Riding an elephant is on most travellers list of things to do in Thailand for both adults and children alike, and I was no exception. On my first visit to Northern Thailand I booked one of those “ultimate jungle experience” packages which included elephant riding, trekking to a waterfall, zip lining and bamboo rafting, and it was more fun than I could have imagined!
We started reasonably early, as an air conditioned minivan picked us up from our guest house and drove us down to Mae Wang river (about an hour away). Luckily I had been warned about the windy roads and took motion sickness pills and gummies, otherwise I may not have made it there in one piece – speeding through the jungle road at 100km per hour is a great way to wake up!
When we arrived at the camp it must have been the morning tea break as the elephants were standing around munching on some leaves. They are such impressive yet gentle creatures and getting up close and personal with them have remained one of the highlights of Thailand for me. We were offered bananas to feed them, much to the delight of the baby elephant who was a little greedy. We took a few photos up close and personal with them and then prepared for our trek to the waterfall.
The trek wasn’t too difficult but the humidity and occasional bursts of rain really tired me. Luckily I had a waterproof bag, trekking sandals (and flip flops) and a rain poncho, but a friend of mine was suffering being soaked to the skin in just a t-shirt. Our local guide didn’t seem fazed by the weather, he smiled the whole time and did the whole two hour trek in flip flops! It was also a real jungle trek, complete with mosquitoes – I’m not sure how they bit me while I was moving (of course I forgot the mosquito repellent) but the ones I did see were huge! After two hours I was so happy to see the waterfall and almost simultaneously the sun came out – the perfect reward for our hard work.
After swimming under the beautiful waterfall we had a simple lunch of rice and chicken and sunbathed next to the water – I was so relaxed that I think I fell asleep for a few minutes! One last dip in the pool and then we dried ourselves off with our towels, reapplied our sunscreen (important for bamboo rafting as you are sitting in the glaring sun) and jumped on a bamboo raft to float back down the river. The elephants were eagerly awaiting for us and their afternoon walk. A young mother was going to take me through the forest and she knelt down to let me (not so gracefully) get on her back, while her baby early sniffed me with its trunk then ran ahead to lead the way.
Despite being a little scared riding with the elephants was an amazing experience. The baby kept running ahead then coming back to see that we were still following and after a while I realised that their reward for carrying me was up ahead. I thought the reward was bananas until we waded into the river and the Mamma elephant gently sat down leaving me to slide into to the cold river! It was bathing time! While the mother allowed herself to be scrubbed and bathed, her little baby kept throwing water at us with toots of delight. It was great to see how elephants and humans could live aside one another and have fun together! The camp I visited lets visitors ride bareback only as the chairs are heavy and hurt the elephants. The only downside to riding bareback is if you are wearing shorts – elephants have really rough hair on their heads and it really rubs on bare legs! The soreness was more than worth it but I spent the whole ride home applying Sudocream (antiseptic) and trying to focus on the curves of the road. It was only once I got home that I could look through the pictures and really let the experiences of the day sink in. How amazing is Thailand, and can I do the same again tomorrow?
Photos by Laura Gibbs.