Knee-deep in mud: the planting grass adventure

Photo: K. Atkinson Jones

Thank goodness I am wearing boots, because otherwise, when I am knee-deep in the thick, gloppy mud in the humid and overcast afternoon, my foot would come shooting out and cause me to face plant it into the neat little rows of grass we are planting.

Our afternoon volunteer activity is another labor-intensive experience. This time, we have are split into two groups: grass planters and sugar-cane choppers. I’ve had my fill for life of machetes, so I opt to spend time hunched over a mud field, shoving little grass bulbs into holes.

As we walk to the field, Jack points out spots of interest, namely the moon bear Lek’s husband has rescued. This little, fluffy guy was having his bile harvested when he was rescued. I squint my eyes to a platform in a large, fenced off area and see the bear, a roly poly fella, hanging out, draping his head off of a platform, looking at the world upside down.

We finally arrive to our field, nearby Lilly’s grave. It’s roped off with stakes and string. And, it’s pretty big. Jack hands us each bundles of grass to plant, explaining he will come by and poke a hole in the ground where the grass goes, to put one piece in, then cover it up with more dirt. Then, when the row is done, we move back a fraction of an inch (not literally, but it seems like it), and do it all over again.

With 10 of us, we each cover about 10 holes in the ground before we retreat a row back.

Only, Lucy, Katy and I have it a bit harder. We’re off to one side of the field … pockmarked with huge puddles.

We’re filthy in seconds.

Photo: K. Atkinson Jones

First, it’s Jack who comes up to me, hand covered in mud, and runs his finger down both cheeks and my chin, leaving me with swipes of mud that look like I’m at some ancient tribal ritual.

Then, as we move further and further into the puddles, my hands, then arms, become covered in it. We don’t even need to poke holes in the earth anymore. I simply jab my finger into the ground, shove a piece of grass, then slosh some water and dirt over it, hoping the grass doesn’t get up and float away.

We get into a good routine. Grass in one hand. Popping our fingers down into the mud, shoving a piece in, covering it. Repeating down the line until we reach our neighbor’s planted grass. Then, step back a foot into more mud, and do it all over again.

“We should sing!” Lucy suggests. When there is no audible groan from the volunteers, she launches into song. Then, we begin to throw out suggestions.

“How about some New Kids on the Block?” I ask after they run through some songs from the early 90s. Lucy and Katy pause mid-plant and look at me.

“Who?” Lucy asks.

Oh my god. They don’t know New Kids on the Block.

“Ya know … Hanging Tough … Step by Step, oooh baby,” I sing.

They stare at me, blankly.

Then it hits me, I am old. Well, not old. But, significantly older than the two girls who are standing next to me.

Turns out, Katy isn’t even 20, and Lucy is in her early 20s. And, me? Well, I’ve got a good decade on Katy.

“The New Kids, for your information, were the first boy band in my time,” I explain, trying to salvage the situation. “They were popular when I was in elementary school. The first time they came to town and I wasn’t allowed to go to their concert, I threw myself on the floor of my bedroom and cried as I listened to Joey-Joe sing in his pre-pubescent girlie voice ‘Please Don’t Go Girl.'”

Instead, we sing Backstreet Boys. Well, they do. I don’t know enough of the words. Oh, beautiful generation gap.

From time to time, one of the three of us has a near splash in the mud. Our gumboots become firmly entrenched. No one notices until one of us — the stuck one — squeals and tries desperately to not land on all fours in the huge puddles. We wave our hands, lurched over and teetering, attempting to regain our balance. Sometimes, our feet actually become dislodged within the boot and creep dangerously close to falling out.

Fortunately, we always recover, getting our foot back into the foot portion of our boot.

When we run out of grass to plant, I’m actually kind of bummed, although I am thankful I won’t be having ants creep out of the strands and crawl up my arms anymore.

The three of us actually make it out of planting grass without landing in the mud.

Until Jack notices.

