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Study Abroad

A Magical Day with Gentle Giants

March 20, 2019

Reflecting on my time abroad in Thailand seems like a distant dream. Traces of the stories, feelings and sights I experienced there fill my mind like a beautifully woven tapestry. I studied abroad for only four months yet while I was there, it felt like I lost sense of time as I was fully immersed in the vibrant and foreign way of Thai culture. During the last week of my time abroad, after classes had concluded, my mother came to visit me from Boston. I made a loose itinerary for us and decided we would go to two locations with the time that we had: Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Since Thailand is full of spontaneity and so are me and my mother, we ended up going to Salaya, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chaing Rai and Phi Phi island of the coast of Krabi.

Out of this whirlwind of a week showing my mom the vast beauty of Thailand and its people, the most unforgettable memory I hold is when we went to an elephant Sanctuary in Chaing Mai. I have always been passionate about animals and the environment, so being in the presence of these gentle giants was something that I would never forget. An elephant sanctuary was not on our list of things to do, but one sunny morning the idea came to us when we could not figure out what we wanted to do that day. I quickly looked up elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai and called Into The Wild Elephant Camp since they had the most promising reviews. We did not know what to expect except that we were going to be picked up at 12pm and that we were going to spend the day with elephants in their natural habitat.

Around 12:10 I got a call from Lahn, our tour guide for the day, that he had arrived at our hotel. Lahn was inviting from the very beginning, he made us laugh and introduced us to the three people that were already in the Songthaew. A songthaew is a passenger vehicle with two bench seats on either side of the back of the truck and open windows. My mom and I felt at ease talking to the other people who were all backpacking through Asia. We were all excited and unsure of what the voyage awaited.

A Songthaew

The ride to the sanctuary was like that of a fairy tale, the light of the sun shined down on the valleys, fields and different scenic landscapes that took our breath away. As we arrived, we went up a muddy and rocky path to get deeper into the jungle until we got to the path that would lead us to the sanctuary. To everyone's delight, we were given comfortable red ponchos to wear. Lahn was a humorous, joyful man and told us that the 4 elephants at the sanctuary were rescued from exploiting environments.  Right when we got to the entrance, the elephants were there to greet us. We walked alongside them; it was my first time being so close to this majestic creature. Lahn gave us bananas to feed them before we walked alongside a river to climb up the mountain side with them to see them finding food in their natural habitat. We were astonished at how flexible elephants are!

After the climbing adventure with the four elephants, we took a mud bath with them. We were all laughing like children while the elephants seemed content and tranquil as we splashed them with the mud. Lahn showed us a piece of bark from a tree and then proceeded to use a hammer to crush the bark up which released a soapy substance. This bark was then used to wash the elephants in the river; it was a natural disinfectant for the animals. The elephants swam with us and we were free to wash them with the bark. One of the elephants ate my mom's bark! As our adventure was coming to an end, we sat down and were presented with a bamboo leaf that contained authentic fried rice inside. All of us happily indulged in the delicious cuisine and remarked how incredible the day had been.

This magical day with these gentle giants remains one of my treasured experiences. Thailand offers unique experiences that open one's mind to the thrill of trying new things and discovering the unexpected. I felt so connected to myself, the Earth, and those around me during my time abroad. I hope other students choose the path less taken as it is often filled with the most unforgettable moments.