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Posted by on Feb 27, 2012 in Asia, Thailand

How to Train your Elephant – Chiang Mai, Thailand

How to Train your Elephant – Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang is a place filled with endless adventures. One of my favourites was learning how to train an elephant – in Thai. Climbing, Feeding, Cleaning, Swimming, Mud fights – elephants are incredible.

So, upon arrival to the elephant sanctuary, we were required to put on thick cotton clothing to 1) not ruin our clothes and 2) help save our skin from elephant burn. My friend, Jeannie, and I walk into the room to change and there are two outfits on the bed. Problem: one of the outfits looks like it is for a child. Jeannie is 5’10 and I am 5’3 – by default in height alone I was required to squeeze into the child sized outfit. So thankful that living 6 months in Thailand helped me lose 15kgs!

So, all outfitted up, we head out to visit out new elephant friends. To warm up to our elephants, and for them to warm up to us, we were required to feed them bananas and bamboo. yum. Elephants so not have teeth, only a gigantic tongue, which sucks your hand into their mouth and covers it in elephant slobber. They told us to just leave our hands in their mouths to feel their tongues working the banana around. I came out with a slobber plus banana mush hand. Very difficult not to burst into laughter at the strange sensation!

Next up. Learning how to climb up an elephant without the help of a ladder, table, or anything that will improve my meager height of 5’3.

Step 1) Mr.Elephant lifts his foot. You use his bent leg as a ladder and grab his ear. One foot on his foot, other foot on his knee.

Step 2) Swing your leg up and over the neck of the elephant

Step 3) Grab the other ear of the elephant and steady yourself

Step 4) Smile! You’ve made it to the top of the elephant without falling off (yet)!

We’ve now learned how to properly climb up an elephant. Horrah for us! Elephants have hair that is stiff and bristly and the hair is sparse. These hairs are very sharp on the skin and these are the main cause of elephant burn.

Next up, we were handed out tools that looked like a pick. These were used for directing the elephants along with our feet. You hook them into the side of the elephants head and pull. This sounds painful for the elephants, but elephant skin is 2-3cm thick, and the hook is not sharp or meant to inflict pain in any way.

We rode the elephants around for awhile learning to yell commands, use the pick, and learn to properly use our feet to guide our elephant friends around. Elephants are incredibly smart animals and very passive. They also want to stop and eat – all the time. This is hard to combat because I understand how pissed I’d be if nobody lets me eat when I’m hungry!

We went to the top of the surrounding hills, and were taught how to plant bamboo – which is a main food source for the elephants. We spent a good while planting the bamboo to help the owners of the sanctuary keep our elephant friends fed.

Up next was mud fighting. We went to a water hole, and our elephants started to spray mud on themselves to help them cool down in the extreme heat in the jungles. Then our guides said we could get in on the mud sprayed and direct our elephant trunks to spray each other. The mud War is on!

Since the mud war resulted in mud everywhere. It was time to bathe our elephant friends. Into a cleaner, but not very, pond. Give me my scrubbing brush, and its time to scrub your heart out! This is no easy task this elephant cleaning. They have thick skin and the mud was plastered on thick – it took a lot more muscle then I could muster. So we played with our elephants after the scrubbing and had water fights. Much cleaner.

We walked back to the sanctuary and took a little swim along the way. The water was so deep that the elephants went under water fully at times with only their trunks out for air! When you are sitting on the head of an elephant and he goes under the water, note to self: LET GO. You will go under with him.

Last but not least, we spent more time playing with out new elephant best friends! Elephants are very playful and love to suck at you and kiss you and of course be fed.