He gets Lucy and Katy first. I smugly step aside, avoiding the throw down. But then, as I walk towards the solid land, he tackles me, sending my entire right side plummeting into a huge mud puddle.

I can’t help but laugh and be giddy.

Being caked in mud doesn’t even bother me because we’re having so much fun.

As we walk back, Lucy, Katy and I link arms, giggling about our afternoon as our feet squish into the ground, I realize I like planting grass. I like this entire experience so far.

But still, nothing can surpass the shoveling.

Asia Blog Thailand

An inside look at Elephant Nature Park

The expansive park is set among lush mountains and mist.

Chai hands us each a huge bundle of bananas as we suit up in our rain gear.

“For our walk,” he explains.

I pull on my gum boots (with socks this time) and pull my poncho over my head, tucking my camera under it securely so it won’t get rained on.

The clouds have been threatening all morning, and now, after our filling lunch, rain begins to spill from them. Big, fat drops of rain that hit our eyelashes and make us blink back the water so our view of the park isn’t obstructed.

The volunteers are split in half for this walk through the park — something every visitor to the park gets, whether they are volunteers or tourists up for a day or two. It doesn’t cover the entire 20 acres, but it gives us an idea of what goes on at the park, and a briefing on the elephants who live here and the programs the park is instituting to show tourists and locals there are other ways to earn a living from elephants that doesn’t cause them further harm after the brutal crush.

An elephant stands alone on our walk.

We start with the two girls I met the first day — Mae Tee and Mae Kham Geao — the chatty best friends. Then, we head over to a shelter where we shoveled earlier in the day and meet some elephants over there. I get distracted when I look to my right and see an elephant being trained with a clicker and bananas. She stands behind a wooden frame with beams at different levels. When the clicker goes off, she puts her foot where the noise comes from, and is then rewarded with food.

The positive training method being taught. A method that does not involve pain or suffering.

We then head over to her and give her even more bananas before we walk by a giant mound of earth, sprouting fresh grass and new trees.

“This is Lilly’s grave,” says Chai. “She died here a little while ago. We buried her near her best friend, Mae Keow’s, shelter and planted grass and trees.” He tells us of Lilly’s struggle in her last days and her best friend’s unwavering support and reassurance as Mae Keow stayed by her side to comfort her.

I can’t help it, I get emotional just looking at the giant grave rising above the long blades of grass below. I can almost tell there is an elephant buried there, the way the mound is shaped.

“Her best friend was very sad when she died,” he explains.

I get even sadder when I realize how similar elephants are to us.

They can feel the way we feel. They can experience grief and loss. Holy shit.

We continue our walk, past huts of staff members, through enormous puddles, stomping through foot prints of elephants who have walked on the same path we have.

It beings to boggle my mind as we walk deeper into the habitat of these creatures.

Along the way, Chai stops us at different elephants, telling us their stories. They are all similar and all heart-wrenching. Illegal logging. Fed methamphetamine to keep them working. Forced breeding. Street begging. Trekking at camps. Each situation is gut-wrenching, painful to hear.

I can’t believe these animals have been treated this way, and people like me unknowingly send the message to the industry that it is OK by riding them, going to circuses, buying elephant paintings.

Elephants are a playful bunch. This one entertains herself with a tire.

Then, I look around. We’re not the only group on this tour today. In fact, there are quite a few groups touring the park and learning what we are learning. After they are done, they will watch the same DVD we watched the day before, and their eyes will be opened.

As we head back to the compound, I shake off the sadness and am comforted when I see Jokia, the elephant who lost her baby and while she was mourning, had her eyes shout out by slingshots by her mahout because she refused to work. I see her and her best friend, Mae Perm, gently touching her trunk to let her know she is by her side.

And, that makes me feel good. It reminds me that despite the abusive and awful pasts these elephants have endured, here, on these lush 20-acres with loving people watching over them, they are safe. And won’t have to go through anything like this again.

This is their sanctuary, and I am so fortunate to have been let inside to experience these creatures for myself.

