6am was the time the alarm was set this morning as today we were getting up bright and early to do something I had been looking forward to since booking the trip, and that was riding and interacting with elephants! We ate at the hotel, which was overpriced and average in general, and then at 7.30am our private bus and elephant guide had arrived, as Chai wouldn’t be joining us for this, and we were off.
The journey took a while as first we had to drive to their office to pay for the trip, then it was a 30 minute drive to a market so they could buy supplies for our lunch and food for us to feed to the elephants. This also gave me a chance to make up for my average breakfast with a couple pieces of local fried chicken which was awesome by the way. Then the last part of the trip was a 40 minute drive deep into the mountains of northern Thailand.
When at the sanctuary we were all abuzz as we saw the elephants we would be riding today, and this excitement grew even more as the experience began. First we were introduced to one elephant and taught now to feed them bananas, straight to their trunk, and straight into their mouths. We then had another join us, so we all took turns feeding them and getting photos as they kissed us on the heads.
After that it was time to get instructions on how to move the great animals when on top, but of course some people freaked out as they wouldn’t remember all the instructions, but I knew that these animals know the drill, and most likely trainers would come with us and do 90% of the work when it came to controlling what they did.
The two elephants were then brought back and two by two we had turns at getting onto them and giving these new found instructions a try. I was a bit worried about my hip as my gate isn’t very good, and once up it wasn’t as bad as I thought but I also knew I couldn’t hold that position for long. We sat right behind the head, which is the best place to ride on an elephant, as this company wasn’t about putting large carriages of top of them for people to ride, as this was a more ethically focused company, which we all felt good about.
After we had all had a turn it was time for the actual ride to take place, and we would be having two people per elephant. Just before we begun one elephant was playing up and not listening to its trainer, and I just hoped we wouldn’t get that female, but as Mollidy and myself walked up to be the first to mount, we got that one, and I wondered what would be in stall for us.
I got on first, as I would be riding on the upper back and shoulders, and Mollidy would be the one riding on the neck. My hip wasn’t exactly loving the position I first got into, but I knew I needed to stay in that folded knee position at least to start with. As we were first, our elephant and trainer started off on the trail while the others were still getting onto theirs. What I didn’t realise was that this wasn’t going to be a simple jungle trek, as what we ended up doing was trekking through streams, river crossings, steep inclines, and steep declines, and all up it was amazingly impressive to see what these awesome creatures can do.
I had to change my position a few times, and eventually I settled on putting my legs almost straight out and behind the elephants ears, so the were almost resting on the backs of Mollidy’s legs. It was an ok position, but far from fully comfortable for my hip, but I was going to have to grin and bear it for the next hour. As we were the lead elephant we didn’t know where we were going, so it was both fun and scary not knowing exactly which way it would go some times, but knowing the trainer was in control meant we didn’t really have to worry.
Though early on our elephant started playing up by stopping, which was interesting, as everyone else’s seemed to be doing fine, so that made us wonder if everything was ok with it, as the trainer was often having to really speak up to make it move forward. Despite all this though, it was damn amazing to be riding this creature through a jungle and I often had to just sit back and take it all in.
We had 5 elephants on the journey for the 10 of us, as one of the group stayed back at the camp as they didn’t want to ride them, but we also had a 3 year old elephant join on the walk as it’s currently in training to one day be a part of this herd. It was pretty cute seeing it come along with us, and like with any young animal, it loved to play.
About 20 minutes into the walk though we suddenly heard a loud roar from behind us and a commotion, as the baby elephant and trumpeted and for some reason lashed out which caused it to collapse onto it’s trainer. It was a tense few seconds to see if he was ok and as other trainers jumped in, and it was an even more tense few seconds when it got away, passed one elephant on the narrow jungle track, and headed at us. All I could think is this could start a chain reaction with our elephant and the rest of them.
Luckily the trainers got it under control, and we got going again, but for me that was the point I looked forward to it being over, because as amazing as the whole thing was, I just had a bad buzz about it all, even though this was one of the more ethically run companies that do this. For the next 40 minutes we trekked through the jungle through some genuinely scary terrain, but 95% of the time they handled it with ease and showed so much skill and delicacy.
When it did finally come to and end I was very relived, one to get off our one that had been acting up the whole trip, and secondly because my hip really needed a break, and getting off felt great. We were then joined by all 5 elephants in the feeding area and that was really funny being able to feed them all, and also personally thank our elephant with more bananas than the rest.
We then walked with them down to the river where they went to cool down and bathe after the trek, and we got to wash and scrub them, and this was simply awesome and the best part of the experience. Being this close to such large animals in the water and interacting with them was simply amazing, and it’ll be something that stays with me for a long time.
After that it was time for the group lunch provided by the company, and then it was back on the minivan to head to the hotel, but this time it was only an hour due to less traffic and heading down hill, but we were all exhausted so most of us napped on the way. We were meant to be back at 3.30pm as we were leaving with all our bags at 4pm to catch our 5pm night train to Bangkok, but we didn’t get back till 3.35pm, which Chai said gave him some very worried minutes wondering when we would get back.
Once back we picked up our laundry we so desperately needed, as I had officially run out of shorts and tops that day, and then it was off with Chai to the only money exchange in Chiangmai that changed Laos Kip, where we once again got screwed, but at least it gave us our final lesson. Do your research into how much you’re likely to spend and only bring that, plus 10% as a contingency, so that way you’ll either have just the right amount to get through, or only have a small amount to get screwed with when exchanging it at the end.
We then got on our minivan to head to the train station, and at 5pm we were on our night train headed for Bangkok. This was different than the Vietnamese trains as these were all 4 seat booths in an open compartment, and at 7pm people came in to turn them into two bunk beds with pull across curtains for privacy. The lower bunk was also big enough for two, so it was going to be cool to share the experience with Mollidy, and as we were tired, at around 10pm we drifted off to sleep.
Today I want to talk about one of the most important lessons we’ve learned in this trip, and that is doing something you want to do as soon as you can. Often you’ll have the chance to do something the next day, or maybe in a few days time, or weeks time if you’re in country long enough. But something we’ve found is often if you delay something, the situation can change so quickly either causing you not to be able to do that thing, or it’s just not as good as it would have been if you did it sooner. So when travelling, don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today.