Our two weeks in Chiang Mai have come to a close. The former capital of the Lanna Kingdom in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai still has an ancient historic center of the city that’s dotted with hundreds of temples and surrounded by a moat. It’s just beautiful. We ate a lot of delicious street food, took a reflexology course, wandered the night bazaar and the markets, but the coolest thing we did by far was visit an elephant sanctuary out in the hills surrounding the city.

village view

The view from the village. The Thais who live there are former hill tribespeople who moved closer to the city for better access to water. You’d think being up in the mountains in northern Thailand would give us a break from the sweltering heat…but no dice. 

ken and family

Ken, our guide for the day, with his nephew and two daughters. There are about fifty people who live in his village – and they are all related.  

big trunk

Meet Bang Bang, the main attraction! We fed her a ton of bananas. This particular sanctuary doesn’t let you ride the elephants, which we liked – but it still gets you up close and personal. 

ele with elephant

Ele with one of the baby elephants, who had learned how to hug and “kiss” visitors with his trunk. 

elephant with man

The elephants are able to roam around freely, and we found two big adults up in the hills surrounding the village. It’s kind of a shock to hear a rustle in the woods and look around to find a 6-ton animal lumbering towards you…the coolest shock in the world! 

us and aileen

After lunch we got into a big mud puddle with the elephants to cool them down. This is our friend Aileen, a seven year old French girl who was absolutely terrified of being stomped underfoot. Can’t really blame her. 

phoebe with elephant

Phoebe reveling in being so close to her fellow Jumbos (#tufts2010). 

in water

After the mud bath we rinsed the elephants – and ourselves – off in the river. You can’t really see it, but there’s a baby elephant completed submerged in that water. Note the Go-Pro action! 

We were there with a lovely group of people, and it was so interesting to witness a way of life so entirely different from our own.

So now our time in Thailand is over. Our next stop is Nepal. It’s been a week since the country was devastated by an earthquake, which obviously threw a wrench into our plans to trek in the Annapurna circuit. Instead we’re going to head to Kathmandu to help distribute aid to the thousands of people who still lack clean water, food, and medical supplies. We’re preparing ourselves for an intense and disquieting experience, and will report back when we can.