Friday, May 16, 2008

Thailand: You rode a what?

While we were on the way to our resort that first day in Thailand we saw an elephant being washed on the side of the road. I hit Matt in the arm and said "Oh my! Did you see that elephant!" A few days later we were on the back of one of those huge, amazing creatures.

Many people told us that while in Thailand we had to take an elephant trek. I wanted to do the tour into the deep part of the jungle where we actually sat on the back of an elephant for over two hours while we trekked through the hillside. Matt informed me that if we did the 45 minute trek it would be plenty. Don't tell him this, but he was right.

So we left our resort via a shuttle bus where we transferred to a Land Rover, and then headed into the
Chalong jungle. Now the jungle in the part we were at was pretty tame. Other tours would have taken us into the deep jungle, but where were went was just perfect. After all I wasn't I too sure I wanted to dodge monkeys and snakes while on the back of an elephant.

When we got to the training camp we met three baby elephants. We got to watch how the
mahouts (trainers) worked with the elephants. The elephants also entertained us with some soccer, harmonica playing, dancing, painting and even kissing one of the people on our tour. We also learned how to say "Hello" and "Thank You" in Thai.

One of the baby elephants.

We then moved to an area where we were able to feed the elephants fruits and leaves. I was kinda freaked out at first but it was pretty cool watching them just snatch the stuff from our hands.
Matt feeding the elephants.

Next we went to the conservation area where we learned all about the history of elephants in Thailand and the Phuket Siam Safari camp.

This elephant is 40+ years old.

With the ban in logging in Thailand in 1989 many Elephants were left with a problem. Whilst they and their handlers were rightly prevented from destroying the Asian Elephants natural habitat (the amazing forests of Thailand) once the ban was implemented there were many “unemployed” elephants! With a huge number involved in the logging business this was disastrous for the elephant population; they had to look elsewhere for work (in the rubber plantations or illegally begging in the streets of large cities such as Bangkok).

It is estimated that of the 3000 remaining elephants in Thailand around 2000 of these are in captivity. It is important that this captive population does not reduce in number due to mishandling. A huge amount of genetic material is locked up in this population and it must be preserved and taken care of.

At Siam Safari trained Karen Mahouts take care of the elephants and in many cases these men have been with the animal for most of their lives. The Karen are regarded as the best handlers of elephants due to their relaxed temperament. Their culture includes hundreds of years of experience working with and training elephants.

Today elephants are increasingly used in the tourism industry. Many of the people who look after these animals are not properly trained and don’t have the skill required to work with the elephants. In some cases this can lead to the use of violent force to control the animal. This is not necessary. They are also over worked and exploited and do not receive the right amount or kind of food, water and medicine. Siam Safari is the only elephant camp in southern Thailand to have attained the Thai government standard award for their care of the elephants.

Then came the grand finale... we actually got on the back of an elephant and trekked for almost an hour. It was so –– surreal. At first I was terrified of sneezing or coughing and sending our elephant or another elephant into a tailspin. I envisioned me killing everyone on our tour with one little cough. But after a few minutes I realized I was just being silly and relaxed.

Matt and I on our elephant. The mahout didn't know how to zoom. LOL

The elephant path was so narrow. If you looked down all you saw where these huge feet on this small dirt path. Of course I was sitting on the side near the cliffs so I felt like I was going to fall over. Occasionally the elephants would decide to wander off the path for a bit of a snack. And a few times ours decided to be a control freak and try to pass the elephant in front of us so she could lead.

We trekked through the jungle where were saw some amazing vines and even got up close and personal with a rubber tree. (Matt was so excited to pull a strip of rubber from one of these trees.) But my favorite part was the view. The view of the Chalong Bay was incredible. We even were able to see all the way out to Phi Phi islands. An hour later we were done and on our way back to the hotel for some R&R by the pool.

View from the top of our elephant.

I cannot even imagine being in Northern Thailand where the elephants are m
uch more populated, especially in the wild. Later in the week we were looking at pictures from the 2004 Tsunami and elephants were used there like we use bulldozers in the states. They were pushing debris and helping look for survivors. In some pictures they were also sadly carrying wrapped bodies that had been found.

I have seen elephants at zoos before, but actually spending 4 hours with them, two on their back, gives you a whole new perspective.

Here are many more pictures from our morning with the elephants. I apologize for some of the shots. We were using the point and shoot and with all the movement some things didn't turn out all that great. But I just can't stand to delete any pictures from this trip.

Up next? Phuket Town.


Deborah said...

amazing! I'm loving reading about your trip...keep the reports coming :)

it's me, Val said...

so so so neat! I wonder if Heather has rode one? I need to show her your blog. She'd enjoy it, especially this entry.

Patti said...

That is so cool. What a great experience.