Located in the lush jungle, Anantara Golden Triangle is perched on a hill overlooking the Mekong River and the mountains where Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos converge. You won’t hear the honking of motorbikes and tuk tuks here; instead, the jungle is filled with the sounds of elephants trumpeting, birds singing, and geckos chirping. The trumpeting comes from 30 elephants rescued from Thailand’s city streets, where they were forced to perform tricks to earn their mahouts tips. The elephants, accompanied by their mahouts and their mahouts’ families, live at the 160 acre on-site camp.
The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF) was established by John Roberts in 2006.
We sat down to dinner with John on our first night at the resort to learn more about GTAEF and how the elephant encounters at Anantara Golden Triangle are helping conserve Asia’s endangered population of wild Asian elephants. John recounted the tale of how he rescued his first elephant. “A few months later,” he told us, “the same mahout showed up with another elephant asking me to purchase this one too.” It was that moment that John realized he needed to think bigger and that just buying elephants wasn’t the answer. Rescuing elephants would only help those few elephants and the mahouts would simply go about breeding or buying another elephant. GTAEF and the partnership with Anantara was born.
Today the foundation is doing amazing things that not only help the 30 elephants living at Anantara Golden Triangle, but raise money for and help us understand how Asian elephants interact in the wild. Some of their projects include import research studies directed by Dr. Josh Plotnick and the team at Think Elephants International and a program to give working elephants and their mahouts ethical jobs as elephant therapists working with autistic children.
Guests of Anantara Golden Triangle can help support these projects, as well as the care of the elephants, mahouts, and their families at the on-site sanctuary through a number of elephant encounters at the resort.ExperienceDining with Baby Elephants
The baby elephant camp is in the bamboo forest in the grasslands below the resort and you can spend an evening dining in a tree house at the camp while the baby elephants munch on sugar cane alongside you! Start the evening by feeding the elephants sugarcane; happy trunks reaching up to grab the stalks the mahouts have chopped up right out of your hand. Meanwhile, your own personal chef is preparing your meal at the on-site kitchen. Sip a fine South African wine while enjoying the gourmet Thai dinner as the elephants play, throw dirt on themselves, and trumpet just feet away. Finish off the evening saying goodbye to the elephants and making a wish as you light your very own khom fai (sky lantern) and watch it until it floats out of sight.
Work alongside the research team from Think Elephants International as you help conduct scientific experiments that help us to understand elephant intelligence and behaviors. The research team will explain the experiments and research equipment in detail and then you’ll head out to the field research site to interact with the elephants. Through experiments, like the mirror and cooperation studies that have already been published, you’ll quickly realize that these gentle giants have big personalities that rival their size and that they aren’t so gentle with the research equipment!
Mahout, in its simplest translation, means elephant driver. But mahout-ing is so much more, from providing care to even living alongside the elephant. The relationship between humans and elephants reaches back thousands of years from when kings first used elephants to help fight wars in the dense jungles to elephants working in the logging industry. When logging was banned in 1989 due to destroying natural habitat, mahouts and more than 20,000 unemployed elephants turned to tourism. Mahout-ing is a profession handed down from father to son, and because elephants have such long lifespans of up to 80 years old, the elephant itself was handed down.
In no way will we completely understand the mahout-elephant relationship in just a few days, but the Mahout Training program gives guests a glimpse into it. Alongside the mahouts and Anantara volunteers to help translate, guests can learn some of the over 70 commands mahouts use to train their elephant, help bathe the elephants in the river, and properly learn to ride on the neck of and drive an elephant.
DrinkBlack Ivory Coffee
Both the rarest and most expensive coffee in the world, Black Ivory comes right from Anantara Golden Triangle. The mahouts’ wives pick the finest Thai Arabica beans and then feed them to some of the elephants. The elephants can’t digest the beans, similar to how people can’t digest corn, and the wives pluck the beans from the elephant dung the next day. The beans are carefully washed and dried. A uniquely tasting coffee is produced in very limited quantities and can only be tasted in a few remote corners of the world.
Read more about Black Ivory: The World’s Most Expensive Coffee
These are just a few of the elephant encounters guests can have at Anantara Golden Triangle. There is plenty more to do, both with and without elephants, at this northern Thai luxury resort! To learn more about the conservation efforts of The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, please visit their website.
Disclosure: Thank you to Anantara for hosting us during our time in Thailand in order to bring you this story. As always, all opinions are entirely our own.