My first encounter with the elephants didn't happen in a zoo but down the street one fine night a few years ago. Me and my buddies were having dinner at one of the food stalls in Phitsanulok when suddenly, something rough tickles us from behind. When we turned around, people eating with us saw horror on our faces.
We were shocked seeing an elephant standing behind us. Thinking it was going to hurt us, we simultaneously jumped away from it. We then heard a few "haha's from onlookers. But the shocked feeling turned into happiness when for the first time, I had the privileged of touching the longnose animal some people call "gentle giants". It was indeed friendly and a little cuddly but its size still made me to be cautious.
I bought a few bananas from the "mahout" (the person who takes care of the elephant) and feed it. Its strength can be felt when it grabbed the banana from my hand using its long and rough nose. It was a bit scary but truly fun to do.
Elephants in Thailand compared to other Southeast Asian countries are quite a lot in number. Some folks told me their numbers were dwindling but that was something I cannot back up.
Anyway, seeing elephants walking on the street anytime of the day is like a normal day to day happening now. For the last six years or so, I saw them with their mahouts behind somehow entertaining spectators especially tourists who haven't seen elephants in their entire lives.
So, if you happen to be in Thailand and haven't seen one on the street, perhaps booking the next elephant show either in Pattaya, Bangkok, or Chiang Mai will do. You can get yourself lifted with just a minimal fee or even ride on its back. It's an experience you won't forget for the rest of your life.