Asia Blog Responsible Tourism Thailand

They gave me a machete: a true story of corn-cutting

Imagine 10 of us standing in the back, en route to cutting corn.

Our group of 10 piles into the back of a pickup truck at 8 a.m. We’re covered head-to-toe, largely to avoid ants crawling down our clothing and nipping us.

I’ve got on a hat with fabric flaps, a long-sleeved shirt, a T-shirt, leggings, gum boots, and a pair of gloves. And, I’m not as covered up as others.

There are no seats in the back of the truck, so the group of us stands, grabbing on to the thick white metal bars that remind me of a cage, to keep us all from flying out of the back.

We drive for miles, down the road we came in, past the elephants carrying passengers. When we drive past them, I get angry. A part of me wants to stop the truck, jump off and explain to the people on their backs about what these elephants have endured. But really, I want to kidnap the elephants and guide them on the quick walk up the road to safety at Elephant Nature Park. But, I do nothing. Instead, I turn to my fellow volunteer with simply a look of disgust.

That’s all we need to convey how we feel about what we see on that road.

We bop along, heading out onto the highway for a few minutes, holding tight to the bars. Then, we arrive to a little plot of land down a small road. In front of us is a field of corn that needs to be chopped, bundled, loaded back into the truck, and taken back to the park to feed the elephants today.

Jack unloads a bag of machetes.

I hate knives. I hate blades. I don’t like anything that has the ability to cut a finger or other body part clean off, so when he drops them on the earth, I feel the back of my knees tingle. I watch as everyone’s eyes light up.


One by one, they grab them and begin to chop at the thick stocks of corn. I’m a little more apprehensive. But, finally, I go and grab one.

It’s heavy in my gloved hand, and when I make my first swing, I realize I need to be a little more forceful than that if I want to make a dent in this field of corn. So, I swing again. This time, the corn falls to the ground.

Ha. Take that corn.

Since the pieces need to be roughly the same size, I pick it up and slice it in half again.

Within minutes, gloves are soaked with sweat. Dripping with sweat. I’ve sweat through nearly everything, actually. The sun may not be out, but the humidity and the heat are making the corn cutting exhausting.

I try to carve out a row, whacking and thwacking corn in my path. I try to be all Jungle D and, in one foul swoop, knock the corn to the ground. Of course, it doesn’t work like that. More often than not, I am standing there, at a stalk of corn, for a good minute, holding the top of it tight as I hack at the thick bottom part. Then, sometimes, if the middle part is too thin and I fear I may machete right through the stalk and into me, I just bend it over my knee and break it/rip it apart.

As the volunteers throw corn to the ground in piles, villagers who have come along with us, rope bundles together.

In an hour, we have hacked the entire field.

Next, we have to haul the bundles into the truck.

After the field has been cleared, it's time to haul the bundles. Photo: Sarah Bird

There is no graceful way to do this. At first, I try to be ambitious, grabbing two bundles — each hand grasping the twine — and teetering back to the truck. It doesn’t work well. At all.

So, the next round, I fling the bundle over my shoulders, draping my arms around it. This time, I am able to make it back a little easier. Granted, it’s not comfortable, and my mind keeps going back to the previous day’s conversation with Adele who got accosted by ants that trailed down her shirt when she did the same, but I manage.

I don’t get too many bundles to the truck before we are done. I’m half way back into the cleared field when I ask Pam if there are any more left. She shakes her head “no.”

I’m hit with a huge feeling of accomplishment. We started with an entire field to cut down, bundle and haul to the truck. Within 90 minutes, our little group has cleared the field and loaded the truck. I’ve never been witness to such teamwork before, and when we get back in the van (yes, the van instead of the pickup) to ride back to the park, I feel a rush of satisfaction and pride to be a part of such an amazing group of people.

We aren’t doing this for us. We’re doing it for the elephants. And, that feels awesome.


