Samui Elephant Haven
June 28, 2019
When we first started planning our time in Thailand, visiting an elephant sanctuary was on the top of the list. We wanted to ensure that we visited a sanctuary that cares for the elephants, does good by them, and protects them from the growing tourism industry. We weren't looking ride or bath the elephants, we simply wanted to see them in a more natural state. When we found Samui Elephant Haven, we more than got what we wanted.
When you first step onto the property of Sumui Elephant Haven, you're greeted by the most wonderful woman who instantly makes you feel at home. We were then given a cup of purple pea flower tea as we filled out paperwork and looked out on the property where our large future friends were. We then watched a film talking about the rules and safety precautions of the haven and met our tour guide, Pim. Pim is not your average tour guide. She absolutely loves the elephants and does them justice in her story-telling of them. She taught us a great deal about the tourism industry and the history of the elephant's involvement as well as the advancements to protect these beautiful creatures.
After our safety check, we got to do our first feeding! Although the elephants at the haven are mostly fed pineapple leaves brought from mainland Thailand, we fed them pounds upon pounds of bananas. Lucky for us it was a smaller group and we were able to feed them until the two large buckets of bananas were emply. It felt like we fed them for half an hour, it was magic! I don't think a smile left either of our faces the entire time.
The four we fed were of all different ages and backgrounds, but sadly all from an abusive past. One still bares a scar in her trunk from her working days. Her scar was a reminder that although Samui Elephant Haven is doing good by these beautiful creatures, not everyone is. She was stabbed in her trunk by the use of a bullhook, a horribly sharp spear looking tool. These rescued elephants usually take time to trust humans again due to their abuse. The mahouts, those caring for the elephants, at the haven build a close caring relationship with the elephants. The relationships they build create a foundation of trust building, allowing the elephants to see that they're finally safe.
After our feeding, we began our walking tour of the grounds. We met our four new large friends at the top of a hill where we got to feed them again and get even closer. For me, this was a moment to truly connect with the elephants. Being close to them I could feel their scars, their dark past, and now hopeful spirit. They truly seem at peace at happy. And so were we! Being that close to the beautiful giants and being able to feel their sigh of relief to call a safe place home where they get to eat endless bananas and pineapple leaves in peace was more than we could have imagined. It brought happy tears to my eyes.
Our tour continued with a walk up to a mama and baby elephant who live separately from the rest of the herd because the mom turns violent when protecting her baby. Lucky for the baby elephant, he was never abused. He's a rambunctious one with lots of energy and strength! We were able to feed mama and baby our first time around, but when we visited a second time around we weren't able to. Mama and baby are only fed by the mahout now due to their powerful grip.
We then walked to the most handsome large guy of the bunch! He comes from a very long life of abuse and aggression, beaten to perform dawn to dusk as tourists rode along his back. He now enjoys his days as a king free of pain. Our tour ended watching our original four friends enjoying some time in the large pool then covering themselves in layers of sun and bug protecting dirt.
We finished our day at Samui Elephant Haven with one of the best vegetarian meals I've ever had. The wonderful staff there cooked us up a delicious spread of pad thai, curry potatoes, veggie stuffed wontons, sauteed veggies, and endless fruit. The entire experience was more than we ever could have imagined. We quickly booked a second visit after our first, knowing we wanted to spend more time with these beautiful creatures and incredible people.
Elephants don't have a voice to be able to fight for themselves, to save their species and stop the absue they face. We must be their voice. Only we as people and tourists can create the change needed to end abusive treatment of animals. We must make the conscious decision to find places that are doing right by the animals, not simply looking to make money. The money made at Samui Elephant Haven goes right back to the elephants currenlty at the sanctuary as well as used to rescue future elephants. They are creating a home for elephants that allows them to live in a 'nature of peace and dignity'.