1) Thai Elephant Home treats their elephants very well, and their staff and mahouts are treated like family (I witnessed this first-hand during my 3 day stay, as I was welcomed in as part of the family)
2) TEH is Eco-concious, and funds a reforestation project, as well as teaching young children in the area the importance of maintaining the environment.
3) TEH is one of the only places (may be the only place) that lets you ride your own elephant. Most places make you share with another person.
4) TEH is the only camp that has Black Mud on its property. This mud is not only very good for the elephants skin, but for peoples skin as well. The only other place in the area that has access to this mud is a high-end spa.
I was the only person who was staying at the camp for 3 days. I guess most other people only go for 1 day tours, but in my opinion, you cannot get the true experience in just one day. I got to work with and take care of the same elephant for the 3 days I was there, and was able to feel the trust and familiarity blossom between us. My elephants name was BoNam. She is 43 years old and has had 2 babies (Fun Fact: Elephants are pregnant for 2 years, compared to our 9 months - Yikes!). She is huge and gentle...and very hungry! Elephants eat around 10% of their body weight, and BoNam ate every bit of that 10%. When everyone finished their lunches she would eat everyone's leftovers and scraps. She even ate an entire coconut, chomping at it like a crisp autumn apple. She was also very smart, though she didn't know all of the tricks some of the younger elephants could do. I guess the old adage "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" runs true, even with elephants. I learned 3 ways to get on and off - 1 involving her laying down (map long), 2 with her just lifting her leg and boosting me up (song soong), and 3 climbing up her trunk and over her head (tam long). I also learned the command for pick up (kep bon), which I practiced with some of the younger elephants, and of course the basic up (look), go (pbai), stop (how), and turn (ben).
Each day began at 7AM when I would wake up and feed BoNam and shovel elephant poo (FUN!). By 8AM I was enjoying a home cooked breakfast, sweet sticky rice and coffee and then would take an hour or so to learn some more commands. Then the new trainees would arrive and I would sit and chat and play games with the employees while they sat through their orientation. Afterwards we would pray to the elephant gods at a little shrine and then all walk down to feed the elephants and start our day. Starting on the 2nd day I was asked to demonstrate a few commands for the new comers. On day 2 I go to take a personal ride around the hills with just me, BoNam, my Mahout and another elephant and its Mahout. It was a great day being away from the crowd and lazily doing our own thing. On day 1 and 3, when I stayed with the group we rode our elephants to the black mud pit, where we had lunch before playing in the mud with the elephants. We got to cover our faces in "clean" mud from the top of the hill and then went down to where the elephants roll around. Afterwards we would jump back on our elephants and ride down to the river and wash ourselves and our elephants before heading back to camp for a real shower. After everyone left for the day, I would help cook a delicious meal, such as bamboo sticky rice and BBQ pork, or omlettes and morning glory. In the evening I would feed BoNam again with some corn husks and hang out with the Mahouts and other employees. One evening TEH manager, Joe, invited me to join his family and friends down by the river for a real Thai BBQ. I was really confusing the rafters at the river who were not used to seeing a westerner sitting on the banks with the rest of the Thai families. One even yelled out, "You're not Thai! Where are you from?!"
All in all, the experience was unforgettable, and I cannot thank Joe and everyone else at Thai Elelphant Home enough for showing me such an amazing time.