As I held out a skinned banana in the palm of my hand, I soon learned that feeding an elephant is quite similar to feeding a fussy two-year-old - they will only eat what they want to eat.
The two elephants I was feeding that evening seemed to have a particular fondness for sugar, so all that tree bark I had lovingly collected before feeding time soon became a mere floor decoration!
It was a Saturday night in Thailand. In Bangkok and Phuket the streets were sure to be filled with music as tourists swarmed the colourful night markets, eagerly sipping cocktails to a background of pop music and buzzing neon signs. But where I was, in jungle-like terrain around one hour north from Chiang Mai, it was silent. Eerily so.
The award-winning BaanChang Elephant Park, ('Baan Chang’ directly translates to ‘elephant home’) looks after 45 elephants and is a sanctuary dedicated to providing these gentle creatures with the highest quality of life possible.
The company’s 'Magical Elephant Mahout Training' is a special programme that allows visitors to interact with the elephants as a Mahout, or elephant trainer, would do as part of their every day work, which includes walking with, bathing and feeding the creatures.
Serving food to elephants is immensely gratifying. It makes you feel like the popular kid at school as a mini stampede of gentle giants rush towards you to demolish the contents of your hand.
Mango, banana, pineapple… you name it, they'll eat it, pushing in front of each other to vie for the juiciest morsel. But try tempting them to a tasty sample of tree bark and, like wary toddlers, they want nothing to do with you. It’s remarkable really, how human-like elephants can be!
But dinner time was not my favourite interaction with these powerful albeit temperate creatures. The stand out moment of the evening was sharing a big bath with a group of my newfound friends (more like a pond in reality).
What resonated with me was the curiously playful nature of these gentle beasts. After scrubbing my assigned elephant clean for 15 sweaty minutes he saw fit to shower me with water from his trunk. I took it as a compliment!
Baanchang Elephant Park is a different side to the Thailand many tourists see, beyond Bangkok’s flashing lights and the flashy resorts of the beaches. But I would take an evening with my all time favourite animal over a full moon party any day!
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