As I stepped into the warm water, I could not see the bottom. The water was brown, who knew what was in there other than the floating missiles from the elephant? But as I jumped on top of little Alam, the elephant, and sat on his bare back and people splashed us and cheered I could only be in that moment. I sat bareback and could feel his skin on mine. I came down low and hugged his neck. I looked up at the blue sky and at my children laughing, my husband taking photos and it was one of those "aha!" moments. I am living a life I want. And my kids are experiencing real, quality, amazing opportunities. They don’t know any other 2 & 3 year olds who have ridden an elephant on land and in poo water.
I can’t even begin to describe this day, but I am going to try to lay off all the feelings and emotions and get down to the facts so you can spend a day like this when you get to KL as well.
25km with no U-turn
Our drive to Kuala Ghanda was beautiful. You go past Genting Highlands, mountains and miles of palm oil plantations with palm tree after palm tree. We knew from previous blogs that even though the park does not open till 1pm you need to be there about 11am. The park only gives out 120 yellow stickers for visitors to ride and swim with the elephants. The other visitors are just watchers.
So we set off at 10am, but as usual we got lost. We missed a turn and unfortunately this is not the type of road you should do that on. There was no U-turn, no turn off, just road for another 25-30km…. Then we finally u-turned and travelled back that length to the right turn off.
By the time we arrived at the Elephant Park it was 11:30am. I must say I was hiding back disappointment that we may just be observers. We were behind another car that went straight to the car park. I decided to drop Josh off at reception and then drove to the car park.
You may have seen my grin from space when Josh came back with the LAST 3 stickers. There are 4 of us, but they had no problem including Caius in all the activities. We pipped the car in front of us at the finish line and scored the last tickets. Was so stoked!
Deerland - sweet, little park
With over 1.5 hours before the Elephant Park opened we decided to jump back in the car and a little further down the road we entered Deerland.
For about $7 for all 4 of us we entered a gorgeous little park. The first enclosure is home to lots of deer. The food is free and they gave us 4 baskets of potato that a guy was cutting up as we arrived.
The kids loved this, more so Caius he sat on the ground feeding and laughing at the deer over and over and over again. When he ran out of food, he started taking from the tourist bus of Chinese that arrived. They eventually moved on, gave him all their leftovers and he kept going.
After you feed them you can enter the enclosure and pat them. Nearby is an unhappy ostrich, he looked lonely and wanted to be fed like the deer.
The heat was beating down so we passed through the rest of the park rather quickly, checking out mouse deer, rabbits, birds and Josh even got to hold a rather large snack.
We grabbed a quick, cheap snack from the canteen before jumping back in the car and heading back to the Elephant Sanctuary. You can check all the Deer pictures in our photo journal.
Kuala Ghanda - Elephant Sanctuary
The first part of the elephant sanctuary is a video on how they rescue the elephants from the Malaysian surrounds where locals are killing them off. Unfortunately there is no money in the system and while they release the elephants into a “sanctuary” there is no tracking system or follow up process and the video has a sad ending not knowing what happened to the ‘saved’ elephant.
Finally the how was over (not the best thing to entertain a 2 & 3 yr. old). We had a half hour break so we grabbed a quick $2 lunch from the restaurant there (nothing special) and then walked down to see the elephants. They were in enclosures with their trunks out accepting food from the locals. The enclosures were small, but am hoping this is a tourist thing, obviously they don’t live in there?!
We had brought some old bananas and apples with us and the elephant loved them. They even give you papaya to feed them with when they are let out of the enclosures. You can simply give it to their trunk or if you are brave enough you can put it straight in their mouth. The elephant had a thick, wet tongue and I enjoyed the experience thoroughly.
After the feeding it get’s a bit crazy as one long line forms to ride the elephants. I was slightly disappointed with this part of the Sanctuary, expecting some great ride through the jungle or something, but I guess it is free so shouldn’t expect too much.
Once at the front of the line you get a quick ride in a small circle. The best part of this ride is that you are bare backed on the elephant, which is an amazing feeling, having rode on a seated elephant in Thailand.
