Spending a day at the world-heritage Royal Elephant Kraal and village in the ancient Siam capital of Ayutthaya is a fantastic way to get hands-on experience with Thailand's national animal. If you're lucky, you may even get to ride an Asian elephant to the river so you can check that off your bucket list.
Spending a week or more at Elephanstay camp ensures that you will be making a real difference to the lives of these protected elephants. Why not stay, live and work at this one-of-a-kind sanctuary program?
You'll get to know retired, wild and family-age elephants. Of the current herd – about 80 Thai elephants – 5 are youngsters, 5 are retirement age and the rest are starting or expanding their family.
On the day the Rainbow Rambler visited, the LGBT staff let us follow guests on their ride to the river (pretending to be on a safari photo shoot whilst envying the paying guests doing the riding). After lunch we spent time with the newest member of the herd, just two-weeks-and-one-ton-old, and with one of the most playful and creative elephants, Peter the Painter.
Since 2000, the Elephantstay husbandry program has welcomed more than 70 babies to the kraal. The incredible success of the captive breeding program is based on the simple fact that healthy, happy elephants breed.
Ewa, Elephantstay's co-director with partner Michelle, says “If you haven't seen a baby elephant, you will fall in love when you do. They form their own personalities very quickly and it is fascinating to watch them playing whilst their mothers try to keep them in line.”
Besides the calves, the big crowd pleaser is 15 year-old Plai Noppakhao, AKA Peter. He paints, he plays with the kids, and gives great cuddles. Did I mention he talks and takes commands smartly? His “boss” Ewa is an artist herself. She taught him to paint, with the help of Pat his mahout.
The artwork on cloth bags and white parchment paper is available in the gift shop and sells like hotcakes. Peter has to help earn his keep, after all. The more he paints, the more pineapple tops he gets as treats.
Comfortable, air-conditioned self-contained accommodation is available in the Royal Elephant Kraal.