Siem Reap is a common for tourism, but like many other attractions around the world, the city has been impacted by the recent pandemic. Jeanine and I had the fortunate opportunity to visit recently, just when things were starting to pick up again. However, it was evident that the damage was done. Many shops and restaurants had closed permanently. The crowded streets and tuk-tuk drivers calling out for fares were minimal compared to my first visit years ago. 

We declined the usual activity and visiting Angkor Wat and other such attractions and instead decided to tour Kulen Elephant Sanctuary. About an hour and they have outside of town was acres of land reserved as a retirement community for elephants. Yes, that’s right this was their retirement home from the many years of hard work. their jobs included things like transportation, lifting and pulling heavy rocks, and aiding in construction. Some of the elephants had had a life of abuse where others were taken care of, but tired from the many years of hard work. 

Teamed up with a group of college students from France, we entered the sanctuary and were greeted by a group of female elephants, anxious to have some treats from our guide’s pack. They stood behind a barrier so they could get acquainted with us as we fed them sugar canes and bananas. I read somewhere once that the brain activity of an elephant when greeted by a human being is similar to how our human brain activity when seeing a small puppy. They think we are cute. On the other hand, I also read once that working with elephants is the most dangerous job in the world. We are not match for them if the decide they are fed up with us. Having this information made me feel a little uneasy about the next part of our journey. 

Free from the barrier, walking side by side with the elephants, we hiked to thru the sanctuary. I kept my distance at first while Jeanine got a close as she could. Petting their trunks and cheeks, she would talk to them with words of adoration. Stopping often to pull out a bush and shoving it into their mouth, we made our way across the field. During the hike there were time when I would be in between two of them, both at only an arms distance away. I can tell you that I have never felt to small and powerless walking between two humungous animals. 

Their trunks were strong and powerful, which could be felt when they grabbed sugar canes or branches from my hand. Their skin was course and thick, almost impenetrable. When they called out, the sound was a deafening trumpet, demonstrating they were in command. 

The hike ended with a few more sugar cane snacks and a refreshing hose bath, which Jeanine was happy to help them with. 

I have been to plenty of zoos and enclosures, however being with magnificent animals in their own habitat, up close and personal, is an experience I will not soon forget. 

Check out the video! 

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