After spending half the morning learning everything there is to know about guiding an elephant across the jungle, my friend J whispered to me, “Trish, let’s just pick the smallest elephant and ride behind the rest of the pack.”
To which I uttered a resounding “YES”.
It turns out riding an elephant—which we all got turns in doing that morning—wasn’t as relaxing as it looks in the photos. Fear was the last thing on my mind when we were on our way to Baan Chang Elephant Park that morning, but the moment I actually sat on top of an elephant after learning the basics of being a mahout (*ahem* elephant rider), it dawned on me that this creature weighed a couple of tons and could very well pick that day to run amok across the jungle—something our smarty pants guide Best told us could happen.
I know I’m smiling in this photo like a crazy person, but in my head I was screaming “Non-long! Non-long!” which is elephant speak for “Let me down for the love of God.” Haha.
Needless to say, when J whispered her request, I wholeheartedly agreed. A millisecond later, however, our guide Best pointed us to our assigned elephant, Thong Pet.
The only one with the ivory tusks. A huge male elephant and, consequently, the leader of the pack! Haha.
Yeah, somebody up there was definitely smirking at us that morning. :D
After finally finding a comfortable position on the back of his neck (you’ll feel like you’re getting your buttocks massaged the entire time)—and after accepting the fact that there was absolutely no way we could move to the back of the pack—we actually started to have fun!
The mahouts were with us the entire time, and we also learned earlier that morning all the basic commands of leading an elephant so we were ready. Apart from “non-long”, we learned how to get them to move forward (say “pai” while nudging his ears with both legs), turn left/right (“kwe” while nudging the ear opposite the direction you want to take), and, most important, how to get them to stop (“How” while locking your legs around his neck). It was a relaxing hour ride around the sanctuary—except for moments when we’re facing a steep incline and we’d have this fear of falling off Thong Pet’s back.
Or when he’d get so excited about seeing a bundle of sugarcane and he’d start running after it! Haha. This is him eating what was left of that huge bundle:
It turns out elephants are quite the avid eaters (I think I found my spirit animal). This, we discovered on our first hour in the camp when we went to their feeding area.
We fed them basket after basket of bananas and sugarcane.
It was hard to get to the rest of the elephants at the back because these two naughty ones kept blocking my path.
Haha so cute! Check out my friend J’s expression after Best told us how to thank the elephants by saying “Di-di-di” repeatedly. She said, “It sounds so unnatural!!!” before letting out the loudest laugh. :D
Looking at these photos is making me feel as giddy as the day I spent with these adorable creatures!
Here are some more snaps from when we bathed them after our ride in the jungle (They made sure they were dirty enough by rolling around the dusty path while our gang rested at the halfway point):
This baby elephant was THE CUTEST. Look at that adorable expression. Hee.
Btw, not all photos here are by me. Some were taken by our guide Best because for some reason, people found me the number one drenching target when we were with the elephants in the water.
Haha! This was definitely the highlight of my Chiang Mai trip ;D
Do check out Baan Chang Elephant Park when you find yourself in Chiang Mai. They take care of their elephants really well here, and they’ve the nicest guides. A day spent in this wonderful sanctuary is definitely not enough. I can’t wait to go back and pay them a visit next time :)