For Eric and Jared and I, it was good to now visit a place we’re familiar with. We lived in Chiang Mai 15 years ago, and both the girls were born here, although they were very young when we left. We celebrated Gianna’s 17th birthday with a nice dinner and longtime friends. It was a joy to visit with our old friends here, some of which we stayed with, and they let us use their car.

We celebrated Gianna’s 17th birthday in her birth city, Chiang Mai, and had an American meal and a decadent piece of cake.
Dinner celebrating Gianna’s birthday, along with long-time friends, Tim and Denise and their foster daughter. They graciously hosted us and let us use their car.

There are fantastic tailors here, so Jared had a custom suit made. He will wear this regularly when he works as a DJ for weddings and other events. Eric also had some custom shirts made. We talked with the shop owner for some time, and I was impressed with the number of languages he speaks on a regular basis. He was raised in Burma and his parents are from Nepal, so he speaks Burmese, Nepalese, Thai, English, and German.

Certainly, the highlight in Thailand was visiting the elephants. And I say visiting, because we really spent time interacting with them. At the elephant sanctuary, we first got to feed some adult elephants together with a 3-month-old baby. The baby was adorable, and very active and playful. She liked pushing people around, and she especially loved coming over to us visitors and taking our flip flop shoes off. One time she came over to Jessica and wrapped her little trunk around Jessica’s leg and tried to take her flip flops to play with.

Jessica with the Mama elephant and her 3-month-old baby.

These full-grown elephants can weigh about 4 tons, so we quickly developed a healthy fear of them. The Mahouts (elephant caretakers and trainers) taught us some Thai commands that the elephants understand, like “ma” (come), hao (stop), and “didi” (good). We learned how to examine the elephant’s skin, tears, and excrement to determine how healthy they are.

One of the ways to determine a healthy elephant is to examine its excrement. Jared is holding some elephant dung. It should have no black in it but should be wet enough to squeeze moisture out of it.

We also learned 3 different ways to mount and dismount the elephant in order to ride it bareback. It’s important to NOT sit on the elephant’s shoulders, because that’s not comfortable for them or for you. The Mahouts explained that it works best for a male person to ride a female elephant, and a female person to ride a male elephant. They don’t know why that is, but they have found it just works better.

Each of the kids rode on their own elephant, but Eric and I shared riding on a huge adult female. Gianna rode like an expert, while Jessica rode comfortably on her smaller elephant, and Jared and Eric and I struggled to get comfortable on the 45-minute ride, with the Mahouts walking alongside. I sat on our elephant’s neck and continually felt like I could fall off any minute, especially when going downhill.

I (Allison) never got comfortable but kept feeling like I was going to fall off, trying to continually adjust my balance as the elephant moved. I started out riding in the front and Eric in the back. On our short ride back, I switched with Eric, which was a little better.

The best part was when we reached the river and got to go in the water with these majestic animals. I loved hearing one of them trumpet! We scrubbed and washed and rinsed them, which they really seemed to enjoy. Then they sprayed us with their trunks, and we took pictures together.

We rinsed the elephants with buckets of water.

We could see these animals are well-taken care of and are thriving here.

Our friends took us to this waterfall that you can walk down. It’s called the Sticky Waterfall, because the rocks are coated in rough lime deposits that make it so your feet can grip them as you walk down.
We all got refreshingly wet as we walked down the waterfall.
Jessica especially enjoyed getting wet!
At the base of the waterfall is a shallow pool.
We went down memory lane and visited some places we used to go when we lived there. This was our favorite Vietnamese restaurant.
We girls splurged on getting our nails done — much cheaper here than in the States!
Jared is posing with my best Thai friend, Boom. When he was young, he and Gianna used to play with her daughter who is Gianna’s age. Jared and Boom hadn’t seen each other for 15 years! She now runs a non-profit organization that helps rescue girls from sex-trafficking.
Green tea and toasted almond Dairy Queen Blizzard at the airport.
Riding in a tuk-tuk was something we enjoyed when we lived in Thailand. There are much fewer of them around these days. Jared and Jessica are riding with a friend.
Gianna and Eric and I in another tuk-tuk.
That’s one long trunk! We were all given special clothes to wear over our clothes, to protect us from the dirt and mud. Before we started riding them, we also put on special pants to protect us from the bristly elephant hair.
The big daddy elephant.
Mama and baby.
As elephant caretakers for a day, we each fed our assigned elephants a basket of bananas, peel and all.
Eric with the elephant that he and I shared.
As you can see, I was not as confident as Eric riding this elephant.
Once we reached the river, we scrubbed the elephants. They seemed to really enjoy this!
Gianna with the baby elephant.
The baby elephant was very energetic, curious, and busy.
Gianna with her elephant for the day.
Gianna feeding her elephant bananas. We pretty much had to stick our hands in their mouth. They have very large soft tongues.
Gianna rode like a pro, sitting on the head, just like the Mahouts (elephant caretakers and trainers).
We rode on a trail for about 45 minutes.
At the river Gianna scrubs a happy, relaxed elephant.
Feeling good after a bath. We also learned that happy elephants flap their ears several times a minute.
We learned that dirt on the skin shows they have been sleeping well. They will usually sleep a few hours on one side, and then turn to the other side for a few hours, so they should have dirt on both sides.
This rambunctious little elephant is trying to take Jessica’s flip-flop off.
Jessica was so comfortable and relaxed with these beautiful animals.
Jessica is brushing off her elephant before we go for a ride.
Feeding bananas.
Jessica looks like she just found a new friend, and the elephant, too.
Jessica demonstrates one way to get on the elephant, by stepping on their bent knee.
Another pro rider.
A scrub bath in the river.
Jared with his elephant for the day.
Jared feeding his elephant. They loved the bananas!
No, Jared is not eating the elephant dung! He’s smelling it. Healthy elephants have sweet grassy smelling dung, since they are vegetarians.
Jared brushing off the dirt on his elephant. The elephant seems to really be enjoying this — I love his pose here!
Jared is riding his elephant in the proper position. They no longer allow people to ride on a seat on the elephant’s back, so we learned how to ride properly bareback. It’s important to not sit on their shoulders, but to sit either on the neck or head, or behind the shoulders.
Jared is ready for our trail ride.
Jared and Gianna on the trail ride.
Jared scrubbing his elephant.
A Mahout riding the big daddy elephant.
We stopped for a delicious lunch by the river.
Our lunch included chicken, rice, and fruit. From bottom to top: longans (left), rambutans (right), mangosteens (referred to as the queen of fruits, and a favorite of ours), dragon fruit, rice wrapped in banana leaf, rice with banana wrapped in banana leaf, fried chicken, chicken satay.
At the river we scrubbed the elephants with brushes and water. We could tell they really loved this, as they would sometimes lean into the scrubbing and rock back and forth.
The baby elephant loved playing in the water.


  1. I’m really enjoying your adventures. I’m going to visit one a day. Thankyou so much for sharing your experiences. Love you all

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