Homesick is a real thing. Although I don’t get homesick often, it hits me hard when I do. When one of my friends, Chris, texted me saying he was thinking of stopping in Thailand for a week on his way home from his Nepal trip, most of the homesickness turned into excitement.
Excitement for not just planning a whole week vacation but also for getting to show off Thailand. Even more excited to share a piece of my heart to my good friend, who has been ever so supportive of my crazy, Mapless Adventures!!
The Planning Stage
During the initial phase of our planning, my friend, Chris told me that he wanted to visit with elephants. He also gave me the go ahead to somewhat plan the trip.
However, Thailand is a large country and I ended up needing a little help from him. I made him decide on the general concept of the trip: beaches or mountains.
This assisted us with determining the entry/exit point, though I should have just realized then that it was going to be Bangkok. For any one traveling, Bangkok is one of the most popular entry points into Southeast Asia.
He also mentioned to me that he hasn’t really done a “beach” vacation, which is what we sort of did. Once I narrowed down the city and general area, the rest of the trip itinerary sort of fell into place.
Traveling From Bangkok to Phuket
I felt like a kid at a candy store, waiting for his arrival in Bangkok! I practically bursted into tears when I saw him walk out of the arrival area.
He arrived in the late evening, so we didn’t do much that first night and our flight to Phuket was early the next morning. We mostly just talked and looked at pictures from his Nepal adventure. It was nice to be around a familiar face from home after 5 months away.
Our journey from Bangkok to Phuket was pretty uneventful. The flight was about 1.5 hours, and then the taxi was for about an hour to our hostel. Once we arrived at our hostel and got settled in, we decide to ventured out for Chris’s first authentic Thai food experience, Pad Thai!
We ended up wandering to a place called No. 9, which was super popular and had delicious pad thai. It was a great first true meal for Chris.
The rest of the day was mostly just wandering the streets of Patong, including experiencing our first crazy Bangla Road heckling for “ping pong” shows. We didn’t stay out to late nor get to crazy.
Prior to his visit, I had pre-booked a one day excursion with Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket, which had decent reviews.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket
One Day Walk with Elephants Tour
The morning session at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket started with a general session where we learned about the Asian elephant. More specifically, they taught us about their food and diet. They showed us a special way to create these vitamin balls, which the elephants love.
Afterwards, it was our chance to feed them corn, bananas, and sugar cane. It was also our first true interactions with these beautiful creatures.
One major downside was that there were quite a bit of people all eager for their chance to interact with the elephants. They mixed together both the full day group and half day excursion groups, with only about 6 elephants. It was a little chaotic, but I did have several chances to feed the elephants.
During the feeding, we learned more about the elephants’ backstories on how they came to be at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket, and it broke my heart.
Several came from logging camps, others came from riding camps, and one came from a hotel, where she was required to “dance” (which meant shake her head and sway her body) and was beaten if she didn’t. It still bewilders my mind that these events still take place, but it was a different world 20+ years ago.
On a positive note, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket was able to save two new female elephants just days before our visit. These elephants had two very different personalities.
One female, who came the day before was kind and gentle. The other female elephant had such a badly broken spirit that when it was around humans, it became aggressive. It had to be habilitated to learn how to be free from the abuse and riding.
Trekking with Elephants
It was heartbreaking to hear her story, but following the feeding session, we had the opportunity to go trekking with the elephants. She was one of the elephants who we got to walk with in the jungle, and that was special. The other elephant was the “grandma” at 83 years old. She was kind and gentle, but moved slow. Because of her personality, the others in the group walked with her.
Chris and I, however, spent our time during the hike with the precious new elephant. I think we both enjoyed watching her get to be an elephant again in the jungle, pulling in trees and plants, scratching her body against a tree and just walking. True a wonder to see.
When we got back from the trek, it was water time. Chris held the hose for the two elephants to drink, and when it was Grandma’s turn (83year old elephant), she ran away so quickly when Chris attempted to rinse her off.
We did also get to witness a first with one of the newest elephant, named Aom Ngung. She got to experience the shower, and you can see the pure happiness in her eyes! Who doesn’t love a good shower, right?
The mid-day break was a bit strange. To start, it was two-hours long. It started out with a buffet lunch of simple Thai food, which was delicious. It also included a 45-minute poo paper arts and crafts with a brief explanation of the process.
I was slightly disappointed that it didn’t actually involve getting my hands dirty and attempt to make my own paper. I think it would have made the mid-day break a little more tolerable. But, we still made it fun, and the people in our group were easy to talk too.
A Strange Experience
After the poo poo paper arts and crafts, our guide told us it was time for kayaking. The kayaking I would consider to be a space filler. I could tell that Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket was not fully equipped for one-day visitors. The kayaking was slightly pointless. For starters, it was the middle of a hot sunny day, in basically a swamp. Not to mention, there was no dock or stairs or platform or anything to help get in or off the kayak. It felt to be a complete waste of time.
At the start of the afternoon session, we were shuttled to another one of the camps.
We were told they have a few different locations around the island. Upon arrival, we learned that we were joining a decent sized group of half-day excursion visitors, with the FIVE elephants living at this location.
There just didn’t seem to be a cap on how many people can visit at one. It seemed significantly overcrowded. The ratio to human to elephant didn’t seem very ethical.
After our arrival, we changed into our suits and got to experience a “mud bath” with the elephants. This was such an odd experience and one I probably could have done without. The elephants, however, seemed to enjoy playing in the mud. Almost all of them were splashing themselves with mud, but it could have been done without the help of 20+ humans.
Following the mud bath, it was off to the swimming hole. None of the elephants hesitated to get into the water. After all, it was a typical Thai summer, scorching hot day.
They immediately started playing, dunking their entire bodies into the water. They kept spitting water and dunking their heads. It was quite a sight to see.
Although our time at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket was not perfect, and slightly a let down on some things, the time we spent with elephants was pretty special!
I know this isn’t going to make everyone who reads this happy. There is so much information: good, bad, correct, incorrect, false, and accurate information, etc. going around about ethical animal travels and excursions. It’s tough to know what to think without truly experiencing it. I will not ride elephants, that much is clear, and I have my own opinions on the elephant excursion matter. I do live here in Thailand and hear, see, and learn A LOT about it, but I’m not going to get into it. I’m not one for cyberbullying, trolling, and cyber arguments, so I’m not going to get into it. I felt that our experience, although far from perfect, was insightful, and was special.
1) Would I go back to Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket? The answer is NO. It was way too crowded.
2) Would I go to another elephant sanctuary? Yes, and I have twice, but I did more research and found one that is more personable and less humans.
Please keep your negative comments to yourself. This is a personal blog on personal experiences. Thank you.****