Tuesday, October 03, 2017

11th Week: Elephant Sanctuary Kanchanaburi

Sawadii ka, everyone!

My 11th week here was hands down my favourite. I mean, it's hard to compete with elephants, isn't it? I spent the whole week at the elephant sanctuary in Kanchanaburi. I've been looking forward to this project since January and that was probably the biggest reason, I wanted to go the Thailand. Elephants. 

It was clear to me, that I didn't want to support any of those touristy elephant riding / elephant adventure offers, that you can find almost everywhere in Thailand, since the people, who work there, don't care about the well-being of the animals and torture them just to get money. Obviously not a fan of that. Of course, I knew that sanctuaries are not always sanctuaries and sometimes they lie about their work to attract tourists. I'm incredible glad and grateful that that wasn't the case with elephantsworld in Kanchanaburi. They took amazing care of their elephants and it truly was a breathtaking experience.l for me.


On Monday we had to be ready at 6am. For me especially that was really hard since I didn't get to sleep much on the weekend because of the long bus drive from the previous project in Chiang Rai. After about an hour of driving, we stopped at 7-eleven to buy breakfast and at around 9am, we arrived at the sanctuary.

We could already tell, that this was a good place for the animals, since one was being washed at the sanctuary gates and basically all the other ones were roaming around on a huge field, free from chains.

Of course, we had to take a massive amount of photos, when we finally got out of the car, and then put our luggage in a storage room. We then went to the souvenir shop and almost everybody bought some kind of t-shirt, shorts or necklace.

After that, we got to know our coordinator for the week, Jimmy. He gave everyone of our group a bottle bag and told us the rules for our stay.

Now it was time for the first real contact with the animals. We got to feed them at the eating area with already prepared fruit baskets for each elephant. It was really cute how gentle, yet determined, they took their food out of our hands. At that time, we already knew, that this would be an amazing week.

Then we could accompany the elephants and their mahouts (basically, the people who own them) down to the river.

There we could watch the elephants taking a bath and we, of course, took lots of pictures again.

Two elephants were tied to a tree so we could go near them, touch them and, yet again, take pictures with them.

The next activity was cutting and shredding banana grass for the elephants, before getting lunch. After having lunch, Jimmy and another coordinator held a presentation about what elephants eat. They eat between 100 and 500 kilograms of banana grass/pinapple leaves, yam beans, bananas and watermelons per day.

With that information, we went to the food chamber to prepare fruit baskets for the animals ourselves. Every elephant has its own fruit basket, filled with watermelon, bananas and, if they're young enough to be able to chew it, yam beans.
Everyone of us could then take one basket and feed the matching elephant. For that, the elephant comes to the feeding station with its mahout and waits for someone like us to bring it its, in this case, afternoon snack.

After feeding them, we walked them to some sort of wooden bridge/railing/rack where they could take a mud bath. Only one elephant was motivated to so, though, so we all just watched that one and learned about some of the others, how we could recognise them, where they're from or what they had to do before they came to the sanctuary.

Many of them worked as tourist attractions, for example as riding elephants, dancing elephants or just trick elephants. Some others were used as working elephants in the jungle for carrying trees and other construction work materials.

The highlight of the day was bathing the animals. We all got into the river (with our clothes on - we're still in Thailand!) and began to either splash the elephants with water or scrub them with brooms.
They all really enjoyed it (we did too) and sometimes they let themselves drift on their sides, which meant that they absolutely loved the way we treated them. Some of them knew the trick "splash" where they, as the name already says, splash the participants with water. It was really really fun. 10/10.

After getting dry again, we could feed the elephants again, then we had some free time. Shortly before dinner, we brought the elephants to the jungle for the night, since they sleep there everyday. After dinner, we watched a documentary about a family who lives in the jungle with two elephants.



We started our Tuesday by preparing the fruit baskets at 8am. It took a few minutes and after that, we had breakfast. We then walked onto the elephant field, met a few elephants with their mahouts and could take lots of pictures of and with them.

The following activity was really fun. We walked down to another river bank with four of the elephants which we then could feed and wash again for a few hours. It was quite nice, since we were about ten people and four elephants and it seemed like that was a good ratio. It was also cool, that we didn't have to "share" ;) with day-trip tourists like the day before and we were a bit isolated from all the other people.

After lunch, we unloaded a truck of watermelons (all of them last for 1-2 days in the sanctuary) and cut banana trees until our taxi arrived that would bring us to yet another river bank.

There we did "floating". We basically all wore our swim wests like diapers and let us drift in the river. It was really really fun, especially with the people I did it with. At the end of the floating, we arrived at the river bank at the sanctuary from the morning, where we fed the elephants. Since we had our clothes on whilst floating, we, obviously, had to change our clothes before we could move on to the next activity.

At 3:15pm it was time for the elephants afternoon snack again, where "my" elephant tried to steal the food from baby Spy all the time.

Until and after dinner at 6 o'clock, we had free time and spend it outside with the sanctuary dogs and just chatted with one another.


Wednesday wasn't our favourite day, gotta be honest. In itself, it was a really nice day with interesting activities but we didn't do anything with the elephants that day. The only elephant related thing we did, was preparing the fruit baskets in the morning but that was about it.

