Thursday, October 7, 2010


okay family, friends, lovely readers... gather round. it's the moment you've all been waiting for. photos from our time with the elephants!

let me warn you right now
when you spend a few days on a real, working elephant ranch, taking care of and playing with elephants young and old, you tend to take an enormous amount of photographs. then when you look through those photos the next week to try and decide which ones you want to share with the world, you become rather sentimental and have a hard time paring down the numbers. which is precisely what happened to me this week, making this the longest post i've ever written. i hope you enjoy it, but if you think to yourself, "geez this is really freaking long!" i'll understand. i wrote all about our experiences for those of you who are interested in what it's like to have elephants, but feel free to skim if you just like pictures.

our time at elephantstay was the best, most magical few days of my life! i was totally expecting a kind of touristy place, but i could not have been more wrong. this is one of the last working elephant ranches in asia and the fact that we westerners got to come live there and help out is just a small side business that a couple of australian ladies {one of whom is a zoologist} started as a way to help fund the growth of the ranch.

elephants in thailand
in thailand elephants have served the same purpose as horses in the western world - working on farms, logging and in the army. in the modern world, however, elephants have lost their place in many of the useful ways in which they existed, and it is no longer safe for them to live in the wild with all the human growth of the country. there are also many people and companies that own elephants and can't/won't properly care for them.

about the ranch
the man who runs the elephant ranch started it when his daughter was little and wanted a pet elephant. that one request grew over the years to become what it is today - a safe place where elephants can live, work, and breed safely. he has 108 elephants on the ranch and has had bred 40 babies over the past 15 years {more than anyone has bred in the world!}. he has also trained the elephants to be used in festivals, movies, and to help bring back bodies after the tsunami {the elephants were able to smell better than dogs and could reach places people could not go}. he even got to see top secret elephant training documents written by thai kings over the centuries, an honor no other man has received. his main goals are to preserve the existence of elephants in asia and to buy mistreated/neglected elephants in order to give them a healthy, happy life.

the elephantstay experience
amongst all the hustle and bustle of the working ranch, he has also worked hard to buy older elephants in the workforce so he can retire them. these are the elephants we helped with. we were assigned one elephant who would be ours, but since we were the only volunteers there that week, we ended up helping out with all of the older gals. our elephant was pisamy {on the left below}. she's in her 60's and, as you can see, always looked like she was about to fall asleep at any moment.

we stayed in these super cute cabins right on the ranch {this one was ours!}.

there were elephants going back and forth all day long, all over the place, including right out our door.

there were lots of animals on the ranch, many of which were stray dogs and cats, but they also had a one-armed monkey with a pet rabbit. he was pretty sweet and liked when i scratched his back. how cute is it that he has his own pet?!

this was our daily schedule {click to enlarge}:

i saw this before we left for our honeymoon and was intimidated by how early the day started. but we found ourselves getting up at 5a everyday thanks to jet lag. i actually LOVED the mornings at elephantstay because all the animals on the ranch and in the jungle were awake and happy. kittens played on roofs, elephants got dressed up to go to work in town {giving tourists rides on their seats}, and the parrots sang "hello" over and over in australian accents.

the food there was the best we ate in thailand, prepared vegetarian just for us. michelle and ewa, the australian ladies in charge of the volunteer program, were the most genuine, sweet ladies and we loved getting to know them while we were there. it was michelle who took us to the doctor when we got sick one night {thank god for locals who speak english!}.

down and dirty
mornings and evenings were mostly the same - cleaning, feeding and watering. watering elephants is really fun because they stick their trunks out and you just pour the water right in. for food we hauled big carts of pineapple plants over to them. they pick up the thick leaves with their trunks and bashed them against the poles or their legs to soften them.

i actually really liked cleaning out the fields and paddocks. i know, it's totally strange that one would enjoy getting dirty with elephant dung on one's honeymoon, but it felt good to work my muscles after a month of sitting on my ass making wedding decorations. i also got to run around in thick mud with elephants out in the fields of thailand - how often will i be able to do that?!

riding elephants
throughout the day we got to take our elephant on rides, and it's a really strange experience to ride an elephant. unlike horses, you sit on the elephant's neck so i could feel all her muscles moving. you don't have anything to hang onto either, so i just placed my hands on her head and moved with her rhythm. to get on they commanded her to lie down and i climbed right on! the mahouts {elephant trainers} step on the elephants leg and the elephant hoists them up on its own. a couple of them would even climb up the elephants' trunks!

we also had a mahout ride with us every time to help keep pisamy on track and to keep us from ever falling off. we did learn commands for the elephants which involved thai and signals with our feet on her ears. pisamy was mostly an obedient girl, but once i rode her before she was done eating and she tried to eat everything on our walk. she was also a very curious girl and tried to sniff everything around her, making riding her sometimes a little more adventurous than others.

