Monday we went to the Elephant Nature Park another official link here, wikipedia entry here. This was an amazing experience, I must say. This park is different from the usual elephant 'dog and pony show'. At those shows, the elephants do stupid tricks that they have been taught, at Elephant Nature Park (ENP) the elephants just get to be elephants. They wander freely, while at the other parks they are chained up when not working. They woman who founded and runs the place, Lek, is an amazing person. In addition to the 31 elephants, there are also 50 some odd dogs, several cats, water buffalo, and some cattle. As you might guess, Lek is quite an animal lover. She founded this park as a place to save elephants who have been treated poorly, as many of the elephants at other places are. In fact, you watch a very good video from National Geographic that, among other things, demonstrates how elephants are trained for the trekking companies and the shows. Let's just say is in not pleasant; they basically lock them in a confined space, called a press (if that tells you anything) and torture them for between 3 and 7 days. It is not nice.
Like I said, however, SNP is different. The elephants roam freely, and form natural family groups on their own. On the way to the park, you stop at the market and load up a bunch of fruit for them to eat. At the park, you get to feed the elephants. They take the fruit right out of your hand. It was really cool. Then, after a really good lunch for the people, you take the elephants down to the river for their bath. This is like nothing else you have ever done. They lie down in the river, and you splash buckets of water on them, and scrub them down with brushes. They really seem to enjoy it. Then, after the bath, you watch and they go back to their mud hole and wallow in the mud for a bit. After this there is a long time where you can just sit in the shade and watch the elephants do their thing. Then, before you leave, you give them another bath. All in all it was a tremendous day. Wait until you see the picture of the elephant giving me a 'kiss'. It was something else. They really have some suction in those trunks.
The park is outside of town in the country, in a pretty valley. It was one of the best parts of the whole trip, and they really educate you about the plight of the elephant in Thailand, which is, to be honest, somewhat grim. They are particularly down on people who bring elephants into big cities, even Bangkok, to beg. This is very bad. After being here, I would never go to any of the other camps. They also have people that volunteer and stay there for a week or even several weeks. There were 40 volunteers when we were there. I could see how this would be quite an experience. If you come here, I strongly recommend that you visit ENP.