United Airlines 747 First Class Chicago (ORD) to Frankfurt (FRA)
Lufthansa Senator Lounge Frankfurt (FRA)
Thai Airways A380 First Class Frankfurt (FRA) to Bangkok (BKK)
Thai Airways 737 Business Class Bangkok (BKK) to Koh Samui (USM)
Conrad Koh Samui
Mae Koh National Park Boat trip and Chaweng Beach
Bangkok Airways Economy Class Koh Samui (USM) to Phuket (HKT)
Naka Island a Luxury Collection Resort and Spa
James Bond Island and Little Island Boat trip
Phi Phi Island Boat trip
Patong Beach and Bangla Road
Air Asia Economy Class Phuket (HKT) to Chiang Mai (CNX)
Four Seasons Chiang Mai
ELE (Elephant Life Experience) Elephant Camp
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple
Bangkok Airways Economy Class Chiang Mai (CNX) to Bangkok (BKK)
St. Regis Bangkok
Dinner at Vertigo at Banyan Tree Rooftop
Chatuchak Weekend Market and Wat Pho Temple
Cathay Pacific Business Class Bangkok (BKK) to Hong Kong (HKG)
American Airlines First Class Hong Kong (HKG) to Dallas (DFW)
The Elephant Life Experience (ELE) Elephant Camp
In researching elephant activities I stumbled upon ELE via reviews on Trip Advisor. ELE had all perfect 5 star reviews and it was a smaller more intimate camp which I found attractive. I emailed the Four Seasons Chiang Mai to find out which options they use when booking guests looking for elephant excursions. They had a list of several however they agreed that ELE is a very good experience and were happy to book it for me.
The camp is expensive compared to all the others but it is worth it in my opinion as it is completely private. The only guests on the day we went were me and my wife and you are paying for that privacy and exclusivity. The rate for the full days activities was 15,000THB or over $400 or 75000THB per person. That is including our lunch provided and delivered by the Four Seasons. Just to repeat my wife and I had the entire camp to ourselves and we could pretty much do whatever we wanted we were told. EXCEPT due to heavy rains over the past week the river was too high and fast so for our safety we could not take the elephants through the river where the guests would normally bath the elephants. In addition, we could not hike with the elephants on the trail across from the river.
We were picked up by our driver and on our way to the camp. The camp is somewhat remote and a bit of a ride from the Four Seasons Chiang Mai. Our driver initially passed the entrance to ELE on mistake and circled back after realizing that. We were then greeted by our main “guide” Nicky who was a young Thai man that spoke good english! Upon entering the camp we were greeted also by Natalie. Natalie was an 8 year old Indian elephant staring right at us about 10 feet away!!
I admite I was a bit apprehensive when I saw the elephant up close. I am used to seeing elephants gated off and 50 feet away so I was intimated somewhat initially. We were introduced and given bundles of sugarcane to feed Natalie so that we both got comfortable with each other.
Still giving Natalie her space at this point lol!
After feeding Natalie and hopefully getting her on our side we were invited in to the welcome lobby of the ELE building. We were offered cold refreshing towels, waters and rice cake snacks and went over the daily activities. We were also told that in the bathroom/shower room there were mahout outfits for us to put on and they were ours to keep. The bathrooms were fairly large especially considering we were the only 2 guests to be using them. There was also two shower rooms in the mens room.
After putting on our mahout outfits we were escorted down towards the main camp where most of the activities would take place.
Our first activity was to bath the elephants. Typically we could do that in the river but it was just too fast and high for us to go in. The mahouts would fill up baskets full of water and give them to us and we would use some pretty hard bristled brushes to scrub the elephants to wash them. The mahout commanded the elephant to lay down and we then got to work!
After scrubbing down Natalie we had a few minutes of down time to speak with our host/guide Nicky as they prepared the other elephants. We found out some interesting things in general. Nicky stated he lived in the USA for a year as an exchange student and ended up living with an African American family from Louisiana and initially had difficulties adjusting to the rural, southern, Louisiana culture and cried everyday for a few weeks! He also mentioned that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were scheduled to be their guests at ELE next month with their kids but had to end up canceling. We learned how people become mahouts. How much an elephant can sell for? How many elephants they keep and how old the elephants generally live for. Elephants see everything as being larger than them so they can get spoked by things like snakes and mice. Also he said that all elephants in captivity are generally Asian/Indian elephants as the larger African elephants are extremely hard to control or train.
After some small talk it was time for us to bareback ride the elephants!! My wife was the first to mount her elephant. She got to ride Natalie. My wife kind of bellyflopped on top of Natalie but she made it on! I had another female elephant (forgot her name) that was 10 years old . I was able to step on her leg as she laid down and hop right on pretty much as I am much longer than my wife.
