On possibly the hottest day we have ever experienced, (it was 42 degrees Celsius!!) we headed into the Kanchanaburi countryside to spend a day with rescued elephants at Elephant Haven Kanchanaburi.
They work with Elephant Nature park in Chiang Mai to provide a safe and happy home to retired working elephants.
Elephant Haven retired their 6 elephants from touristic trekking as they realised the practice was cruel and that such creatures deserve a much better life. There is a trekking company over the road with 49 elephants. Unfortunately you drive past this property as you enter Elephant Haven. It really shows just how free the Elephants at Elephant Haven really are and inspires you to encourage change.
Elephants naturally like to stay together in a herd and enjoy being social with each other, they also are constantly munching down food and love to be free to move about, these and many other traits are what trekking prevents. Trekking elephants are kept in confinement 24/7 and are not allowed to socialize. They carry heavy saddles on their back with even heavier people. Elephants have delicate backs and they are not designed to carry any weight over 50kg.
Spending the day with the elephants displaying their natural playful behavior, their love of each other and their intelligence gave us a newfound love and respect for such amazing animals. We learnt a lot about these creatures too, somethings I would have never believed if I had not witnessed it myself. Keep reading to find out more.
Our time at Elephant Haven:
We booked a single day trip with Elephant Haven for 2500 baht each. This roughly equates to $100 NZD per person. The money goes toward the upkeep of the property and the mountain of food the elephants require.
We made our way to the Kanchanaburi Bus station early in the morning to be collected by Elephant Haven and transported to their premises.
Once we arrived the elephants made their way through the forest to greet their new visitors. After a safety briefing and talk about what Elephant haven is trying to achieve we started to make the elephants their favorite food; rice protein balls with smooshed up banana inside. Yum yum!
We proceeded to chop huge amounts of watermelon and break up bunches of bananas.
The elephants patiently waited by the posts breaking up shoots to eat in anticipation of their favorite food.
Feeding elephants proved an amazing experience. They not only shovel it back and could easily swallow a watermelon whole, but they are so gentle when they grab the food with their bristle haired trunks, you start to forget just how huge they are.
After the chow down they took us for a walk around their forest. They showed us the water we would play in later and where they enjoy to dust bathe themselves.
We learnt that elephants are so quiet! They can actually sneak up on you. I went to turn around a few times to see where they were, and one would be right behind me. For such a large animal they are light footed and hardly disturb the forest around them. An occasional twig snapping would be the only sound you hear.
Leaving them alone to enjoy some human free time we were back on the (Air conditioned!!!) bus to go to the ever so boiling heat where the Death Railway runs to. The heat climbed even higher here and proved to be the hottest area and part of the day.
On a historical note, it is called the Death Railway due to the huge amount of Prisoners of War dying here under Japan’s command to build a railway to Burma.
Our reason to visit Kanchanaburi was for both the Death Railway, the Bridge over the River Kwai and Elephant Haven. You can see more images of the Death Railway here. The history of such a place is both heartbreaking and interesting. Many New Zealanders and Australians died working in prison camps here.
After returning from that sweaty outing we sat down to a vegetarian lunch provided by the lovely people at Elephant Haven. Having un-stuck ourselves from our chairs we couldn’t wait to get in the water with the elephants.
Another tour was lead by the elephants where they showed us their mud bathing skills. They splashed us enough that the water was growing ever more appealing to us all.
The excitement on the elephants faces said it all. This is how they love to spend their day. I can’t say I blame them; it was the best way to cool down after a scorcher of a day.
We fully support what Elephant Nature Park and Elephant Haven are trying to achieve. We believe that education about cruel tourism practices can help to inspire more trekking companies to retire their old ways and create a much better life for the elephants. We know that by supporting sanctuaries like these and refusing to partake in elephant trekking we can help trekkers discover a better life for their elephants and provide a much better experience for us and them.
I cannot imagine any elephant trekking experience could be as awe inspiring, beautiful and as rewarding as the day we spent with them.
If you are wanting to have a rewarding travel experience, please visit either of these elephant sanctuaries. Trust me, it is worth it.
Here is our adventure on film.
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We did not receive any money or services for this post. This is our honest and true opinion.