The Local: Thom
The Location: Pai, Northern Thailand
The Love: The caring, intelligent nature of the elephant
She strokes the leathery wrinkled skin, running her outstretched hand down the trunk of the beautiful creature before her. Sharing a quick smile and a few words with Ot the elephant, she turns back to us to share her story.
From a young age Thom was surrounded by elephants, her father initially using them for logging purposes much like the rest of Thailand. When she turned 22, she took over the elephants from her father and shifted her focus towards tourism. With such a strong connection to these creatures, she was tired of seeing elephants mistreated and abused for the purpose of satisfying the demands of naive tourists. So she started up Thom’s Elephant Camp, a place where travellers could come to stay and ride bare back on the elephants, learning the Thai commands to interact with them correctly and put them to sleep in the jungle later on at night. She currently has 3 female elephants called Ot, Tut Dau and Pompem, who she proudly tells us will eat and live much longer than her. With fifty acres of land all up growing her own bananas, mangos, corn, sugar cane and grass she is able to support her business and care for her elephants sustainably.
While learning so much about how to interact with these creatures, we also learnt about their food sources and history, had some Thai cooking and language lessons. Each day collecting the elephants from the jungle in the morning and teaching those passing through about the different elephant mannerisms. For instance elephants cannot sweat through their skin so they flap their ears to cool themselves down, their ears being an area of their body where they can effectively radiate heat to control their internal temperature. For this reason alone they love to swim and splash around in the nearby river!
Sitting atop of the elephants as they wander down to the river, their huge bodies swaying from side to side as each foot is lifted forward. They stroll straight into the water spraying us with their trunks over the top of their heads and down the sides of their bellies! We stand up on one leg on Tut Dau’s back, then with an almighty shake she sends us flying into the water. Holding tight onto her trunk she lift us upwards, and momentarily we stare face to face straight into the deep inquisitive eyes of Tut Dau the elephant, before she allows us to climb onto her head and back down her neck. Thom’s understanding of these creatures made our experience here pretty incredible, it is hard not to catch onto her love and her infectious passion she shares through those smiling eyes!