{pisamy being very curious - sniffing the photographer - while i tried not to fall off with the turn of her head}

we would ride them through the little village and down to the river where the elephants would immerse themselves and we would give them a good rubbing. this was so much fun! it was always really hot and sticky in thailand, so a good ride into the river felt incredible for everyone.

the royal elephant kraal
the ranch is right next to the royal elephant kraal. this is where kings throughout history would examine wild elephants and mahouts to determine which elephants they would choose for their armies. we got to ride through it one day with our elephants which was such an awe-inspiring experience! so much history took place there for both elephants and the thai people.

elephant babies!
our hut was right next to the nursery. this is where they kept the babies {they had 5 babies all together}, the mommas, and the geriatric elephants. the old girl on the outside of the fence below was in her 80's and was nearing her end. she had to eat special soft food and got medicine every day. in buddhist traditions, elephants are the level right before humans in reincarnation, so it's very important to treat the elderly elephants with the greatest care and respect.

for this reason, the babies are also highly celebrated. the older babies had a lot of fun playing together - chasing each other around and head butting.

the newest baby was only 1 month old and was too small to be in with the older babies. he was the cutest thing ever!

{he's not dead, he would just flop down wherever and fall asleep without warning - so cute!}

he loved to have us blow into his trunk and then he would blow back. he would also run around chasing birds and couldn't quite figure out what his trunk was. he would step on it and try to pull it off like he wasn't quite sure what that thing was attached to his head.

one morning i was watching him through the fence and he wanted out so desperately he started to squeeze through the bottom bar!

when i realized he was going to be successful, i ran and got the mahout. by the time we got back the baby was out! the mahout laughed and told me, "go pray!" i wasn't quite sure how one plays with a baby elephant, but he seemed to know how to play with me. he would run away, stop, look back at me, then run for me! he would run right up to me, stop, put his trunk on me, then turn around and run away. he did this over and over and seemed to be having the best time!

bath time!
my favorite part of taking care of the elephants was the daily scrubbings. you really get to know someone when you give them a bath! their personalities came out when they were being scrubbed and they would be really expressive about how much they loved being scrubbed in certain places. we got to be super up close and personal, scrubbing their heads, bodies and underside, getting completely drenched in the process!

the mahouts also had a lot of fun with us. mai {one of the funniest mahouts} would give his elephant commands to spray us!

what i learned about elephants
before i went i wasn't sure how scary/intimidating it would be to ride and take care of elephants since they are so damn big! but as it turns out, they are the most gentle creatures! they're totally aware of us humans, their bodies and their actions around us. of course, we always had to look both ways when we walked anywhere to make sure we wouldn't be in the path of one who was working, but when dealing with the elephants i felt totally safe.

elephants are so smart and form beautiful bonds with people. they're much like giant dogs in that way. when their mahout was having fun, the elephants were having fun, and all they wanted to do was please their master, even though they were big enough to refuse to do anything.

elephants are super quiet! we would be walking and i would hear a person come up behind me, but when i turned to look, i would see a massive elephant! they actually walk on their toes so they make hardly any sound at all. it could be alarming at times and we had good fun imagining our elephants as ninjas!

{this elephant totally photobombed us! it's now my favorite picture}

elephants communicate with a super low sound that humans can't even hear! sometimes people can feel the vibrations, but usually we never know when the elephants are talking. there were of course times when the elephants would growl or blow their trumpets at each other. once pisamy trumpeted while i was on her and it was so cool to feel it rumbling through her body!

some of the elephants loved to paint! many of the mahouts are hard working men and women from the village with very little education or job training. but the work they do with the elephants is incredible! one of the most beautiful things they do together is create art. elephant and man, painting together. it's a fun way for them to bond and such a confidence boost when people see these works of art and want to buy them! we bought two that i can't wait to frame {when we do i'll post pictures of ours}. here are a few of my favorites that we almost bought {it was so hard to choose}:

if you ever get the chance to take a trip to thailand, go stay at elephantstay! as soon as we left i began to miss the elephants and i haven't stopped missing them since. it was the coolest thing i've ever done and hauntingly magical!


  1. Oh my gosh I love this! :) SO perfect seriously I would so do something like that in a heartbeat!

    And that little baby elephant is precious!

  2. Most people don't think about working on their honeymoons, but I love that you decided to do something non-traditional. This place is just fantastic. It makes me so happy that someone out there is really caring for elephants. And those babies are so cute (you also had me with kittens playing on the roof)! I'd love to spend a month here working and learning.

  3. Oh my goodness. This is AMAZING, Kim!! I read the whole thing instead of getting ready this morning. Ha! I've always loved elephants, and even got to play and touch baby elephants at an elephant orphanage when I was in Kenya a few years ago. I think it's amazing that you and Dannon actually got to care for them throughout the day, and watch as bonds were formed!

    I also think it's pretty awesome that you spent a part of your honeymoon doing something meaningful, not just laying on beaches. Although the laying on beaches part is important, too :)

  4. This is so amazing! I have so many comments in my head I wish I was talking to you as I was reading it. Let me say that you are amazing for doing this. Secondly, that baby elephant was the cutest thing on the planet. Third, I would buy that art in a elephant heart beat, and fourth you are seriously amazing.

