Thom’s Elephant Camp!

I’m back and I’m in Luang Prabang, Laos! But before I go into all that, here’s an extremely overdue post on my elephant experience from 16 May – 31 May 2015.

Meet Ot! The sweetest yet cheekiest elephant. Disclaimer: Please ignore the hook. It wasn’t poking Ot at all and it’s rarely used. I really miss waking up and playing with the eles first thing in the morning. Photo credits: Keng.

My two week volunteering stint at Thom’s Elephant Camp has been nothing short of amazing. I actually (embarrassingly) teared right before I left because I felt so at home, was surrounded by so many great characters, and was pretty torn I was leaving cause it meant that I would be on the road again, alone.  

16 May 2015, Saturday

Took the 3-hour minivan from Chiang Mai to Pai and arrived around 1.30pm. Was a li’l lost when they dropped us off at Terminal Green cause I expected to be stopped at the bus station I saw last year when I was on the public bus from Soppong-Pai-Chiang Mai.

Called Thom and she told me to head to their office in town to wait for the pick-up. I’m glad I decided to have lunch before I went to the camp cause the next meal was during dinner time.

Was introduced to Thom, volunteers, mahouts (elephant guides), working staff, and most importantly the elephants!!! 

Ot trying to steal food from everywhere she can. The others do that as well.
Lazy Pom Paem who’s usually sneakily trying to run away to steal the bunches of bananas on display.
Tut Dao who loves chillin’ and dancing around.

Things I did during my stay:

    • Pick-up elephants from the mountains between 6am – 6.30am/ send them back between 5pm – 5.30pm


I did this consecutively for the first two to three days and stopped subsequently. Thank goodness cause I was feeling drained pretty quickly after constantly waking up at 5.45am and sleeping around 11+pm. Can’t imagine how the staff survives on such little sleep. Probably with the naps in the daytime during the downtime. Some of the other volunteers took naps as well but I can proudly say I never took a quick snooze. I went all out! I wanted to milk every cent’s worth of my experience there.

With the local mahouts after sending the eles to the mountains. (Phan*, Kung, Kay*)
    • Shovel poop (my favorite deed), feed the eles, clean the stalls
Shitloads of elephant poop! I have never emptied the poop cart ever, although I supposedly love poop.

This was quite a crucial task, especially sweeping out all the unwanted not-so-fresh grass the eles don’t eat. Apparently, if they step on the grass, chances are that they are not going to eat it anymore.
The oldest yet most playful elephant, Ot, is a really fussy eater. She only picks on the fresh grass but if she is desperate for food, she’ll eat the rest but still pick on the food. Which is why her mahout doesn’t give her a lot of grass at a time to eat cause she’ll just pick on her food.

Ot’s extremely wasted leftovers are usually swept over to Pom Paem who is in the stall next to Ot. She eats practically everything and loves stealing Tut Dao’s food. Tut Dao basically lets her food get stolen. I don’t understand why she likes to take her grass and place it near Pom Paem.

So ya, all the uneaten grass is essentially swept and placed in a cart to feed Tuey, the only male elephant kept at the back of the camp. Apparently he eats it so it’s good! No wastage at all.

These largest land mammals eat at least 250kg worth of food every day which is too much.

    • Cut grass/ bamboo

& why is 250kg too much? Cause it just means that we have to cut grass more often to feed them.

We go to this huge plot of land which has grass growing (it’s Thom’s land, not any random place) and spend at least 1.5 hours at a time machete-ing tall grass. t’s a tiring task because you’re all covered up, wearing gloves, so you won’t get pricked by small thorns. But we do it all for our beloved elephants.

I’ve only went thrice I think – twice for grass and once for bamboo. I managed to escape the other times. Initially I loved going cause it was kind of like a workout for me but it’s tiring to lug around all that grass to the truck. I can’t imagine what happens when one day there’s no more grass…

Cutting bamboo! Well, I was carrying bamboo rather. It was less taxing than carrying shitloads of grass. L-R: me, Nick (US volunteer dude), Audrey (French volunteer dudine), Kung and Phan* (staff).
Us with our precious prized possessions! Top: Sarah (German volunteer), Audrey, Nick, Keng (mahout).
    • Wash the dishes

This was pretty much exhausting at times, especially if I wasn’t in the mood to clean. Cause there’s so many people around, there are so many dishes to wash. I don’t understand why people just don’t clean up after themselves, instead of dumping their dishes into the sink and waiting for someone to wash up.

Few reasons why I don’t fancy doing the dishes:
– Sink was too low: seriously whoever who designed it must hate tall people. I got a backache even from rinsing the dishes.
– Soap was too soapy: really! The first time I washed my hands I kept washing and washing till I found out it was the soap’s problem. You can’t even tell if the dishes are free from soap.
– Too many dishes

There was one day where I was in the mood to clean so I decided to reorganise one of the kitchen’s utensils and wash the, but halfway through I wanted to give up cause there was too many.

  • Run away to town
    I kid, it’s not part of the job scope. I became pretty good friends with the staff at the camp and usually if I felt like it, if I saw Phan* (one of the staff) with the pick-up truck to send customers back to Pai, I’d take along for the car ride and A/C. I love car rides. 
  • Water the plants
    Pretty straightforward task. The camp has a longan tree, pumpkins, orchids, chilis, basil, etc. I learnt that you cannot water plants during the afternoon cause the sun will burn the leaves. I did not know that!
  • Make your own breakfast
    Breakfast was pretty much self-service while delicious homemade lunch and dinner was provided for. Everyday I had toast, eggs, bacon, tomatoes. Always any two of the above combination.

    Breakfast! Simple yet necessary for a hard day’s work.
There was one day where Ae, one of the sweetest staff who spoils us with her delicious meals, wasn’t around and we had to make our own lunch. Audrey and I did noodles with vegetables; Keng put the finishing spice-touches to it.

You supposedly get one day off after a week of work but I didn’t take mine. Didn’t want to anyways. I’d rather spend my time at the camp with the eles!

I did get to see some of Pai’s sights though. Keng, one of the mahouts, brought us to Mor Paeng Waterfall + we had mookata (Thai-style) bbq buffet after that!

Slid down some rocks and plunged into the natural pool! Scared of heights but I surprise myself sometimes. L-R: Keng, me, Alexandra (German volunteer), Sarah, Audrey, Nick.

 

170baht mookata buffet dinner after a cold time in the waterfall!
Nothing foreign to me but the others were all intrigued by the whole concept.

 

Keng also brought us to catch the sunset. It was a gorgeous sight but I was scared shitless having to climb up and down rocks to get the perfect view. The only thing I can say is that I SURVIVED. 

LOOK AT HOW HIGH UP WE WERE. I was fearing for my life, my phone, and selfie stick.

 

Mother nature surprises me everytime.

Phan and Kung were so sweet. Less than a week into volunteering, they brought me out to dinner for papaya salad but the place was closed. We had cheap noodles and chicken rice; they covered dinner for me. Local experience!

I had the best two weeks of my life. I’m really considering going back to the camp before I head on home. I think I’ve mingled too much with people for too long – went into a reclusive mode for a couple of days before I started opening up and wanting to mingle again.

Alright, I’ve spent hours working on this post. I’ll do an update on travelling from Pai to Luang Prabang, Laos when I have better connection. Ending off with more random photos.

Edit: The iPad keeps crashing so I’ll add more photos another time.


 

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