We then started our trip to Erawan national park where there are seven waterfalls but we couldn't get in since it rained so much the past days and it would've been too dangerous to walk there.

Our replacement trip was to Sai Yok Noi Waterfall. There it was really beautiful and we even were able to go swimming there. Since the schools were closed in October there were a lot of people and it took a lot of time and patience to get a picture of the waterfall itself, without all the people. I managed, though.

We walked around the national park a bit and afterwards decided to go eat in a restaurant nearby. At a small market next to the restaurant we all bought some banana chips and taro sticks to snack on our way to the next destination, which was the remains of train rails from world war two.

At that place, we found a couple of puppies and they seemed way more important than sight-seeing, so we stayed with them the whole time.

A fellow participant seriously thought about taking one home to America but after googling quarantine rules, she decided against it.

As the conclusion of the Kanchanaburi sight-seeing day, we went to the Mueang Sing Historical park where we could see lots of ruin temples, just like in Ayutthaya.

Back in the sanctuary, it was already almost dinner time so we stayed at the eating area until that. After dinner we could go to the movie room, where we watched "Disturbia" and "Life as we know it" before going to sleep.



On thursday we didn't have that much elephant action either but did other fun stuff instead.
After preparing the fruit baskets in the morning, we did a bike tour through the village where we had pretty nice views of the mountains and surroundings in general. The tour ended at a small temple, where we hiked up a hill to a view point and then to a cave entrance.

There we walked down with a monk and saw a few small Buddha statues and also some bats.

It was a bit creepy and also hard to walk since it was really steep and we were all wearing flip flops.

We then got to a small house, we were invited in by another monk who gave us some water and lots of different fruits and blessed us a few times with some special kind of holy water. We also talked a bit with him about our home countries before getting back to the sanctuary.

After lunch there, our next task was to clean the enclosure of a blind elephant, who, for obvious reasons, can't join the other elephants on the field. 

Jimmy brought us a wheelbarrow and some pitchforks and we could start cleaning the "bed" as the mahouts like to call it. This was, who would've thought, not necessarily our favourite activity to do but we all got, that it's necessary and just part of the job, so we didn't mind as much.

We then would've done another round of banana grass cutting but we could talk Jimmy into changing the program to washing the elephants again, so we could spend some time with the animals, since we couldn't the day before. The nice coordinator he is, he managed to change it and find some mahouts who were willing to share their elephants for a few minutes. The latter, apparently, wasn't too hard, since most of the animals love baths and the mahouts are happy, if someone else undertakes that task.

After changing out of our soaking clothes, a few coordinators took us with them on their way to 7-eleven, where we all bought some snacks and coconut water. We were back just in time for dinner and afterwards we could watch some movies again. We started watching Geralds Game but stopped after a few minutes because it was quite boring and watched Curve instead.



Friday was our last day in the sactuary. As always, we got up and prepared fruit baskets before breakfast. We then got to go to the field again and learn about the history of a few elephants and their mahouts.

We, as always, also took lots of pictures of and with them and could ask every question we wanted to Jimmy and the mahouts. They really know their elephants, what kind of food they like the best, what people they try to avoid, they can basically read their minds and feelings and I think that's beautiful. We could tell, that they all trust each other.

We then did the same thing we did on Tuesday. We took four elephants down to the river, fed them first and then bathed them again. This time we did it with a really pleasant dutch family and it was, as always, incredibly fun. 

It's crazy to me, that it already was some sort of norm to do that, like we've been washing elephants for ages already. It also may seem boring to "always just wash the elephants" but we all really enjoyed just spending time with them, whether it was washing them, feeding them or simply watching them communicate and play with each other.

After lunch we cleaned the whole feeding area with water, soap, brooms and all those things and, believe it or not, it was extremely fun as well. Maybe I was just lucky to have such incredible people with me this week but it seemed like I could enjoy everything with them. (Shoutout to you guys!)

Then we, once again, talked Jimmy into going swimming with the elephants one last time (I told you, it wasn't getting boring at all!). At first he wasn't so sure about it but he gave in quite quickly.

In retrospect, I'm really happy that we had Jimmy as our coordinator because he always tried to give us the best experience there at the sanctuary.
I'm especially happy about him changing the program this time, since, during that bath time, my alltime favourite picture was taken.

For dinner we did a BBQ with grilled sweet-potato, zucchini, carrots and meat skewers which was amazing. Part of our group (including me) went to our house quite early, where we sat on the balcony and chatted, ate snacks and just had a good time for the rest of the evening.


Saturday was, once again, a travel day. After breakfast, we said goodbye to the elephants and the staff at the sanctuary and got our certificate and an elephant charm. We were back in Singburi quite fast and there I took some alone time to shower and watch some Netflix.

In the afternoon five of us went to the swimming pool for a few hours until it was time to get back to twinhouse for dinner. After eating, we all went to the bar again to spent our last evening together since a lot of people would leave for other projects the next day.





Sunday was a typical Sunday. In the morning, I had to say goodbye to some really cool people and then I basically slept and watched Netflix the whole day. I also talked about the next week's program with Phil, the manager and met the new arrivals (mostly german). Other than that, as I said, typical Sunday. After dinner, it was time for yet another evening at the bar across the street where I could get to know all the new people.

October 16th - October 22nd 2017

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