  5. Your adventure at Elephantstay was amazing! I have always been fascinated with elephants. They are so big, yet so gentle. My only experience with them was a ride on one at a fair years ago, but I will never forget it. I am glad the both of you had a chance to contribute to the care of these wonderful creatures. I know this will be something the both of you will remember and cherish for the rest of your lives.

  6. Ah, I love the elephants. The wild ones in Africa, I must warn, are not so gentle. Anyhoo, I always post a heap of photos. I'm glad you did too!

  7. oh my gosh, sounds like a once in a lifetime experience! i love these photos and am glad you decided to share many with us! those baby elephants are too adorable. and i secretly love to run around in mud and get dirty on occassion, looks like fun! ;) oh and i rode an elephant way back when at the sf zoo - very different from a horse!!

  8. I love how much you loved this! What an amazing experience, and it obviously lived up to all your expectations and then some...

    I don't know if I'll ever find myself in Thailand, but if I do, I'd love to spend some time here. It seems like such a fabulous environment, and so authentic.

    The smile on your face in these photos is proof of what a wonderful place it must be. I'm glad you posted so many! The entire time you were away, I kept thinking, "Ooh, I wonder if Kim and Dannon are with their elephant now?!"

  9. That has to be the coolest honey ever. What an adventure! Elephants are such amazing creatures and I am glad that someone is trying to make life better for them. They look so peaceful and wise. I am glad that you included so many pictures. That is truly something to share.
    p.s. I've always wanted to ride an elephant!

  10. OH MY GOSH! I want to hang out with elephants. And that baby one? SO CUTE!

    I love that you took a non-traditional route for your honeymoon. I'm sure the sweet elephants loved it too.

  11. I LOVE elephants! How cool that you got to do this!

  12. Wow, Elephantstay sounds amazing! You guys really made the most of your trip!!!

  13. ooh. my.
    must. get. to. thailand. for. elephants!
    elephants are my favorite
    (that little tattoo on my foot is of Ganesha)

    how incredible!!
    such an adventure. i agree that this is such a great way to spend a honeymoon!

  14. This post--and these photographs--are nothing short of amazing. I would love to experience something like this and think it's incredible that you went to an elephant farm for your honeymoon. Thanks so much for sharing this post with us (I was introduced to your blog by Googlover/Keishua and am sooo happy I stopped by!).

    I totally squealed at the pictures of the baby elephants. SOOO cute!

    I finished reading a book recently called "Water for Elephants." You might want to check it out when you have the chance! It's a great read and discusses a bit of the playful side of elephants (the book is centered on circuses in the 1920s).

  15. Wow! What a fabulous adventure. I'm definitely flagging this for a future adventure.

  16. I absolutely LOVE this. I'll be honest, I've never really been a huge fan of seeing elephants put to work in captivity. I've always had a thing for elephants. But reading this and checking out elephantstay, it really sounds like they respect the elephants. I can totally see myself doing this someday and I can't wait to share it with my husband! Thank you for sharing this!

  17. Best. Honeymoon. EVER!! What an amazing adventure and I'm so glad you documented all of it! So beautiful! Gah.. I definitely have to go on a trip like this sometime in my life!

  18. Sorry, but you need to do some research! Please google " Why Elephant Riding Should Be Removed from Your Bucket List"! If people saw the videos (which can be found all over the internet) of elephants being beaten with bullhooks or electric prods, or worse, would they be so keen to hop aboard these animals for the sake of saying “I rode an elephant?” Probably not.
    Electric prods and bullhooks aside, there are a variety of reasons people should skip riding an elephant and opt for more humane ways to get up-close to these creatures.
    Still debating whether or not you should ride an elephant? Here’s more reasons you should skip the trek and head to a sanctuary that doesn’t have rides or circuses. Have you heard of the "Phajaan" (Chrushing)??

    How exactly is an elephant, a wild animal, domesticated? What on earth could make these pachyderms subservient to humans? The answer is the "Phajaan".

    A long-time tradition in the Thai culture, the Phajaan or crush, is the training method elephants undergo to become a part of the tourism industry. As young elephants, they are torn from their mothers and entrapped in a small confine, then ritualistically abused with bullhooks and bamboo sticks spiked with nails, as well as starved, deprived of sleep and worse, to crush their spirits and become submissive to humans.
    This is the general and accepted practice in Thailand, and the ones every elephant has undergone that is at a trekking camp or circus. If the fact the in order to be trained to be a part of tourism isn’t enough to convince you skip riding an elephant, there’s more.

    Don't believe everything you hear ...

    A good rule to remember is that if a tourist outfit offers anything other than getting to spend time with elephants, it is not friendly to them. Any outfit that offers riding, circuses or paintings means they have undergone horrific abuse in order to get them to where they are. Remember, all of these elephants have suffered through the abusive and torturous crush. And while some are more friendly than others, and don’t employ the use of bullhooks, the sheer fact that the elephants are trekking means they are being harmed.
    What can you do if you don’t want to ride elephants? Depending on where in the world you are, there are plenty of true conservation projects that allow you to feed them, bathe them and spend time with them without causing them further harm. Parks like the Elephant Nature Park or Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary in Northern Thailand are two that are reputable and allow human-elephant interaction without compromising the elephant’s safety.