An Elephant Walk in Northern Cambodia

We spent a week within the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary, midway between the Thai border to the north and Siem Reap to the south. We helped outย by planting trees in one of the most deforested countries in the world, weeding, creating gardens, and cleaning out the duck pond (not as much fun as the other tasks). We did all these jobs with the knowledge that one of the two resident elephants could walk by at any moment. Seeing them only grew our anticipation for the promised elephant walk through the jungle towards the end of the week.

Kham Lin in her element among the trees in the jungle on her elephant walk

Kham Lin in her element

Finally, the day had arrived that we got to meet Arun Rai and Kham Lin more intimately. Having logged for over 30 years, theseย two Asian elephants were rescued from eastern Cambodia, and will now spend the rest of their lives roaming the jungles at the sanctuary under the protection of Save Elephant Foundation and the King’s Army of Cambodia.

Getting to Know the Elephants

Our jungle walk with these two beautiful elephants was definitely the highlight of our week. Along the way, we discovered that Arun Rai enjoys a faster pace, while Kham Lin prefers to take her time, smelling (and eating) vegetation as she goes. We also learned that Arun Rai is in her early 40’s while Kham Lin is in her mid-thirties, which surprised us given Kham Lin’s older looking appearance and Arun Rai’s youthful bounce in her step. Both elephants were still adjusting after decades of abuse, having only been rescued four months prior.

Ligeia walking beside Kham Lin on the jungle path during the elephant walk

Ligeia getting to know Kham Lin

Mindy walking with Kham Lin during the elephant walk

Mindy walking with Kham Lin

Collecting Food for Kham Lin

After passing through fields of long grasses and paths shaded by the canopy of big, vine-wrapped trees, Arun Rai decided to go on ahead of Kham Lin. We stayed with Kham Lin, preferring her slower pace in the Cambodian heat. The remainder of the jungle hike became more intimate as we walked next to her, petting her and talking to her. We paid close attention to the kind of plants she liked and collected them for her.

Kham Lin on her elephant walk enjoying young palm trees in the jungle

Kham Lin enjoying young palm trees

Kham Lin reaching for tasty treats in the jungle on her elephant walk

Kham Lin reaching for the tastiest treats

Long grasses and young palm trees, pulled from the roots and shaken free of dirt, seemed to be her favorite. We prepared her snacks in the same way Kham Lin did: smacking the dirt-covered roots against our legs before handing her the bounty. Never have we gotten such joy from someone approving of our prepared meal!

A close-up look at Kham Lin eating tall grasses on her elephant walk

Kham Lin loves the tasty grasses!

She waited for us!

The pace was deliberate and slow with many stops to watch Kham Lin feast on a jungle treat. Once, however, Ligeia stopped to tie her shoe, confident that she would easily catch up. To both her surprise and delight, Kham Lin stopped a few meters ahead and turned to look back, as if waiting patiently for her friend and did not continue walking until Ligeia was again by her side. On two separate occasions, she gave us both “rumbles”, which are similar to cat purrs and is a way that elephants communicate to their companions. It truly felt as though we had gained her trust and made a new friend.

Getting Lost in the Cambodian Jungle

Eventually, the path led us to an open field of nothing but tall grasses – an elephant’s dream spot – and we knew that this would be a longer wait, so we found a log to sit on to enjoy the best reality show ever!

The elephant walk trail started through tall grasses

Tall grasses: a true elephant buffet!

Kham Lin wandered from place to place, ripping up trunkfulls of tall grasses as she went. She eventually disappeared through some trees and we waited while the mahout followed after her. A few minutes turned into 30, and we began to wonder if they were coming back for us. As the hot, midday sun beat down on us, we took stock of how much water we had left.

We decided to start walking in the direction we thought the project was. After passing through the other side of the grassy field, the path forked and we had a decision to make. We chose the path to the right, but taking a mental snapshot of the intersection in case we had to backtrack. We looked for any signs that elephants had been there – a footprint, a banana peel or a softball-sized piece of dung. Had we chosen the correct path? We were in full sun, yet the other way was shaded. Regardless, we forged ahead.

The familiar tree that showed us the way back

The familiar tree pointing us home

With a sigh of relief, we came upon a familiar tree, and quickly gulped our remaining drops of water. Ligeia had taken pictures of this tree only days before, and as it is one of the only large trees around, it soared high above the surrounding grasses. With its branches pointing us in the right direction, we returned to the project’s main building just in time for lunch!

A view of Kham Lin from behind during the elephant walk

A perfect “end” to our post

What is your most memorable walk?

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13 thoughts on “An Elephant Walk in Northern Cambodia

    1. Mindy & Ligeia

      Thanks Diana! We can only imagine their temperament on their first jungle walk in freedom. We wonder how much they’ve settled into their element, 4 months later ๐Ÿ™‚

  1. Angelaa Lewis

    I can’t wait to be there, meeting elephants, walking with them and generally drinking in their love and majesty. 2014 can’t come soon enough!!

  2. Franca

    Such an amazing experience and it’s nice to see elephants left free to enjoy their natural habit. I’ve never done a jungle walk before but I’d certainly love to do one in the future.

    1. Mindy & Ligeia

      Definitely a wonderful experience! One of the highlights of our time living in Southeast Asia so far. The two elephants are worth meeting โ€“ very sweet souls! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Lee

    Hello, Jack’s Elephant Valley Project has been working with the local community for several years in the Mondulkiri area of Cambodia. Do check out what their project is doing.

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