18th Nov 2014
I was so excited when I woke up this morning…..around 6.00am…..today we were going to see the Elephants at Woody’s Elephant Home about an hours drive from Chiang Mai. We were to be picked up at 7.30am from the Panda House Hotel…but the driver had a bit of bother finding us so was 15 minutes late. We initially were sitting in the very back (as the rest of the minibus was full) but we started to feel ill, so when we stopped at the Eco Resort, to pick up 3 English Backpackers, we moved into the very front with the driver….a little squashy but better than throwing up!
After a quick stop off to get some hands of bananas for the elephants, it took about an hour and a half to get to the Camp where we got to meet 5 Asian Elephants, Magnum (20 years old and the only boy – elephants live to about 100 years), Cookie, Bang Bang, Mona Lisa and Jumbo. Magnum is the father of little Bang Bang, whose mother is Cookie. There were 9 people for the 5 elephants, Vince and myself rode Magnum, 2 German Girls were on Cookie, a middle aged French couple were on Jumbo, the three English Girls had to split up, with Natalie (a trainee dental nurse) and Emma (a midwife) on Mona Lisa and Ellie (Criminologist) on Bang Bang.
We met the elephants briefly and then were ushered uphill to a hut where we could change into T Shirts and Thai Fisherman Pants. We then returned to the elephants where we fed them bananas. They really loved these and we even got to put them straight into their mouths….their tongues are like velvet….so soft! Some of them got a bit cheeky and at one point I couldn’t get the bananas of the stalk quick enough and had three trunks intertwined all coming at me…..Trunk Attack!!!! LOL
We were given a little bit of training on how to mount and dismount our elephants as well as some basic commands in the Karen Hill Tribe Language…..which is used with the elephants. When you get on you have to say something like Yo Kha….Su, Go is Bye and Stop is Dah. We were also shown how to countersteer behind each ear (push right to go left and push left to go right).
We mounted Magnum…with Vince on the back and me on the front….so I was the rider on the way down to the lake, and we swapped over on the way back. It was a bit hard to get on for me….although Magnum was very accommodating to my commands letting me hold his ear and lifting his leg for me to climb up…the distance between the top of his leg and his back was longer than my body length so hoisting myself the rest of the way across his broad tummy and back was a bit of a mission…but I made it in the end with a bit of a push up from the Mahout. We set of and I was told to put my two hands on his head as we rode….my arms are not that long so I was stretched forward into a racing bike position….so Magnum is a GT racing model! It was very exciting and a bit scary at the same time….as he was such a huge elephant, much bigger than the others, so it was a long way down if we fell. On the flat was great but going down some of the steep hills, especially where it was rocky and very uneven, I felt that I would fall over his head….but Magnum is obviously an off road model and just as sure footed as our own ANIMAL!
At the edge of the lake we were stopped by someone on a small motorbike….it was the owner wanting to check on Magnum’s tusk….the Mahout told me that he was under the vet, his tusk was being treated and they just wanted to check on it before he went into the water. We were the last elephant in the line to get into the water and being so tall we didn’t even get wet. I was feeling a bit cocky as I saw the others getting drenched and I thought we might get away with just wet feet, if anything….I was wrong…..about half way into the lake Magnum suddenly submerged his head…..fine…..but then he submerged all of him and we found ourselves wet to our middles…….it was all good fun! Many of the elephants took the opportunity to empty their bowels and we soon found ourselves surrounded by floating time bombs! Apparently this first lake is the elephant toilet! We exited and walked a little further until we reached the second river were the elephants would play and have a bath. Once in the river we dismounted and I was given a brush…..Magnum lay down and we washed him….he was like a big puppy dog…..as I washed his ears he flipped them up for me to wash behind and he loved it…..just like our dog Cebar back home! When we had finished doing one side he simply rolled over and we did the other. In between he occasionally filled his trunk with water and washed us! It was a privilege for us to interact with such a majestic animal in this way….a wonderful lifetime memory. One of the other elephants…….Cookie or Jumbo I’m not certain which….was lifting the girls up in her trunk and our guide beckoned for me to come and join in…..unfortunately my legs were not in the right position – or too short I’m not sure which…..but I ended up falling backwards into the river……unhurt….totally soaked and laughing my head off! So a new strategy was developed and I was told to stand in front of the elephant with my legs apart….the next minute I was hoisted high up into the air with an elephant trunk between my legs……amazing! I loved it….they are so strong and yet so gentle…..a very special moment. They offered for Vince to have a go but he politely declined. Bathing complete we remounted Magnum…this time with Vince on the front and we headed on our journey back to the Camp. In all we actually rode the elephant for about and hour or more, the front (neck) was definitely more comfortable than the rear (spine).
Back at the camp we dismounted and said our fond goodbyes to Magnum and the other elephants and were introduced to another two elephants, a Mother (Rian) 23 years and her Baby (Happy born NY) 11 months. She was tethered to her mother as the Mahout explained that Happy likes to run off and bang into things with her head and they needed to protect her from herself. We peeled bananas for her, as the older elephants can have them unpeeled but the baby couldn’t.
Next went back up to the hut to change into our normal clothes. When we came out they had prepared a lunch of traditional food for us….delicious…especially a potatoe curry dish that was out of this world. There had been a professional photographer taking photos and for 800THB we could get them on a USB Drive…..during lunch they were displaying a selection of the photos from everyone and we decided to buy ours.
We had a wonderful time and by about 1.30pm we were back at our hotel. Mike and Aad (Art) were waiting for us as we were all going to go to immigration to try to extend our limited 15 day visa from the border which was quickly running out. First we stopped off at a shopping centre to collect Mike’s Laptop that was having screen problems, then we went to immigration, where the staff told us we needed to go to another shopping centre as it was just a short stay extension….back in another tuk tuk we found the place and within an hour…..lots of paperwork to fill in, photocopies of passports and visa stamps and a set of photos (on a blue background and of a differing size to any we had) all needed to be done and 1900THB each and the deal was done….another 30 days granted! Next we were off to BMW to collect a spare set of rear brake pads and replacement footpeg rubbers that we had ordered yesterday, then across the road to yet another shopping centre (the 3rd for the day) for something to eat at KFC and desert at Cold Stone. We had a bit of a look around but bought nothing. On the tuk tuk ride home we stopped off at the T Shirt place where I had ordered some custom designed T Shirts (2upadventures) for Vince and I at the huge cost of just 180THB each (about $7 including the TShirts and printing)….they looked awesome!
Back at our hotel we were starting to feel quite stiff and muscle sore allover…..apparently riding an elephant is not so gentle on the body after all! A truly unique and amazing day.