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The Chai Lai Orchid and Elephant Sanctuary

Our two day experience at the Chai Lai Orchid and Elephant Sanctuary.

The Our two-day adventure at Chai Lai Orchid and Elephant Sanctuary began with an 8 AM pickup from our hostel, followed by an hour-long Tuktuk ride winding through the picturesque Thai countryside to the Chai Lai Orchid and Elephant Sanctuary. We are traveling out of our backpacks for the next 5 months so we packed the essentials for the next day into compact daypacks. This included a change of swimsuit and clothes for the next day, toiletries, a camera, pajamas, and cash.

Payment details

When we booked our experience, we paid a deposit of 1300 Baht. Upon arrival, we paid the rest, 11,000 Baht. You can pay in cash or PayPal. We chose PayPal because we accidentally withdrew 1,100 Baht instead of the full 11,000 Baht. It was around 150 USD per person and about 450 for our group of three people. This included a personal guide, a place to stay, four meals, and the elephant interactions. With that being considered, I would say that it is 100% worth it.

A mom and baby elephant enjoying an afternoon snack

Arriving at the Sanctuary

Upon arrival, we were greeted by our guide, Share. He spoke fluent English and was super polite. He took the time to get to know us and learn our names. Share's constant companion, Bor, a sweet dog, accompanied us throughout our journey. He thoughtfully provided us with water and a raincoat. Before embarking on our adventure, we enjoyed an interaction with the park's resident elephants. With our snack bananas in our backpack, we shared a playful moment as the elephants curiously inspected our packs, their trunks gently probing for treats.

The hike

We hiked 3 miles to our beautiful lunch spot located right next to a rushing waterfall. We took frequent breaks, and our guide shared lots of information about the park and Thailand with us on the way. More dogs joined Bor and us on the hike. They are all wild dogs, including Share's dog Bor, but Bor always follows Share like he's the owner. Probably because he gives him our meal scraps. At the waterfall, there were vendors selling handmade jewelry and keepsakes. We each bought a bracelet before deciding to get into the water. There was a rope swing with a seat big enough for two. The water was pretty shallow most of the time, and the water didn’t feel like it was going to suck you away. We got pretty close to the waterfall itself, standing on a log to take in how powerful it really was. We relaxed for 45 minutes while Share, our guide, expertly prepared a tasty lunch of chicken and fried rice, complemented by an abundance of fresh fruit and desert rice. The meal was very delicious. The sanctuary was very considerate for dietary preferences, effortlessly accommodating my vegetarian choice by ensuring the chicken was prepared separately. The portions were generous, and any uneaten remnants found a grateful audience in the resident dogs.

Afterward, we pressed on for the remaining 5 miles. We made regular stops to unwind and even took breaks for a refreshing swim in the smaller waterfalls. Pausing at nearby villages, we delved into their rich history, culture, and ways of life. These were Mongolian settlements, established when the Mongolians sought refuge during a war. An elderly woman from the village graciously imparted her knowledge, teaching both my friend and me how to craft clothing and scarves using a technique whose name eluded us. With care and precision, she adorned my boyfriend and me in traditional marriage attire, capturing the moment with a photograph. 90% sure we are not married in Mongolia now but she didn’t speak any English so… who knows.

Our home for the night

Following that, we continued our trek to our homestay for the night. Positioned on bamboo stilts, there were two quaint dwellings – one for us and one for our guide. The accommodations were thoughtful, featuring a balcony and a bed enveloped in a protective bug netting. After a well-deserved rest, we gathered in the kitchen for a cooking class led by Share. He imparted the art of crafting traditional Thai cuisine in the authentic manner. Our culinary endeavors resulted in a delectable green curry with tofu for me, and a savory green curry with chicken for my friend and boyfriend, both prepared over an open flame. The flavors were simply delightful. Following our culinary exploits, we retired to our cozy home for the night.

The next day

The next morning, we gathered for breakfast at 8:30 AM. Share, our guide, had set out a spread of toast with jam, butter, scrambled eggs, and watermelon. He also offered instant hot chocolate and coffee. Equipped with water bottles, we departed around 10 AM, embarking on a 2-mile hike to a nearby town. Here, local vendors displayed an array of souvenirs.

