Chang Chang Chang

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My love for elephants began the first time I went to the zoo, when I was just a wee one. From that point on, I always called them lelos because I could never pronounce “elephant.” I completed one of my life goals two short weeks ago at the Elephant Conservation Camp in Lampang, Thailand. It was my first Rustic trip and a memorable one to say the least. 31 students adopted 16 elephants and mahouts (elephant trainer) for the week. They bathed them in the lake, fed them sugar cane, taught them skills and put them to bed in the jungle.

Every morning we would wake up at 6:30A to hike through the jungle to gather the elephants. You could hear them say good morning to each other with loud roars that echoed for miles. Then the students would ride their elephants right into the water and clean their backs. This usually turned into a nice morning swim. The elephants dunked down to cool off and would roll around in the water. It felt like riding a mechanical bull, and I could only last 30 seconds, before I found myself submerged in the lake surrounded by floating elephant dung.  The students worked with their mahouts to learn how to mount and dismount the elephants. My favorite way to get off of the elephant was when the chang bowed his or her head and I would slide off the trunk.

One of my favorite moments from the week was when we rode the elephants into the jungle on an hour ride and camped out with them. My favorite elephant was Tantawone and his 67 year-old mahout, Poon, who has been with her for 24 years. He takes care of her everyday and only gets 4 days off a month. He sings to her, hugs her and says “I love you” in Thai. Their relationship is very sweet and I was honored to know both of them. I look forward to seeing them and the other elephants in a couple of weeks.

Elephants are very special animals. They are kind of like big dogs, who wag their tails and flap their ears when they are happy. They are one of the most emotional animals and mourn the loss of their loved ones. Elephants are one of the few animals who actually bury their deceased and go back to visit their loved ones’ graves for years. When I went to the elephant hospital, one mother was there mourning her recent miscarriage. It was an amazing week that put elephants in a special place in my heart.

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Morning Wake-up in the Jungle

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The lovely Gaia and Tantawone
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Millie and Cole bathe their elephant, Big Mama

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John Ras bathes Big Mama
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Thai Games

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Emma gets a kiss from her elephant

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Mahout Parade

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Breakfast

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Morning bath

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Squirt Gun Fight

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Dinner in the Jungle

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Sleepover in a bamboo hut

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Campfire songs with the mahouts

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Tien leads Pong van Dang into the jungle
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The best way to travel 

70 thoughts on “Chang Chang Chang

  1. Meg, I absolutely love your photos. Looks like you are having a great time, but don’t forget to wear jeans with those bristly elephants. What an adventure. Thanks so much for sharing. Judy Walsh

  2. Wanted an elephant for a pet when I was six. My elder brother would take things from me in the name of the elephant that he is going to give it. The photos are lovely. Lucky you!

  3. I love elephants! Your pictures show the fact how social the elephant is. My favorite photo is the one where Emma is getting kissed and where the elephant is spraying the kids in the river. The action is so cool!

  4. I just loved your post! The ‘kissing’ photo was the best! I would so love to travel there and see those beautiful animals! Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! :)

  5. I really enjoyed the photos!
    Elephants represent a dynamic about our planet which seems to be missing in all other inhabitants.
    If you cannot see the majesty of our world when you watch the interactions of elephants with each other and with humans when they are so employed; I can only feel a sense of sadness for you.
    Thanks loads for the pictures, and keep on the trail.

  6. Sounds like you had a great time. I volunteered last year at Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, and raved on in my own blog about it. Seven days of awesomeness. I’m going back again in September with my partner, to show him how wonderful it is there. They are awesome beasties indeed!

  7. Beautifully written and I love the visual aid. I grew up in South Africa and saw elephants in the wild African bush. Because of their territorial nature and fear in the African wild, it has never crossed my mind to venture to regions where humans have great relationships with them, but you have now inspired me to seek out the wisdom and touch of these gentle giants.

  8. ~ Wow, beautiful pictures and lovely post! However, I would like to share with you an article that I got form an elephant volunteer. I don’t know how to tell you this because I don’t want to seem like I meddle. Anyway, here goes: http://thelurkerslist.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/why-we-should-not-ride-elephants/. Just like you, I also rode an elephant before and my heart sank when I’ve learned that we should not ride them. Of course, riding elephants has been a long thing/living/culture (sorry, I do not know how to call it properly) going in Thailand and I do respect that with all my heart. It is just that I feel the need to share the article. I am sorry if I am not good in putting this into words as I do not want to sound offensive but I do love your post. The love and passion you feel toward these wonderful creatures is so evident. Congrats on being FP! :) Cheers! – Bliss, The Lurker’s List

  9. totally agree – amazing creation…if only more people dig a little deeper into them, they certainly would appreciate and respect them !
    It pains when I read here in the Indian newspapers that so many of them get hit almost everyday by trains in the northeastern states

  10. The pictures were boarding on extraordinary. The experience you had was positively exhilarating. I envy your love of life and the great love of the elephants. I showed your pictures to my granddaughter who was amazed. My wife a cat lover was also enchanted. Thank you for posting these pictures and giving out your blog.

  11. Loved the pictures and story. We rode elephants in Laos, and could not believe how beautiful and intelligent they were. Was the top experience of 9 months in South East Asia.

  12. The Backstory history podcast recently explored the history of domestic animals in the US and went into depth about elephants in the late 19th and early 20th century. Elephants held a special fascination due to the human-like qualities you mention, like mourning their deceased, but were also greatly feared due to their lack of facial expressions. It is a fascinating podcast, though there are some really sad stories shared when humans attached motivation to elephant behaviors.

  13. You will see by my name that I am Meg’s (the photographers mom). So I can’t hide or pretend to be unbiased. Your blog is spectacular Meg. I kept thinking that maybe it was just me feeling that way. When I read the kind replies to your post it made this proud mom even more proud if that is possible. Keep up the great work. I love seeing your take on Thailand and the expressions your are able to capture. Meg, you truly have a gift.

  14. Really nice article. Even though I see elephants all the time, your photographs capture moments we rarely see here in India. Loved it! You must come to south India sometime to see the elephants here. We have some lovely camps where you can interact with these amazing creatures. :) And of course we have a huge population of wild elephants.

    Following your blog for more updates and photographs! Excellent stuff.

  15. I visited the Lampang elephant training camp in 1982 when they were still integral to the timber industry in the northern mountains. In those days when the working season, the ‘cooler’ part of the year was over the elephants were turned into the jungle to do as they pleased trailed by a couple trainers to keep an eye on them and bring them back when the work season came back. When I was there they were all out on vacation and there wasn’t an elephant in sight. My timing has always been brilliant.

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