Augustus” shirt and held a picture of him with the baby elephant Do-Do. I made a canvas with three pictures of Do-Do, a poster, and bought a beautiful statue of a mama elephant and her baby, trunks entwined.
.Their Facebook page is ELEPHANTS HOME AND NATURE, and they accept donations. They are not subsidized and often live off donations and tourists. I donate monthly. They accept PayPal and would be grateful for anything.
I am proud of myself!
Lori Edstrom lives in Virginia, MN.