We were a bit early, so we trekked for about 10 minutes to reach a stunning waterfall. To our delight, we even had the opportunity to explore behind its cascading veil. After this refreshing break, we retraced our steps to the road, where a tuktuk awaited to chauffeur us on a 15-minute journey to the riverbank. Here, we embarked on a bamboo rafting adventure. Our bags, entrusted to our guide and the waiting tuktuk, were diligently transported to the end of our journey. The bamboo vessel proved sturdy, accommodating all three of us along with our two guides. The water was a little lower than expected, so we did hit a few rocks on the bottom. I brought my phone and camera along and somehow kept them perfectly dry. Along the way, we were treated to a sight of elephants freely roaming the adjacent lands. As our adventure concluded, we reunited with our trusty tuktuk for a 20-minute drive to the feeding grounds of the elephants.

Meeting the elephants

As the rain began to pour, they promptly supplied us with ponchos. For the next two hours, we relished in the company of the elephants, feeding them a concoction of their favorite treats – salt, rice, tamarind, and bananas. I mixed these ingredients in a bowl, then shaped them into balls using my hands. Much like dogs, elephants exhibited a remarkable intelligence and responded to the command "bon", meaning to open their mouths. By lifting the treat to their waiting tongues, they eagerly licked it off, creating a curious sensation. Thankfully, we remained sheltered from the downpour in the covered area, allowing us to enjoy this unique interaction undisturbed.

Situated adjacent to a national park, the orchid provides a haven for male and female elephants throughout the year, benefiting from the added protection. Periodically, the male elephants journey here to mate with receptive females. The females prefer to stay near the orchid due to their caregiver feeding them and taking care of them. During our visit, we encountered one expectant mother. These remarkable creatures share a lifespan comparable to humans. The elephants we encountered were in their thirties, and we had the pleasure of meeting a sprightly baby, just four years old.

Our knowledge

Our knowledgeable guide shared fascinating insights about the elephants with us. These majestic creatures have their own unique personalities, each one distinct from the other. It's interesting to note that elephants go through a lengthy pregnancy of two years, a testament to their incredible reproductive process. They also have a penchant for getting muddy, which isn't just for fun – it actually helps soothe their skin. Remarkably, these creatures can tip the scales at an impressive 6 to 8 tons. Despite their considerable size, they're considered the smaller cousins when compared to the robust South African elephants, who are known for their more assertive nature. One heartwarming aspect is that each elephant in the sanctuary receives dedicated care from a specific caretaker, ensuring their well-being and fostering a strong bond between them. These revelations added an extra layer of appreciation for the elephants and the conscientious efforts taken to ensure their health and happiness at the sanctuary.

Bathing the elephants

As the rain subsided, we made our way down to the riverbank, just a brief five-minute hike away. There, we were treated to a heartwarming spectacle: two elephants frolicking in the water, reveling in their playful antics. In a truly memorable experience, we waded in alongside them, offering a helping hand. Gently, we gathered sand from the riverbed and tenderly rubbed it onto their skin, providing a soothing exfoliation and alleviating any pesky bug bites. Laughter and joy filled the air as we playfully splashed water, creating an atmosphere of camaraderie. To cap off this incredible encounter, we continued to feed them sugar cane, cementing a sense of connection with these gentle giants. Throughout our adventure, our guide Share proved invaluable, diligently capturing every precious moment. Providing us with tons of pictures and videos to look back on our amazing adventure.

After our riverside adventure, we trekked back up to the sanctuary's hub where we began. It was a beautiful sight. What caught our attention, though, was the sight of an elephant, curious and friendly, following us up. Its gentle demeanor was truly heartwarming. We settled down to a satisfying meal of Pad Thai. It was delicious, and our guide remembered my no-chicken preference. I grabbed a cold coke and water. While we ate, we enjoyed watching the elephant roam gracefully. Finally, we gathered our bags and hopped on a tuktuk, heading back to our hostel, a journey of about 1.5 hours. It was a fitting end to a remarkable day.

This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime amazing experience. If you are ever in Thailand, I strongly urge you to experience the magic of the Chai Lai Orchid and Elephant Sanctuary.


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