Today was the day I had been looking forward to since I knew I was coming to Thailand – a day with elephants!
Upon the recommendation of a Peace Corps Thailand Volunteer, I decided to go with a program at Woody Elephant Training rather than some of the others that are available (and there are MANY available). The price was reasonable as well, so I decided I wanted to do a two-day package, which would mean I would spend the night there.
The day started a bit rocky – when I had called to reserve my spot, I was told that I would be picked up at 8:30 a.m. I waited until 9 before calling the owner, and asking why I had not been picked up – perhaps because of the rain? (Of course, my luck to come to Chiang Mai and it was raining today!). He quickly rectified the mistake by picking me up within ten minutes (I can only assume he was in the neighborhood, because Chiang Mai appears to be a driving nightmare).
Then we were off to the countryside, to a little place called Mae Tang, where we met the other
participants for the day (13 of us total – a couple and child from Germany, a couple from England, a couple from Belgium, a couple from Brazil, a pair of friends from the US and Scotland, a Canadian, and me). Two people from the US out of 13 people – good odds. The only awkward part was that because I was alone and the Canadian was alone, we were “paired”. Being paired with a stranger to ride an elephant is not a person’s “ideal” situation, but we made it work.
We first learned a bit about the business he owns and about elephants, and were taught some Thai commands for the elephants – then it was down to meet the elephants and practice getting on and off them (not as easy as a horse or camel, especially for the big ones), and practice how to “command” them (though to be honest, these elephants were so used to things and the tool we used, and the mahouts, that they did things on their own). Lucky for us, they have a baby elephant right now – she is less than two months old and SO cute. They have another elephant who is pregnant and due in about a month – what a treat it would be to see that event!
Then it was time for lunch, which was prepared by the owner’s mother and was delicious. Then it was off to take a ride on the elephants. Interestingly, we had practiced getting on and off the smaller elephants, and when it came time to ride, my companion for the ride and I got the biggest one (we were also put in the lead because of it).
Much photo-taking was occurring during this process, both on the part of the participants and the elephant organization – they take photos and then post them on their web site for participants – and don’t charge extra to do so.
After our trek, we had time to bathe with, scrub, and play with the elephants. As I was in the water (past my waist) during this time, I am relying on the photos they took and cannot wait to see them! Of course, they had the elephants douse us all with water. Then we went for a wet ride in a pond, where the elephant submerged with us on its back. Unfortunately, during this time we got too close to another elephant and my foot/ankle got caught between them, and subsequently twisted around a bit. I will see how it feels tomorrow – no major damage, as I can walk with no problem.
And after that, we were done with our day with the elephants. Unlike many of the programs, thisowner treats his elephants like family (which sometimes means that, like family, they misbehave or don’t listen. But better that than to have the elephants live in fear of him). We got to spend most of our time there WITH the elephants, rather than just watching them perform for us. He is also a farmer, and conservation-minded. All in all, I would recommend that others who are headed to Chiang Mai use his program, and am glad I had the opportunity to have this experience.
I ended up only doing a one-day package because I would have been the only one spending the night for a two-day. So I decided to call it a day with everyone else.