Trip Start Jul 23, 2010
Trip End Aug 01, 2010

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Monday, November 8, 2010

We have just had our first friend (Harriet) to stay from England and my, we had fun.  We lunched and laughed and caught up with each other over four days.  I took her to various places I have scoped out in the past four months and we managed to put a fair dent in her Christmas shopping list as we trawled through the markets, silk shops and silver hotspots.  We encountered a rather mad tuk-tuk driver who had a roll of loo paper hanging up behind his seat. Initially we weren't sure who it was intended for but after he shot off at breakneck speed and hurled us around a few sharp turns, we decided it was intended for his passengers!  How thoughtful!

We visited Doi Suthep temple which is high on a hill over looking Chiang Mai and is very beautiful. We were charmed by a very canny little hill tribe child who looked at us with doe eyes and as soon as she saw a camera posed quite beautifully.  She was probably only 4 years old. She attached herself to Georgia and beamed.

I think the highlight for both of us was our day at Patara Elephant Farm.  Patara is in a beautiful setting with the hills on one side and paddy fields all around you.  We were there to be elephant owners for a day and with that came much instruction, from how to guage your elephant's frame of mind to recognising if your elephant is well or sick, happy or sad, whether he had a good night's sleep (check for signs of dust along their sides) and had eaten enough (inspect their poo - yuk) and then the basic instructions to get your elephant to do your bidding.  

At the start of the day you are introduced to your elephant and they size you up in the first five minutes - they either like you or they don't.  If they don't like you, then you beat a hasty retreat and try another elephant.  Thankfully our elephants didn't seem to object to us and I am sure the basket of bananas were fairly instrumental in this.  Each elephant has its own mahout who looks after them and they are a real team.  My elephant was a naughty seven year old called Ban Dao and his mahout was Sek.   Having established that our charges were well and rested we then instructed them to sit down (yes!) while we brushed dust off the top of their backs, then into the river for a scrub.  So much fun and we thought we had got away without getting too wet until the mahouts instructed the elephants to spray us with water.  Then a quick lesson on the three different ways to get on your elephant, (all of which require considerable assistance from your elephant) and once on board we were shown how to make them turn, go forward, backward and the most important instruction, to stop. When riding an elephant, you hope rather than expect, that it will walk in the direction you planned.  They eat everything along the way and teeter over the edge of the hill to grab a tasty looking shrub.  At times it is a case of closing your eyes and hoping for the best.

We trekked through the jungle, which was quite hard work as you are basically sitting on their head, so when they put their head down it would be so easy to slide right off.  We were assured that no-one had ever fallen off but Harriet and I were rather skeptical about that particular claim. To avoid ending up on the floor, you need to lean right back and hold on tight to the rope behind you.  Good for the stomach and arm muscles!  The mahout is with you at all times and I am under no illusion that I had even the remotest influence on Ban Dao's behaviour.  After about an hour we reached a waterfall, where we gratefully disembarked (legs aching, sore backside, height sick).   Some of the elephants waded into the river and sank into the water, literally wallowing with delight.  Above where they were playing, there was a long, smooth rock which we slid down landing right next to the elephants.  The very best bit was being able to swim and play with them while they were underwater.  Amazing!  They were almost fully submerged, chucking water about and having a wonderful time.  And so gentle.  When they decided that they didn't want you on their back any more, they gently lolled to one side and hey presto! their annoying passenger found themselves in the water.  It was quite the most extraordinary experience. 

Lunch was served in a raised canopied hut with open sides over looking the waterfall and river.  The food was laid out on banana leaves and was delicious.  I had no idea there were so many ways to serve rice!  Once we had eaten as much as we wanted, the elephants did an amazing clear up job.  We fed them the remaining food and the banana leaf table cloths and then leapt nimbly (scrabbled, scraped and heaved ourselves!) back on board for the remaining trek down the mountain.
At Patara, they have a breeding programme which consists of boy meets girl, boy whisks girl off to romantic jungle location for ten days and they both return smiling.  Two years later, baby elly arrives.  They currently have two 6 month old babies there, who were enchanting.  Ahhh!

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