If you've ever heard of Thailand and, more specifically, Chiang Mai, you've probably been made aware that one of the main tourist attractions is the opportunity to come into contact with some of Earth's most precious and holy creatures-- elephants. Among the people I talked to before venturing here, it was a highly controversial topic. Some said definitely go see the elephants because it was the best experience of life. Others said definitely do not go anywhere with elephants because they are all tortured and treated inhumanely.
All objections aside, like most tepid-hearted Americans coming to Asia for the first time, I pretty much knew that if I could find a semi-decent place where they didn't slash or prod the animals, I was going to see some elephants on this trip. I followed my friend Warren's recommendation, read as many elephant treatment reviews as I could, and set off for a day of close contact with trunk-wielding tree trimmers. I chose Into the Wild Elephant Camp, instead of the more popular and well-regarded Elephant Nature Park because I hoped for a more intimate, less crowded visit.
And it really was an unbelievable experience, and even more so because there were only 3 of us visiting 5 elephants that day. We hiked with them, bathed with them, and sort of ate lunch with them while they smartly tried to steal food from our table. I'd never touched one before, so spending hours next to them as they gracefully lumbered through the woods and covering them with mud to provide necessary sun protection offered a ton of new soul-satisfying observations.
I hope the elephants are always treated as well as I saw during the visit. Our guides seemed to genuinely care about them, and there were no bullhooks or riding baskets in sight. The elephants seemed to genuinely not care about anything other than eating, an act that they engaged in for almost all of the 5 hours we were with them. Apparently indifferent to our presence, they did, at points, threaten to chop our heads off with their superior lumberjack skills. I could certainly see why Thai Buddhists worship the elephant god, Ganesha, as the remover of obstacles.