If you had to choose all the things, good and bad, that Thailand is famous for, one should, but wouldn’t stand out as an obvious winner. In competition with food, pristine beaches on idyllic islands, Buddhism, beautiful girls, fake goods, great shopping, and the sex industry, the country’s national animal, the elephant often misses out. Why? Who knows? However, no trip to The Kingdom of Thailand would be complete without visiting an elephant camp.
Do not be mistaken by the poor creatures forced to walk around the polluted streets of Bangkok or Chiang Mai, or any other beast being used to make money in tourist areas. No, the best trip for both the visitor and the pachyderms is out in the country, not far from Bangkok. There you’ll be able to handle the animals, meet their mahouts and watch them train. Also there are opportunities to watch them bathe in the famous River Kwai (pronounced kwhere) or even go elephant trekking. Thailand elephants are the national symbol. In fact, if you look at the map of the nation, it looks very much like the head and trunk of one of these wonderful beasts. Elephants in Thailand were originally used for manual work, such as dragging logs through forests, however it is sad to see these calm and clever animals used in such a way. They are extremely sociable, and can interact with humans if treated with respect and love. It is easy to see at any elephant nature park in the centre of Thailand that the respect is rewarded. Kanchanaburi is a large province just a few hours from Bangkok and is also famous for the Bridge over the River Kwai and the tiger temple. One can easily search for a respectable elephant lodge to experience them at work and play. Some people even extend their stay in Thailand or cancel trips to the islands or the north after they have spent some time with these fantastic creatures.
Riding them is a wonderful experience, but getting to know the animals more personally and discovering how they spend their days is far more rewarding. A quick pat and a couple of bananas is less of an experience than watching Animal Planet. One needs to spend at least a whole day, probably two, at an elephant camp to fully appreciate the work, dedication and love that they need and receive. Don’t let yourself be swayed by another couple of days at the beach, or shopping in town. Get out to Kanchanaburi and fall in love with a gentle but strong pachyderm.