I just recently turned 32, so it seemed fitting that my birthday celebration gets to be the “birth” of my blog! My husband and I just spent about 3 weeks in Thailand, and it was life-changing.
The main reason I wanted to go to Thailand: Elephants! I’ve loved elephants for as long as I can remember. I knew I wanted to interact with them, but I also knew I wanted to do it responsibly. There’s been a lot of information released recently that showcases the harsh reality of the elephant tourism industry, and I wanted no part in adding to the suffering of such a beautiful creature.
A lot of research on ethical elephant interaction and several e-mails later, I had secured my spot at Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary. “BLES” is located in the small village of Baan Tuek in northern Thailand, about an hour away from the Sukhothai airport. Flights leave from Bangkok 3 times a day, and it’s only about an hour flight. It's in a remote area which isn't easily accessible, but well worth the journey. BLES has over 600 hundred acres of forested land that encourages the elephants to interact in a natural environment. There is no riding, bathing, or painting...they’re just elephants who have finally been allowed to live as they always should have.
Upon arriving and meeting Katherine, the founder of the sanctuary, I knew the week would inspire a new purpose into my life. Hearing her story and learning about how each of the 14 elephants ended up at Boon Lott’s was heart-breaking. However, watching them here, in their safe space, restored your faith in miracles. She has worked tirelessly for 10 years to raise funds to rescue elephants, acquire more land, and keep BLES running. If that wasn’t enough, she has also taken in about 2 dozen dogs and over 40 cats and helped establish the first vet clinic in the village. She’s truly an incredible human and has changed the course of history for elephants and animals in this village.
The elephants and dogs joined us for most meals, and no meal will ever be as great as dining with elephants! We also got to sit in on some of the medical treatments for the elephants. Wassana requires daily treatments, because prior to her arrival at BLES, she was forced to work in a field with landmines. She stepped on one and her foot was beyond repair. Katherine worked with a team in Australia to develop the first "elephant boot", which allows Wassana to walk with minimal pain.
Each day, we’d go on our elephant walks, and they lasted between 4-5 hours, depending on where we went in the forest. The BLES dogs were our guides, and WiFi, Ruby, Pancake, Shakira, Pizza, and Bowie showed us the best resting spots and mud puddles to cool off in. I didn't think this place could get any better.
But then...Katherine took us to the treehouse. I tried to capture the magic of this special spot, but no pictures can do this place justice. This was the spot that made my world stop.
The treehouse allowed us time to just be present, and it's also where we went a little deeper into how each animal ended up at BLES. It took me over a week to be able to look at the photos I took without crying. I became really attached to these amazing creatures, and a few dogs in particular are the reason why I left my heart in Thailand. WiFi immediately became my adventure partner, and I learned he arrived at BLES with a calcium deficiency. His owner surrendered him because he thought he'd never walk again...but check out WiFi...he's the one coming down the steps of the treehouse in that last photo. He's a walking, running, climbing miracle! Then I met Luna. Luna was hit by a car, and was also unable to walk upon her arrival at BLES, but now she runs and plays and is the first face you see upon arrival at the sanctuary. Jack's story was the hardest to process though. Jack is a little lab pup, who showed up at BLES after her owner tried to cut one of her legs off with a machete. The leg couldn't be saved, but this dog didn't seem to notice or care, because she went everywhere we did and the smile never left her face. Each dog at BLES had a similar story, but just like the elephants, they have found love, happiness, and their forever home.
Other adventures led us to a forest of banana trees or cornfields, which we had to cut down and take back to the sanctuary to provide extra nourishment to the elephants. We made a daily stop at the village store for snacks, and walked to the river. We got to watch the elephants splash around, roll in the mud, and just hang out. Running through corn fields with the dogs, napping by the riverbank...it served as a much needed escape from the real world.
In addition to all this already perfect visit, Katherine threw me a surprise birthday party! It was a night I’ll remember forever. We got to spend the night hanging out with her, the mahouts (elephant caretakers), and her incredible children. The mahouts taught us Thai phrases, and we shared stories, a lot of laughs, and a few tears. I felt more at home in this moment than I have in the city I’ve called home for almost a decade. It really rings true that it's not the location you are in, but the people you surround yourself with that can make you feel at home. Thank you, Katherine. Experiencing BLES was something I’ll never forget. You and your vision keep inspiring me to do more and to be more impactful every day. I already can't wait to go back to this place!