My ride was old, gray, and runs on bananas.

Trip Start Jun 19, 2010
Trip End Sep 14, 2010

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Where I stayed
Rambuttri Inn (Bangkok)

Flag of Thailand  , Nakhon Nayok,
Wednesday, September 15, 2010

After the official Thai tour had ended, I had about five days left to just hang out and explore Bangkok. I'd extended my trip by four days so I could stay in Asia as long as possible (it was cheap in Thailand, so I figured, why not!) And so, finally, it was time for one of the things I'd been most looking forward to all summer- riding around on an elephant!
I booked a day-long excursion in Khao Yai National Park (a good couple of hours drive north of where we were staying in Bangkok). As an unintentional teaser, our driver made several stops along the way (to break up the long drive, I'm sure, and to keep me in utter suspense!) We stopped at a Thai market near downtown Bangkok to get a look at the local produce, meat, and whatnot. (Stocked up on mangosteens- can't get those at home!) Next we stopped at a private farm out in the middle of nowhere. We were greeted with ox-drawn carts and given Thai straw hats to put on. I was dripping sweat before I even had climbed into the back of my cart, so the hat really didn't do anything other than get stuck to my sweaty forehead and hair.
Side note: we were on this day tour with 6 other people (three couples, all Australian i think... there really were no other Americans anywhere I went in Thailand and China. Odd). So these 6 people...  All of them were roughly twice my age, and twice my weight. Literally. One of the women was appalled at the farm's restroom, and was very vocal about it, so I was a little hesitant to use it myself. I had to laugh when I saw what the restroom looked like... it was probably one of the best, cleanest ones I'd seen so far in Thailand. These people were in for a treat... Clearly, they hadn't been in Thailand very long!
So back to the cart and my oxen friends. I sat in the back of the cart, getting jostled around as the oxen moseyed through the mud, walking at a much slower pace than my own. Our "ride" decided to relieve himself along the way, which was ever-so-pleasant to experience. Not long after, he somehow broke out of his yoke, and our driver had to pull us over in order to deal with the situation at hand (guess they don't have AAA for ox carts in Thailand). I can't say it wasn't a teeny bit cool to be riding in a real, functional, Thai ox-drawn cart, but I really could've done without. I just kept thinking, riding the elephant will be totally worth this rickety ride in the sticky heat, because clearly, this must be the only way to get to the elephant-ride location. At the end of the trail, our driver let us hop out, and I turned around to a slightly surprising sight: our tour van. Apparently the cart ride was not an integral part of the journey to our long-awaited elephant ride.
Next, we stopped for a short hike along a trail to Haew Narok Waterfall. The hike was only about 1 km, so it wasn't too bad. After we'd gotten back into the van, the same woman who'd commented on the "scary" bathroom back at the farm kept exclaiming how exhausted she was that she had to climb some 200 stairs both there and back (she had counted the exact number, but obviously, that's not the important part I took from her conversation). I sighed and couldn't help but think don't even try to climb the great wall, lady. Let alone mt Fuji. Or any other Asian monument on a hill. That may be mean, but if I remember correctly, she'd bashed America a bit before she'd noticed that we were not Australian like her. so she had it coming. (right?)
We got back in the van, yet again... This time it actually was the last leg of the journey toward elephant-land. We only stopped briefly because our tour guide spotted a family of monkeys in the road. Our van rolled to a stop, mid-highway, and we rolled down the windows in order to get a better look. Mom and her baby monkey were casually hanging out in the middle of the road. The mom was protecting it, but she herself was a little more than vulnerable to oncoming traffic. Dad monkey (I'm assuming he was Dad anyway) was sitting on the other side of our van in the raod, making faces at us through the window of the van. Clearly tour vans were nothing new to these guys, and they likely were waiting for a handout or two. Our van briefly transformed into a paparazzi-mobile with flash bulbs and shutters clicking away. I think I got a video or two as well. We eventually took off, leaving monkey-family right where we'd found them, sitting on the warm asphalt in the middle of the road.
And so finally it was time for the elephant ride. We ate lunch as a group before lining up to meet our elephant and driver. Our ride began with us sitting on a chair on the elephant's (whose name was Pompam) back while a Thai "driver" led us through the jungle. Very shortly after the ride began, she hopped off the elephant with my camera to take some photos of us in action. Pretty much from then on we were on our own with this massive beast to steer around. I got to "drive" first; I sat right behind the elephant's head (wearing shorts, I discovered, had not been a wise decision; her prickly, bristly hair was itching the crap out of my legs, kind of like sharp grass... also got some nice flea bites from the girl, to add to my collection of already mosquito-bitten and scarred legs). The elephants were surprisingly easy to control; they'd been taught to walk when you yell "yaw!". And steering was even easier; you just gently kick the back of whichever ear you wanted to turn in the direction of. One of the other elephants kept snacking along the way; she'd pull off a branch from a tree as she walked past, and would drag it with her while chewing on it for a few minutes, until it was gone. When we were wading through a stream, I noticed that Pompam was much smaller than the other three elephants (she was 37 yrs old, but still growing). She was up to her shoulders in water (my feet were getting wet), and all of the other elephants barely  had their bellies submerged. Then it occurred to me: we had the small elephant because we were (again) literally half the size of the other people on our tour. I'm sure the other elephants were jealous of Pompam's light cargo!
After the ride ended (sadly), we bought bunches of little bananas to "tip" our elephant with. I fed Pompam one banana at a time, which I'm sure she was thoroughly annoyed with. I thought she was eating them whole the way she took them from me, but as it turned out, she was really just hoarding them all in her mouth, so that after I'd given her all of them, she then started chewing and enjoying her banana treat. Such a happy phant! And I was happy too :)

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