Asia Blog Thailand

Cultural Tips for Thailand

“Chang, Chang, Chang,” we all sing, our shoulders tucked into our noses and our one arm hanging to depict an elephant trunk.

It’s nighttime, and Jack and Chai have called us up to the conference room to teach us about Thai culture and the Thai language.

The first thing that sticks in my head? Elephant in Thai is “Chang.” Just like the beer I have grown to love with the white elephant against the forest green background.

But, there’s more we learn. Much more.

Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist culture, therefore it differs greatly from what most Westerners are used to.

Going up those stairs? Take your shoes off.

What’s it called when you put your hands together in front of your face? And, what does it mean?

The Wai is this prayer-like gesture you see everywhere in Thailand, accompanied by a bow of the head. It is done as a sign of respect to royalty, monks, elders, family, employers and those socially equal or greater than the person who is doing the Wai-ing. But, it’s more complicated than that. There are a few variations of the Wai based on the level of respect to show a person. Jack explains there are four levels of the Wai — thumbs at the bridge of the nose for royalty and  monks; thumbs at the tip of the nose for respected elders; the most common, thumbs at the chin for an employer or person of greater social status; and thumbs at chest level for friends and those on the same social level. However, should someone Wai you, the response is the last variation — chest level. The Wai is used to say in greeting, departure and as a “thank you.” Get all of that?

Don’t use your feet to point. Seriously.

In Thai culture, feet are considered dirty and pointing with your feet is disrespectful.

I was standing with Chai after we had our Thai culture class and was horrified when, in coversation, there was something on the ground, and I pointed at it with my foot (which was in a shoe). The lesson from the night before replayed in my mind, and I ducked my head in embarassment, offering a quiet apology for my faux paux.

If you’re in a Buddhist temple/sitting in front of a statute or with Buddhist monks, sit in the mermaid position with your feet pointing away from them.

This goes back to the belief that the feet are the dirtiest part of the body. Sit with your knees tucked to your side and the soles of your feet pointing away from the statue or monk. When I was being blessed by the shaman and was sitting in a permanent Wai during my time, the mermaid position became very uncomfortable. If you can lean your weight on your arms a bit, it shouldn’t be as bad. But, keep this in mind should you want to be blessed during a longer ceremony.

Don't wear your bathing suit in the water.

Keep your clothes on …

The first time we went to bathe elephants, Jack asked us to please respect Thai culture, which is to not show skin. So, for the week, we bathed elephants wearing clothing.

I was shocked when I got a massage one evening and an older couple came up to the room to receive massages, too. The recipients of the massages were all laying on mats, fully-clothed. The woman took off her pants as she sat down, showing her underwear to the entire woman. The woman from the nearby village who were giving us our massages giggled nervously when she laid down, ready for her treatment. It got even worse when the man took off his shirt, explaining it was too constrictive for him and “this” was better.

It was all I could do not to pop up from my relaxed state and throw their clothing back at them and explain to them they needed to keep their clothing on.

But take your shoes off.

Feet are dirty (so be sure to keep them clean), but shoes are even dirtier. Remove them when going into homes, schools, small shops and more. A general rule of thumb? If you are about to enter somewhere and there are shoes outside of the door, follow the leader and take yours off, too.

Don’t get too into touching.

Kissing and hugging aren’t the norm in Thailand. You will see people holding hands — couples, friends of the same and opposite sex — just don’t get too touchy. It can make people uncomfortable. Also, never touch a Thai person’s head. And, if you are a woman, do not touch a monk. Ever.

Be polite.

This is a good rule to follow, regardless of where you are. Always put your best foot forward and be a glowing representative of your country. Thai people are charmingly polite and seem to always have a smile on their face.

What other Thai culture tips can you provide? Have you ever accidentally done one of these things? Share your stories!

Planning a trip to Thailand? There are plenty of options, including your very own Thailand rental to enjoy all the country has to offer. For more information about this option, click here.

