Back to the elephants

Written by on September 19, 2012 in Asia, Blog, Expat Life, Thailand - 8 Comments

I can hardly sleep, even in my new apartment in Chiang Mai.

My heart races and when I close my eyes, images of elephants dance under my lids.

I am going back to Save Elephant Foundation’s Elephant Nature Park.

Save Elephant Foundation's Elephant Nature Park

Back to where it all started a year ago.

Funny how much can change in a year. From Las Vegas and adjusting to stationary life, to being at a cross-road in my career, to being healed by a shaman and having my entire universe change with just one e-mail.

My life is entirely different from one year ago, and I could not be more excited.

I’m not even in Thailand and an expat for 24 hours before I board the familiar white van and we head the 60km north or town to the lush green rolling hills of the jungle. And my beloved elephants.

As we make the final left turn and head up the mountain on a bumpy and pothole pocked road, a flood of emotions trail in my blood.

Elephants. Love. Life. Reinvention.

An elephant from a nearby trekking camp

The first elephant I see isn’t one of ours. Sadly, it is a trekking elephant with pink scars around her legs from chains that pull too tight when she isn’t being used for tourists. I cringe when I press my face against the window and catch a glimpse as we pass, spying people atop the wobbly bench, delighted in their experience. And, when my eyes catch sight of her mahout, perched on her neck, bull hook in hand, I remember the tears I shed last year when I learned about the torture these creatures endure.

But, as we pull around the last bend on the windy road, and I see Elephant Nature Park’s land and elephants freely enjoying a mid-morning snack of grass, my mood lightens.

One of the elephant herd enjoys some grazing at Elephant Nature Park

It all is so familiar.

The elephant kitchen, with the recognizable smell of fruit … the thatched roofs … the volunteers doing their morning chores just like I did a year ago …

I smile larger than I have smiled in a long time.

And when I walk out onto the rain-soaked grounds and find Medo, my favorite elephant, and reach my hand out to touch her leathery trunk, everything seems right in the world.

My favorite elephant, Medo, and her mahout, Toon.

Things aren’t all the same though. My palace has been torn down to make way for volunteer barracks. And, there are about 250 more dogs than there were last year — rescues from the horrific flooding in Bangkok in 2011. There’s even a baby elephant who is only a few days old. My first encounter with an elephant at the beginning of his life.

In that instant, I am happier than I have been in a long time. I’m ready to get to work and start helping these amazing animals.

About the Author

Diana Edelman is a travel writer and expat currently residing in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She is a former career breaker and long term solo traveler. Today, she helps promote responsible elephant tourism and is the co-founder of #RTTC, a weekly chat on Twitter focusing on responsible tourism. When she isn’t writing, Diana handles the PR and social media for Save Elephant Foundation, which runs the popular Elephant Nature Park. Her writing as appeared in About.com, Thought Catalog, The Huffington Post, Matador Network, Travel + Escape, Luna Luna, Vegas Seven, World Nomads, Viator, CheapOair, OneTravel and more.

8 Comments on " Back to the elephants "

  1. OutsideTheGuidebook October 1, 2012 at 6:36 am · Reply

    Amazing photographs! Am traveling to Thailand in November. Hopefully will see some Elephants there!

    • Diana October 1, 2012 at 6:40 am · Reply

      Thank you! Be sure to research your elephant involvement before you book anything. I am happy to help if you have any questions in regards to visiting and spending time with elephants. :)

  2. Krista C. October 2, 2012 at 1:10 am · Reply

    You are such an inspiration Diana! Animal welfare is extremely important to me and I love the attention you are bringing to elephants. When I visit Thailand I will definitely be volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park.

    • Diana October 8, 2012 at 9:39 pm · Reply

      Thank you so much for your words of encouragement. It is so important that people understand the impact their tourist decisions have on the world. You will have the time of your life at ENP. For more information on the park, please check out http://www.saveelephant.org.

  3. Emily in Chile October 4, 2012 at 4:40 pm · Reply

    I’m so happy for you that you’re back with the elephants, and I’m excited to hear – and see! – more.

  4. Charu October 8, 2012 at 1:07 pm · Reply

    So magical! My first encounter with these gentle giants was in India, in one of the temples. The long, droopy graceful ears, their insanely kind eyes. I’d deposit some coins (paisa) in the trunk and it would swirl and bless my head with a beautiful gesture. Adults, baby elephants all alike…Indian temples are full of them. They are very sacred there. It’s heart breaking to see what the poachers are doing. I’m so glad you’re going back to the place you love, doing what you love most.

    • Diana October 8, 2012 at 9:27 pm · Reply

      Thank you! Sadly, those elephants in temples – while it may seem they have a good life — live in chains and have no interaction with other elephants, something they need since they are such social creatures. ENP is wonderful! I hope you can make it there one day!

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