Thom’s Elephant Camp is a small but popular place where the elephants can be hired out for trekking or swims in the Pai river. Here there is no ‘big’ entertainment show, no soccer matches between the elephants and no vast caravans of tour buses… Thom’s is located out in the country-side. The camp began with Thom’s late father, the original mahout who worked with Panom in the forest industry. When that industry died from over logging, elephants and mahouts were out of work. Many elephants were sold into larger elephant entertainment centers, some were used in illegal logging and a few mahouts, like Thom’s father set up very small, out of the way camps. In fact, Thom was the first person to allow visitors to ride bareback and swim with the elephants, along with a mahout, of course.
I spent several days with my friend Panom. I can’t speak ‘elephant’ so I was unable to ask her if she remembers me from previous visits, but somehow I feel she does.
While I was ‘hanging out’ with Panom, her friend Aut, discovered that her mahout had forgotten to connect the chain properly. She went straight for the bananas that are kept on a line for the human visitors to buy and feed them; she managed to swoosh down quite a few before the mahout reappeared.
The elephants at Thom’s are given plenty of love, food and as much freedom as one can give a captive elephant. Before dark, like most elephant camps here, the elephants are taken by their mahout up into the mountains to forage throughout the night, eating a great deal and sleeping little. Their mahouts are dedicated and work seven days a week. They share a simple wooden house next to where they elephants are corralled during the day and while they share the duties, each elephant is bonded to one mahout.
Chang Lek, with my assistance, is in the planning stages of setting up tours that will begin with a trip to see Panom and friends, then venture on up further north to visit some out-of-the way hilltribe villages, temples, and other cultural landmarks. Look for more on that at a later posting. For those who would love to spend some time with an elephant, take a short training class on being a mahout and having a lovely swim with an elephant in the river, you’ll enjoy this. And anyone interested in spending a month with an elephant… that can be arranged as well. Stay tuned.