This place is not easy to find but thankfully people had already reviewed it here. The day started with an 08:30am pick up from our hotel. The driver and "greeting" girl were identified only by a hand-scrawled A4 paper reading "Elephant Steps Chiang Rai". Neither spoke anything other than Thai. Then we were asked for our passports so she could take a photo of them for "jungle insurance". Our tensions were only increased when we hopped in the back of a Hilux open truck and were transported 50 minutes deep into the jungle outside Chiang Rai. No mobile reception, no signage, we didn't have a clue where we were!
Thankfully the owner Sophie was there to meet us with refreshments and to explain the day ahead. Today, there just the two of us!
We met the elephants: Melanie (45), her daughter Gypsy (17) and a recent arrival Papikon (75!). We had the chance to feed them by hand.
We then changed into local style clothes and rubber boots before setting off with Melanie and Gypsy and two Thai elephant handlers up a steep hill into the jungle.
The climb is not for the faint-hearted so definitely only the fit should do it. Luckily the rain only started half way down the descent, right before we sat to eat a delicious home-cooked meal. We were pinned to our bamboo seats under a makeshift tarpaulin cover for the next 2 hours whilst the loudest thunder storm I've ever heard closed in on top of us! Nothing to do but sit and wait it out, whilst drinking tea brewed over the fire in bamboo shoots! And we paid for this!!
Once it died to a mild rain, we continued down the slope (a gushing river by now, full of slippery stones) until we reached the road.
We then crossed the road and entered the brown river in most of our clothes to play with and wash the elephants. Shame the sun didn't join us but we were wet through by then anyway so getting in the river was no hardship.
When we got back to camp, we took a cool but clean shower, changed clothes and enjoyed a warm cup of tea. We then said goodbye and headed back to our hotel, tired and happy, and were back by 5pm.
The bathing, the 2kms walk back up the dirt road back to camp and earlier watching Melanie rub her bum against a huge rock for a good 15 minutes, were the highlights of this trip.
Yes the price is a bit steep but at least some of the money goes to feeding and caring for the elephants, the farm animals and a local education charity that Sophie runs. And it really is the closest you will get to this beautiful animal in its natural habitat. So much better than watching from afar or crudely riding their backs up a tarmac road on a hand-made thronal saddle.
For this main reason I've rated this experience a 5 and would highly recommend it to fellow animal lovers.
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