We started a slow, leisurely walk to the trail. Along with us were multiple mahouts and two younger elephants around 2 or 3 years old. They were both male elephants. We fed the elephants along the way at one point. Then something happened!!!! We will call it “The Event”! As we were strolling along the two kid elephants started getting really rambunctious and playful up ahead of us. The mahouts were trying to keep them in line but…. too late! They spooked my elephant!!! My God I started to get really nervous. My elephant let out this loud scream/elephant roar! And then started to go up the side of the embankment a bit. The mahout assigned to my elephant got some assistance from a few other mahouts and they have a long stick with a sharp nail like device that they use to keep the elephant in line. This was the only time I saw them use the nail to try to control the elephant. I was plotting my escape at this point! Do I jump off this thing as I am 10-12 feet in the air!? They simply let the two young elephants sprint off to the “barn” area where the other elephants are held (4-6 other elephants were in the “barn” area). I was thinking if my elephant starts to run towards the barn with all the other elephants I will have to jump off and take my chances!!!! What if my elephant bucked me off or fell over and crushed me! These were the thoughts going through my head!! My wife looked back at me and of course thought it was hilarious but had the same thoughts I did!!! Luckily they were able to get my elephant back under control however I did get off earlier than my wife as she rode Natalie all the way back as Natalie was perfectly calm the whole time.
The ride was fun (minus “the event”)!!
After the ride we took some photos with the elephants while they set up for elephant painting.
The elephant also did some tricks for us while waiting!! They picked us up with their trunks! It is amazing how strong they are. I am 215lbs and the elephant had no trouble picking me up.
The next trick was the elephant taking off our hat and putting it back on! He even patted it back down on my head with some strength to make sure it was snug on our head.
Up next it was painting time. First the mahout’s practiced the painting with their elephants. This would be the first time for one of the younger elephants painting for an audience. One of the elephants is trained painting abstract paintings and the other trained in painting flowers. Now the elephants were being guided a bit by their mahouts by putting their hand on the elephants tusk giving them the direction in which they should paint until they memorize how to paint on their own.
We were then going to help the elephants paint. We could pick a few colors and then we would hand the paint brush to the elephant for the painting while the mahout helped the elephant along.
After the paintings were complete it was time to go on another ride. This time we would be riding one of the older and larger elephants. We would be on a chair on top of the elephant this time.
After riding the elephants in the chair we decided to have lunch. We weren’t very hungry as we had a decent breakfast in the morning at the Four Seasons and my stomach wasn’t at its best yet. The Four Seasons kitchen staff prepared our lunch for us and it was then delivered to the ELE camp! The day before our concierge gave us some choices for what type of lunch we could select from. My wife and I both selected the Thai set lunch. Lunch was very good and we could have as many Chang and Singha beer as we wanted!!
After lunch we were asked what we would like to do. Our host Nicky said, this is our camp for the day so you tell us what ever you want to do we can do it. We work for you and want to make you happy. So we decided to ride the elephants bareback again for a while and hope my elephant would behave this time. We also wanted to get some video footage with our new GoPro video camera of the elephant walk. So back on we went and my wife wore the GoPro on her head for the ride to keep her hands free to hold the elephant. This time there would be no “incident” and everything went smooth. It is really quite the experience to ride the elephants bareback and feel them underneath you and feel their tough/rough skin and wire-like hair.
After riding the elephants we chose to take a raft ride. We had to actually transfer to ELE’s sister camp just five minutes down the road so our driver picked us up along with our guide Nicky and we went just down the road a bit. We walked through the other elephant camp on the way to the river to our awaiting raft. We had a nice raft in that we could sit upright on an actual bench. There were two other mahouts on the raft with us steering and guiding us along the river. This was about a 30 minute relaxing river cruise with some good scenery of various elephants on both sides of the river. It started drizzling slightly and they offered us some plastic rain ponchos to wear but we declined since it wasn’t raining hard enough for us.
When we look back at our two weeks in Thailand this stands out as a major highlight!!! What a great experience! A few of the outstanding touches I want to share about our ELE experience is that we had our own personal photographer for the entire day! That is included in the rate. They delivered our photos on a cd at our hotel later in the day along with our paintings with our elephants! The paintings were sealed in plastic and rolled up and inserted into a long narrow box. Also another small touch is that every time we touched the elephants or fed them they would also bring over a cool towel to clean our hands! Our own private elephant camp for just my wife and I with no other guests to get in the way. A great bunch of mahouts and Nicky was a great host who spoke really good english. I would whole-heartdley recommend ELE elephant experience for anyone that wants to spend quality time with the elephants and have them all to yourself!