Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, provided us with yet another adventure by getting up close & personal to real elephants. Based on my nephew & his fiance’s recommendation [thanks Heather & Chris :-)] we joined a small group of fellow enthusiasts to learn about the pachyderms behaviour & basic verbal & physical commands when riding bare-back. The elephants in Thailand are apparently smaller than those in Africa, but to us they were huge & initially quite intimidating.
Our day started with a visit to the market to purchase bananas (they like ripe ones only) & sugar cane to feed our new friends. Arriving at the camp we were given some mahout (elephant caretaker) clothes to wear which proved a good thing as the day wore on. We learned that elephants are an important part of Thai culture & way of life, are a traditional symbol of royal power & peace, an essential feature in Buddhist art & architecture & spiritual mentors for people of all walks of life. The number of elephants in Thailand today is limited to about 2,600. Most of these are at various elephant camps around the country in settings that are as close to the wild as possible.
Learning some basic elephant commands & trying to remember all the lingo was a bit unnerving & we found ourselves writing the various commands on our hands & arms. Next up was bonding with these gentle giants & they greedily noshed down our treats. Each of us then had to climb up on the elephant (needless to say there is no way to do this in a ladylike manner) & take a test drive. With only the elephant’s ears to hold on to, balancing on the elephant’s neck area as she lumbered up & over hills was not only difficult but essential – it would have been a very long, hard, painful fall otherwise!
After a delicious traditional homemade Thai lunch, Bob & I were introduced to Ayranja. No turning back now, we scrambled up onto her neck & back then off we went for quite the ride through the jungle. The elephant’s skin is very tough & Bob is still recovering from elephant burn (ha, ha). The day ended with a walk down a river stream & a good dunking as Ayranja decided to take a roll in the water soaking us both as we slid (jumped) off her. Visions of being crushed by this big girl flashed through my mind as she was going down! Laying on her side in the warm, clear river stream, she certainly seemed to enjoy the scrubbing down as we bathed her.
What a great day, we had so much fun, met some new friends & have wonderful memories. Another check mark on the bucket list, plus I can now claim to have been kissed by an elephant!