Asia Blog Thailand Travel Travel Tips

I’m not full of it, I’m shoveling it

I wake up early on my first day — as soon as the light begins to sneak through the tiny cracks in the wood, and the more than 100 dogs begin to bark their “hellos” to their cat neighbors and the elephants start making their noises out my window.

I’m too excited to sleep any longer.

That, and I really have to use the bathroom. There was no way in hell, at 4 a.m. when I first woke up, that under the cloak of darkness and the loud chirping of insects, I was willing to risk stepping out onto the crickety wooden platforms and trek to the bathroom. I don’t know what’s out there in the dark, and I wasn’t prepared to swallow my fear that first early morning. What if some wild jungle beast attacks me and my screams are drowned out by nature?

After a quick shower, I head to the compound to meet everyone for breakfast. Over breakfast, I explain to Pam my high hopes for my first chore at the park — pooper scooper duty.

When I first signed up to volunteer at Elephant Nature Park, whoever I told about my plans would ask me (without fail) what being a volunteer entailed.

My go-to response? “Basically, I am shoveling shit for a week.”

I’m prepared to do some heavy lifting.

So, when we met at the volunteer shelter following a delicious breakfast, I am a little bummed to see my first task at the park would not be Ele Poo Duty, but working in the Elephant Kitchen.

Our volunteer group is split into three — poo, kitchen and cutting corn.

My group heads to the elephant kitchen, a huge part of the compound that houses tons and tons of bananas, watermelon, pumpkins and more. It’s got row after row of shelves stocked from floor to ceiling with fruits for the elephant inhabitants to eat.

One small little part of the Elephant Kitchen

Shannon, a long-term volunteer in charge of prepping all of the food, explains our morning. First, we wash pumpkins, then chop them, then ration out bananas, then make mushy banana balls with the overly ripe bananas for the older elephants who can’t chew the fruits whole anymore.

We start an assembly line from one end of the kitchen to the other, passing along pumpkins and dumping them into a huge basin filled with water to clean them.

We’re about 10 minutes into the task when Jack comes up.

“We need one more person to come and shovel.”

Ohmygosh. Shoveling!

“D, you were saying you wanted to go shovel poo, you should go,” Pam says.

So, I ditch the pumpkin dunking and head to the volunteer shelter to get a pair of gum boots on. It’s not raining, yet, but the last thing I want is to wear flip flops and be knee-deep in mud or poo or anything.

The gum boots are gross, covered in dirt from previous uses. And, they’re wet. I don’t even have socks on, but I decide nothing bad can happen to me by shoving my feet into dirty boots. And, if something does happen, like coming down with some rare and random jungle foot rash, I certainly won’t be the first it happens to.

I squash my feet in the boots and head out to the shelters to go help the group already shoveling.

My new shoes for the week. Gum boots.

It feels gross. 

I can feel the mud scratching my bare feet in the boots. Swimming in dampness.

I shake it off.

You’re shoveling shit, D. It’s what you’ve been talking about for months!

When I meet everyone at the shelter, I jump in, grabbing a pitchfork and scooping up the balls of fiber.

Elephant poo isn’t like other animal’s poo I’ve seen. For one, it’s roughly the size of a grapefruit, and it doesn’t smell (what does smell is the urine). Compromised entirely of fiber, thanks to their veggie diet, it’s pretty light to lift. We don’t just scoop poo though. There’s husks from corn. Entire bunches of bananas that have been swallowed hole or flung away, discarded.

As we progress from shelter to shelter, about 10 dogs follow us. I immediately take a favorite — a thin boy who runs around with a stick in his mouth, but never lets us take it from his mouth and play fetch. We dub him “Stick” and laugh every time he runs by us, keeping us company but never getting too friendly.

The favorite pup, Stick. Photo: Sarah Bird

We fill up quite a few tractors full with poo, husks and more — each time Chai, our other volunteer coordinator, drives away to dump it in the compost — we take a breather and hang out with elephants.

Chai and the tractor. Photo: Sarah Bird

The best thing about our morning job shoveling? It’s fun. Yes. Fun.

