As the second part of the Tour with Tong VIP Tiger Temple & Elephant Camp tour, our second stop was a small Elephant Camp along the Kwai Noi river, just a quick 20 minutes drive from our lunch spot near the Tiger Temple. [Read the VIP Tiger Temple write-up]
This was a relatively short stop compared to the Tiger Temple, the whole interaction was maybe 1 – 1.5 hours including showering at the end. The camp itself is pretty basic, with a few one level concrete and bamboo buildings. It has a village vibe completes with little children running around. We were the only visitors during that time.
Most of the elephants at the camp had a bamboo platform with two seats on their back and each stayed within a small area padded with leaves. We made our way towards a bare-backed elelphant on the edge of the group and Jay started talking to her. He first greeted the elephant by saying “Sawatdee Krap” and the elephant would sway her head and nod in return, then Jay would pat and feed the giant animal bananas. He waved for us to come closer and then we found ourselves busy transferring banana from bags to eager trunk in the next 10 minutes, it was quite an experience!
After the meal, Jay introduced us to the elephant’s handler as he led us to the river through the woods, while the handler rode on the elephant’s head to the river through another path. Was that a bullhook he was holding?
Once the elephant is in the water, Jay asked me and Jessica to hop on the giant’s back. The trainer (who is a young boy btw and he reminded me of Tarzan for obvious reasons) helped us on and remained standing dignifiedly in the back while we struggled to keep balanace sitting.
As soon as we settled in, the trainer gave a command in Thai and the elephant dipped her head down and the next thing we know, we were blasted by a face-full of water!
We repeated this a few times and then I tried to stand up on the back of the elephant (it was tough!). As the finalie, we were told to grab onto the elephant’s ears while she dunked her head into the river and tried to shake us off in one shake.
Once we were off, Tour Guide Jay asked us to go up the elephant one at a time to get some individual photos, he turned into a professional photographer here and snapped photos non-stop, hoping to capture those iconic photos quickly so the elephant did not need to repeat certain motions too much. As much of a heartless bastard as I am, I actually felt kind of bad for the elephant, hearing the trainer calling the same command over and over again, even I was getting a bit agitated. Thankfully we moved quick and kept the water spraying sessions short.
After we each had a photo-op with the elephant, we rode her bare-back up the hill to the Elephant Camp, said goodbye to the elephant and handler, rinsed ourselves off at the shower facility and got ready for the two hour drive back home.
Overall the Elephant Camp experience felt very intimate. It was a small village working with one elephant and one handler. While playing and riding the elephant was cool, the main focus of this tour was definitely the photo-ops, which was fine, because it would be difficult to have meaningful interaction with animals in such a short time-frame anyways.
It did make me sad seeing the elephant performing the same task over and over, and I did notice some healed scars on her head, presumably from the elephant training bullhook. I am not sure of history of this particular elephant, she may have been a rescue, or she may just been raised and trained by handlers who use a bullhook; regardless, it was not an easy sight.
I am glad to have the opportunity to interact with an elephant, although at the same time it felt artificial because she was just performing command after command. I personally had more fun riding her back towards the camp, where her naughty personality shined through and was picking at the foliage left and right. Here I need to give another shout out to our tour guide Jay from Tour with Tong, he has been amazing throughout the day, shown knowledge and compassion towards the animals, and a solid photographer to top it all off.
Do the Elephant Camp as part of a package if you decided to go, by itself it is a short 1.5 hours tour and may not be worth the two hours drive from Bangkok. Understand that for the most part this experience is for photo-ops, if you are interested in getting to interact with the elephants on a deeper level, consider visiting an elephant sanctuary in Thailand.