Quickly we chucked our swimmers on and headed down to the water, again to join a cue of people. Luckily we were close to last and got more time on the elephant, hugging him, splashing him and photographing him. It was my favourite part of the day. He looked in his element, completely relaxed and happy.
Forgetting towels, but drying quickly we wandered back to the car. It was about 3:30pm. As we started our drive home I mention a waterfall someone had blogged about. We re-reroute our iPhone GPS and find quite easily the Betong Chamang Waterfall.
I love waterfalls. There is something about God created sights and experiences that touches a different part of your soul. I think this is why we loved the elephants so much as well. It’s not human made, it’s not a theme park or a temple, it’s real. It’s created by something we don’t understand and it’s natural.
Anyway after some great photography by my husband the kids and I splashed in the waters. The place soon filled with a number of tourists and we decided that was our cue to leave. After a very satisfying day we headed back home with no mishaps or wrong turns.
What I loved about the park:
- Riding the elephants
- Being in the water with an elephant
- Feeding the elephants
What I think needs to be improved:
- The movie was sad and needs to be updated
- There is no signage or guide to tell you what to do at the park, we relied on people who had hired tour guides to tell us where to go or what to do next or blindly followed massed crowds.
If you attempt to go be apart of this amazing experience, remember these tips:
- Get there early for 1 of the 120 yellow stickers
- Be prepared to spend some time at Deerland
- Wear sunscreen because there is a lot of watching, feeding, riding, swimming with elephants in direct sunshine
- Bring your own fruit, biscuits or peanuts to feed the elephants, they also take formula donations
- Visit Chamang waterfalls on the way home
- Do not miss your turn-off!
As a national elephant conservation park, Kuala Gandah no longer offers elephant rides. This park only allows you to feed the elephants and help them bathe. While entry to the park is still by donation, to participate in the baby elephant bath you do need to pay a set fee.
Reader Comments..."I respond to every comment by direct private email. I look forward to your feedback" - Josh Bender
It sounds like you had a lovely day at the elephant sanctuary. But I suggest you do some research into how elephants are "trained" to allow riders.
It is not natural for them, and it is also very painful, for your weight is not on its back, it is on its neck. Bathing is wrong because the elephant is in fact complying with the wishes of the nearby mahout, who might have had a stick in his hand? which he told you was just tell the elephant where it was to go? Some sanctuaries actually anchor the elephants in the water using chains. And yes, they do sleep in those small enclosures. And are again chained, the chains removed only when paying tourists arrive.
A true sanctuary forbids ANY interaction between visitors and animals. They are there to be free from our exploitation. There are two sanctuaries where you can contribute to the elephants' lives and be near them. Elephant Nature Park, where you help prepare food, www.elephantnaturepark.org, and Boon Lott, www.blesele.org, the woman, Lek, is the founder of Save the Elephant Foundation. And then there is the issue of how the elephants ended up there...
Elephants are captured young, away from their mother and they are usually still nursing, and put through the torture of "phajan", also called the "crush," in which their spirits are broken. Not a single elephant in Thailand, India, Malaysia, Indonesia that is in a parade, works in logging, carries riders....anything at all that it would not do naturally of its own will and when it wants, has not been through the crush, has not been broken. And it takes a lot of pain and psychological destruction to break an elephant. https://kimpluscraig.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/phajaan.jpg To learn more about the history, should you choose, you can read here https://kimpluscraig.com/2014/01/10/phajaan-breaking-the-spirit/. There are graphic videos of a phajan on the internet but having seen it only once it is seared in my brain, so you may not wish to view it. I attached just one still picture.
I enjoy your blog very much, the info is great, the writing fun. But I do hope, for the elephants, that you will never ride an elephant again. And that you tell your friends the same. Very best wishes for safe and happy travels.
Hi Francoise, thanks for your feedback. This article is 6 years old and I think a lot has changed during that time. I would no longer encourage or recommend tourists to ride on the backs of elephants in the interest of the well-being of the animal. I appreciate you raising this issue. Safe travels.
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