Our group is chatty, and we laugh and joke and get to know each other as we shovel. We take turns, scooting aside when huge piles are flung onto the tractor so we don’t get covered. We help each other out, sweeping husks of corn onto shovels. We relieve each other when necessary.

We start to become a family that morning.

Our final stop of shoveling is the medical center where we meet two landmine victims, Sri Prae and Malai Tong. They have to stay in the shelter during the rainy season, otherwise their injuries will become infected.

A dogs eye view of the Medical Shelter

I don’t want to look at their injured feet, but I can’t help it.

Malai Tong stepped on a landmine when she was being used in the illegal logging industry. Unlike most victims of landmines, she still has the front portion of her back right foot and can bare weight on it. After the injury put her out of logging, her mahout took her to the streets of Bangkok so she could gain sympathy (and tourist dollars) begging. When the government began to crackdown on the street begging there, they relocated to another province, but the money wasn’t coming in. That’s when her mahout decided to sell her.

Malai Tong, snacking before being treated by the vet

Lek found Malai Tong distraught at the Surin Elephant Round-Up, an event that brings elephants to a central location from all over the country and highlights their importance in the Thai culture, in 2005 and brought her to the park. (The Round-Up also features tricks and performances where people can see for themselves the results of the torture they must endure for tourists.)

Sri Prae, the other elephant being cared for in the shelter, is a sweet girl. Like Malai Tong, Sri Prae was injured when she was being used in the illegal logging industry. Her front left foot went down on a landmine. For two years, she was in recovery, and now she can walk on it, albeit with difficulty. While we are advised not to really approach Malai Tong, we are given permission to walk up to this elephant and pet her trunk and feed her. She stands there, her eyes sparkling, as we all shower her with affection.

Sweet, sweet Sri Prae

For a brief moment, we stand there, petting her, leaving the few piles of shoveling to wait. 

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in Sri Prae and her gentle ways. Her heavy breathing as we scratch her. The light flapping of her ears. Her curious trunk that reaches out towards us in search of fruits.

We finish shoveling quickly and head to unwind for a few before lunch and our afternoon activities. After all, we’ve got a tour of the park after our next Thai feast.

And, I can’t wait.

Asia Blog Thailand

Blessings from a shaman

It starts as a drizzle after dinner … a soft pitter patter on the roof of the main area at the Park. It’s dark, so we can’t really see the full effect. But, we can hear it.

Within minutes, that light little drizzle gives way to sheets of rain, dumping from the sky. As we make our way up to a deck on the compound, the rain pounds the roof, dripping in from the open sides of the room and onto us.

This is Thailand’s rainy season, and it is pelting us with all it’s got on our first night at the Elephant Nature Park.

We enter the room to young adults from the nearby village playing traditional Thai music, and a few elders, sitting cross-legged. We leave our shoes at the door and walk across the floor to take a mat and be a part of the Baci welcome ceremony.

Youth from the village play music. Photo: Gabrielle Aw

“We need a few volunteers,” Jack announces.

My hand shoots up, along with three other girls — Marie and Adele (sisters who are in their second week at the park), and Jasmin.

Marie and Adele give me a quick rundown since they did the ceremony the week before.

“Don’t point your feet at anyone,” says Adele. “You have to sit mermaid style. And, be sure to clasp your hands and bow when appropriate.”

I tuck my legs to the side, away from the elders, and, following everyone else’s cues, put my hands together (called “wai”) in front of my face.

Then, the ceremony starts.

My eyes grow wide as the shaman begins to chant.

I have no idea what he is saying, but I know this: we are being blessed.

The ritural celebrates important events and occasions, such as a welcoming of volunteers. We begin with the shaman evoking the kwan, which watches over our 32 organs. According to ancient beliefs, it is important to have as many kwan as possible together in the body. The ceremony calls the kwans from wherever they are to return to our bodies.

