So, it's official. I loaf elephants.
I had heard from a few people who had already travelled to Thailand that elephant training was one of the highlights of their time here.
Now I can understand why!
We booked a day with Eddy's Elephants, which we heard had humane practices with their elephants.
To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what to think about the whole elephant tourism thing. I think that, if I did it again, I would go to an elephant conservation centre.
That being said, it seemed like the elephants were well-treated where we went, aside from the random yelling from the mahouts (the elephant trainers) who also had big sticks with a spike at the end. I can only compare it to horse back riding and dog training, where you tend to be pretty strict with animals, but Cynthia reminded me that we also tend to feed our animals well and see them as an extension of our family. Sometimes, elephants aren't so lucky.
Either way, we got a ride - with Eddy himself, who is a hilarious Thai man who is a jokester with a rat tail and an excited voice - to a village about an hour and a half south-west of Chiang Mai.
We gots bananas galore
We got changed into the Eddy's Elephants uniform, a shmexy blue t-shirt and matching sweatpants to protect our skin while we rode the elephants.
My first time on an elephant(!!!)
Eddy gave a little session on 'elephant speech' aka Thai commands for lifting their leg to climb on (sung soon!), to walk on (hoowee!), to turn (gway!), and to stop (HOW!). Not that they listened to anything that we said...but it was worth a try ;)
We then went to go see the elephants. Dang, are they ever big animals.
I think we were all a tad terrified at first, but we started feeding them bananas and slowly got closer and closer to them.
We were told not to tease the elephants with the bananas and to make sure we put them under their trunk were they could reach them easily otherwise we might get a smack in the face with said trunk. Nobody needed to be told twice ;)
It was time to get up on the elephants for a little practice ride before setting out on our jungle trek. I saw a couple of people do it, and it looked pretty easy - clamber up and sit on the neck and hold onto the head.
I wasn't prepared for the crazy swinging motion that goes along with their huge footsteps. I felt like I was constantly just about to fall off. So scary and yet so cool all at the same time!
We took a break for lunch - delicious curry, stir fried veggies, omelet, pineapple and rice. Then we grabbed another bag of bananas and headed towards the elephant area.
Where there's tourists, there will be ice cream
When Eddy picked us up in the morning, we had expected a white mini van but he showed up in a truck taxi. He said that his brother had an accident with the van and a motorbike. (This isn't a side note as random as you think...). The van was at the elephant place when we arrived, so Eddy was fixing the bent bumper while we had lunch. I wandered over and helped him smack it back in place (I know, I'm uber helpful).
Anywho, Cynthia and I were supposed to 'share' and elephant, but since I was a good little helpy-helperton, Eddy let us each ride our own elephant. 'You stick with a Eddy, and Eddy set you up!' So good.
We had an amazing trek through the jungle, and I eventually got the swing of things - literally just letting myself swing with the motion of the elephant. I think my elephant, named Kamoon, even listened to some of my commands. So exciting!
The best part of the whole day was when we got near the river. Kamoon was SUPER pumped and I could feel her speed up towards the water. She went towards the deep side, unlike the other elephants in our group. My mahout started yelling but it was no use - she just straight up lied down in the water, knocking us into the river.
I have never laughed so much in my entire life. I started splashing her back, being careful not to go near her feet and get a huge elephant for in the stomach. Eddy gave me a scrubber brush.
Kamoon was is heaven when I started scrubbing her back. There was a big log in the river by her feet and she pushed up against it to the point where I thought she would flip over on me, but she just kind of rocked herself towards me. So. Freaking. Cute!
Once she had her fill, she got up and her mahout clambered on top (a heck of a lot more graceful than I did). Turns out, she was the only one who knew the spray-the-tourist trick, so I got completely drenched. It was awesome.
Elephant showers are the best animal ever :)
We got back on the elephants and rode them back to their sleeping area.
Overall, best day ever. I felt way more comfortable around the elephants by the end of the day. They are magnificent creatures. Their skin is a lot more rough than I expected, with short prickly hair, for which I was glad I had long pants and a t-shirt.
I would def suggest doing an elephant training session if you go to Thailand, it's amazing to be able to spend some time with these huge creatures. Definitely make sure you are going with a reputable company and avoid doing the treks with the big square carriers since they are hard on the elephants back.
Ya, we enjoyed ourselves :)