Leaving the hippie town of Pai, we started our lengthy journey of windy highway roads to Elephant Nature Park (ENP). Upon arrival, we were quickly introduced to our incredible tour guide, Apple. We then had orientation, giving us information on the history of elephants in Thailand. After orientation, some of us were lucky enough to help out at the animal shelter by walking rescued dogs. In the afternoon, there was a ceremony for all the new volunteers for the week. In the ceremony, one of our group members, Jack, stood up to represent us in a religious blessing and we were all given a white cotton string bracelet and were blessed with water.
At our second day at ENP, we thought we were going to be spending time with elephants but turns out that is earned through work at the park. Our first task was to cut cornstalks for the elephants to eat. We were challenged by the heat, the bugs, and the weight of bunches of cornstalks. After a hardworking morning, we enjoyed a tube float down the river that lies next to the park.
The morning chore of our third day was the day we all couldn't wait for: cleaning up elephant poop. We went with a rake and a shovel from enclosure to enclosure shoveling poop and cornstalks (that elephants couldn't digest) to a pick up truck. Our daytime chore was picking grass roots and planting them in a new area that is in construction for more rescued elephants. After this very "crappy" morning we had the amazing opportunity of bathing an elephant by the river.
On our fourth day at ENP, we got to experience the highlight of the week, feeding an elephant. After unloading and washing two trucks of watermelons to the beat of Apple's speakers, we were each rewarded with the chance to privately feed one of the gentle giants. Although we had been prohibited from touching, feeding, and getting too close to the elephants, this time we were finally able to approach Junjei in order to feed her a watermelon and cucumber, touch her trunk, and snap a picture.
That afternoon we left our eco-positive footprint at ENP when we were each able to plant a tree in the park. After this, Apple led us in a (attempted) construction of a fence that had previously been destroyed by a water buffalo. Unfortunately, after digging about ten fence post holes, a particularly rambunctious elephant strolled through our work zone and destroyed a majority of the work we had done while simultaneously shooting soil dirt (which is what elephants use as sunscreen) onto his back.
Luckily, our spirits were brought back up while watching a two-month old baby elephant escape and return to his enclosure while his nanny and sister desperately tried to keep him in one spot. Later in the afternoon, many of us spent our time walking a few of the the 350 dogs that live at ENP including the most popular dog in the park, Liverpool. Liverpool is a handicapped dog that was hit by a truck and has to use dog crutches with wheels.
During the fifth day at ENP, Apple took us through the entire park and explained many of the elephants' histories, families, friends, and personalities. Sadly, it was also our last day among the elephants. After lunch, we parted ways with our wonderful tour guide and headed back to Chiang Mai.