To enable this, the paw kwan is prepared. Placed on a silver tray, the cone is made of banana leaves and, at the center, are a bundle of flowers to symbolize love, longevity and more.

The paw kwan.

It is intricate. It is beautiful. I immediately begin to feel ridiculously blessed, not just because of the ceremony, but because it hits me just how fortunate I am to be sitting here.

We sit for a long time, as the shaman has us place our hands on the paw kwan and douses us with water. He takes a bundle of string and loops it around each of our hands, ending with Adele, across from me.

Photo: Gabrielle Aw

Then it hits me. My legs are in such pain. After having them tucked to the side and our hands in prayer, it is really hard to sit up straight. And to be comfortable. I try to adjust, but can’t kick my feet around.

Hang in there, D. Keep it together.

I look to the other girls. How are they doing it? Aren’t they in pain? If they are, their faces give nothing away.

Then, it’s time for the white cotton string to be tied around our wrists for good luck. First, he snips the string at my wrist, then wraps it around, tying it in a knot. He proceeds to each girl, snipping and tying, until we all have these blessings on our bodies.

Receiving the white cotton string for good luck.

While he ties them around our wrists, the women step out into the crowd and tie it around the wrists of the rest of the volunteers who wish to be blessed.

When it is over, I stretch my legs out. Ahhh.

The rain is still beating on the roof, but I’ve been so entranced by the ceremony, I haven’t noticed.

I retreat to my room, using a torch to guide my way, before 8:30 p.m. I fall asleep to the chirping of crickets, cicadas and occasional elephant conversation.

It’s the most peaceful sleep I’ve had in a long time.

Asia Blog Thailand

A room at the (primitive) Palace

I don’t expect much when Jack hands me the key to my room, a hut in the Palace complex.

On the Elephant Nature Park’s Web site, it states the toilets are squat and the showers are Thai (meaning buckets to rinse, no shower heads), so when I walk the few feet to my lodging for the week, I am not getting my hopes up.

The walk from the main area to my room isn’t far. In fact, aside from the staff quarters, my hut is probably the closest. I stroll down the dirt road, paying careful attention to my surroundings. To my right is the gate to the elephant’s habitat. Then, there’s one of the shelters that houses two of the elephant families with babies. Then, some jungle foliage and … the Palace complex.

Yes, it’s called The Palace.

It’s a fairly basic structure, two wooden huts on a platform. I walk up the creaky stairs to my hut. And that’s when I hear it: elephant chirping. I peer around the massive tree on the side of my front porch, and there they are — the elephants.


Key in hand, I unlock the padlock on my door and step inside.

It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the darkness.

The room is bare, save for a queen-sized bed flanked in mosquito netting. It’s all very primitive.

There are three sets of windows, a fan and one little light.

My palace for the week at Elephant Nature Park

I’m not staying here for the accomodation. I’m staying here for the elephants.

I drop my bag down next to my bed and take a pre-cursory sit on it. It’s pretty comfortable. I run my hands over the warm blanket. Soft. I grab a pillow and squeeze it to me. Perfect.

Then, I stand up and go to each of my windows, throwing open the wooden shutters.

Even though rain threatens us, light floods the room. I walk to the set of windows that opens to the elephants.

They are right outside of my window.

Elephants. I am sleeping nearly next to elephants.

A tinge of “holy shit” runs through my veins.

The view from the porch of my palace

I have a few minutes to unwind before I have to go back to the group to watch a documentary on Asian elephants.

I do a quick investigation, walking down a wooden walkway between my room and the other, to the bathrooms and showers.

I am greeted with a western toilet and a western shower. With hot water. (Apparently, the Palace is the only complex with hot water, so I lucked out, even if it was too hot outside to enjoy hot showers.)

I head back to my room for a few and crawl onto my bed and lay on my side, just staring out at the spectacular scene in front of me.

A view from my room

Outside of my window, there are beautiful trees with glistening leaves. In the distance, emerald green mountains loom, with a fine layer of mist cutting across.

And there, right there, out my window, are elephants.


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