It’s my birthday and I’ll swim with elephants if I want to

Today is a special day, it’s the triplet’s birthday. This date is always a big deal in my family and it’s always a race to see who says happy birthday to the triplets first. Usually Zoe wins (she calls right at midnight) but sometimes my parents sneak in a win. As kids, my mom would rent out a skating rink, invite all of our friends, get three cakes, and we’d skate to our hearts content. When we turned 21, my parents took us to Vegas (my mother’s idea). When I turned 30, I had a small party with friends which included a cake that represented “the swirling vortex of my 30s” (thank you Miriam). Then my family headed to San Diego for a birthday weekend full of beer, pizza and more beer.

“No more beer. Christine, please, no more beer”.

My dad

This year’s celebration was unique. Since I’m in Thailand, I had my birthday to myself for a whole 15 hours before my siblings. Happy birthday to ME, literally. It was liberating to be an only child today but I do miss my siblings a lot. It’s the 11th in the U.S. now so HAPPY BIRTHDAY MICHAEL AND SARAH!

Now that’s out of the way, back to my birthday party. My mom, Mark and I took a van to Blue Daily Elephant Sanctuary, about 2 hours outside of Chiang Mai. Elephants have a long history in Thailand, both good and bad. Besides being the national animal of Thailand, they have also played a substantial role in manual labor, war, royal iconography, transportation, and tourism. I won’t go into details regarding the controversial treatment of the elephants, but I will say that there are substantial movements advocating for the ethical treatment and care of elephants. It is more and more common for organizations to forbid the riding of elephants. I picked Blue Daily because the elephants are not chained up, riding is prohibited, and the elephants are allowed ample room to roam.

We started with meeting a mother and her baby, Valentino, 11 months old. He’s feisty and very playful. He would nudge you with his head, raise his trunk and try to get you to play tug-o-war. He looks small in comparison to his mother, but he’s quite strong.

Baby elephants are covered in coarse, long hair that is bristly to the touch.

After saying goodbye to Valentino, we moved on to three other elephants: a 16-year old male elephant, an older female elephant (the head honcho) and 3-year-old female. You begin the relationship with the elephants by feeding them bananas and sugar cane. All three were incredibly excited to eat.

We also mashed together sticky rice, dried rice, tamarind, and banana as an afternoon snack for them. Elephants sleep for about 4 hours a night while spending the rest of the time eating, digesting and walking. They have bad digestive systems so the tamarind rice balls help with that. The little one likes bananas more than sugar cane so she would take the sugar cane and drop it on the ground until you gave her a banana. We were able to get up close and personal with all three elephants. While we ate lunch, they were free to roam the surrounding area.

She had a hard time kissing Mark because she was looking for skin…his beard threw her off!

After lunch, we hiked down to the waterfalls to bathe the elephants. The hike was tougher than expected but beautiful. It took some time because all three like to stop every three seconds and eat. They’re like Bo-Linns, they just eat and eat and eat and eat. #nevernothungry

They wander off trail, eat, rub against a tree, but eventually keep moving. The handlers were incredibly gracious and kind, they would yell commands but rarely touched the elephants. Once down at the water, we all got in to bathe the elephants. They head to the middle and sit down, so they are mostly submerged and you are finally at an even height. The little one wanted to play so she dunked herself, swirled around underwater and tried to climb on the big male. The scariest part is when the elephants stand up. One second you are the same height, the next second you feel incredibly tiny and a bit scared.

Overall, the elephants seemed happy and well cared for. We ran into three more elephants on the walk back to camp and two of the three were children of the older female in our group. While they work at a different camp during the day, at night, all the elephants meet in the same place and sleep together as a family.

I highly recommend visiting an elephant sanctuary if you visit Thailand. It was an amazing, unique experience and I loved every moment. That being said, you should do your research. In one area alone, our guide said there were 60 elephant camps. Some are good, some are bad. Read about them on TripAdvisor and read between the lines. It’s a touristy thing but you don’t have to feel guilty about doing it.

After the river walk, we finished our tour with birthday cake! My amazing mom schemed the day before, bought a cake, and sneaked it into the tour. We finished my birthday with the elephants in the most American way, with french fries and chocolate cake.

6 thoughts on “It’s my birthday and I’ll swim with elephants if I want to

  1. Wow! What a way to celebrate a birthday, Isabelle. I bet you’ll never forget this one. Am enjoying reading your blog, look forward to the next entry.


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