How to Enjoy an Elephant Adventure without the Riding

We spent one of the most wonderful days of our lives playing with elephants in Thailand. Our decision to interact with them without riding them enhanced the experience even further.

When we spent a couple of weeks in Thailand, one of the highlights of our trip was playing with elephants. While there are many ways tourists can spend time with these wonderful creatures, we decided against riding them, and we’re glad we did.

Meeting and Feeding the Elephants

After we arrived at the elephant retirement park, the staff gave us an educational intro, and then we were taken to meet the elephants. We saw several elephants and even one baby who mostly stuck to his mother. As an animal lover, I really enjoyed seeing so many of the beautiful creatures in person.

Alas, we didn’t have much time to chit-chat with the elephants; they spend a lot of their time eating 150 to 300 kilograms of food each day. The staff promptly passed out sugarcane- and banana-filled baskets to all of us and we started to feed our new friends. We’d raise their meal up in the air with our hands, say “bohn” so the elephants would open their mouths, and meet them halfway before the food would get sucked up by the elephants like a vacuum.

Enjoying Elephant Cuddles

At one point during feeding, my wife shouted “goht!” when I was close to an elephant. All of a sudden, the elephant’s trunk wrapped around me and gave me a big hug. I paid my wife back soon after when she was feeding one, and I repeatedly said “joop.” Luckily, I’m not a jealous man, because the elephant gave my wife a big sloppy kiss on the cheek.

Quick Tip:

Bring clothes that you’re comfortable with getting dirty. The park will give you something to wear while you’re with the elephants, but you’ll want at least a couple of extra pairs of socks and underwear.

Getting Sudsy and Muddy

After a while, the elephants needed some relief from the hot Thai sun. Our guides led them to a huge pond, and we all joined them for the most fun bath time any of us would ever experience. The elephants were clearly happy, and they wanted us to have a good time, too; they splashed us and shot water from their trunks to make sure we got wet behind our ears.

After we got out of the water, we proceeded to a muddy spot nearby. Here, we all lathered up the elephants the best we could, because the mud serves as their protection from the sun. We thought things were quieting down and that we’d have a few sweet moments before leaving, but it turned out that a few of the elephants had some water left in their trunks. After we got soaked a few more times, it was back to business and covering them up with mud.

Saying Goodbye with Snuggles

After a shower and delicious meal, our day was somehow already over. Eight hours had passed and we wanted a few more minutes with the elephants. We walked around the camp a bit before saying our goodbyes. As the van pulled up to take us home, the baby that we saw hanging close to his mother was all alone and coming our way. He nuzzled up to us, and we got a final few hugs before getting into the van. As we drove away from the elephant  park, I knew that this had been a special day.

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Carl H. is a travel writer living in Durham, North Carolina.