The largest land animals in Asia, living up to 75 years of age, elephants command respect. In Thailand they are an official national symbol, a real source of pride and admiration. Meeting them first hand is sure to be on most people’s bucket list, and with a trip to Thailand’s Khao Sok National Park, Destinology writer Joe Mccully could tick it off his.
In the depths of the Khao Sok National Park, close to Phuket and Khao Lak, I found Thailand’s first luxury tented jungle camp - Elephant Hills. In just one day here, I was introduced to some of the best natural scenery in Thailand, before encountering the awe-inspiring Asian Elephants.
A peaceful river cruise
Winding lazily through the national park, the Khao Sok River would be my gateway to the elephants. Donning my life jacket and poncho (I was visiting during the rainy season, beginning in September and ending in October) I hopped aboard the canoe, my transport for the journey ahead. Snakes, spiders and buffalo crossings are just some of the river’s known sightings. I was a little disappointed at missing the buffalos, but the snakes not so much - I didn’t fancy one jumping into my canoe and coming along for the ride. What disappointment there was didn’t last long, the astonishing scenery more than making up for the absent wildlife.
On either side of the river was thick green vegetation, interspersed with hidden waterfalls and fishermen going about their day. In the distance, mountains shrouded by trees and clouds slowly crept into view, each one more dramatic than the last - a land that time has forgotten. The perfect start to my elephant experience.
Meeting the gentle giants
In small groups we were introduced to our elephant and its mahout (elephant keeper). The elephants are well looked after here; the camp being awarded with the Thailand Green Excellence Award for Animal Welfare in 2014 & 2015.
We watched as three elephants, eager to cool off, trotted off to the lagoon and submerged into the waters. The elephants were teenagers but the way they interacted, playfully bumping into each other and spraying water from their trunks, they could have easily been mistaken for babies. It took the mahouts a good while to get them out when bath time was over. With these three doing their own thing, we headed over towards some other elephants who, covered head to toe in mud, were in need of a good clean.
After washing them down and admiring the mountain vistas, it was time to feed the elephants. With them consuming up to 200kg of food a day, appetite was clearly never going to be an issue. To put that into perspective, that’s around the weight of 300 pizzas. No sooner had I chopped the pineapples, an outstretched trunk was right on time to happily do the rest. None for me then. They’re also partial to bananas (whole, no need to peel) sugar cane and tamarind. After the feast they were taken on a walk by their mahouts to work off some of that food, signalling the end of my time with the elephants.
Thankfully, measures have been put in place to protect these great animals and make moments like this possible. A well-worthy addition to your bucket list.