Elephants Never Forget – Thai Adventure
Chiang Mai Elephant Park
That may have been the longest drive I’ve ever sat through (this is said before I find out that there’s another 14 hour drive ahead of us in Ayuthaya.) But the drive from Bangkok to the outskirts of Chiang Mai is totally worth it (and bless Gap360, you’ve got a private coach for the journey.) We’re greeted in the morning with lush jungle hills and fresh mountain air. The roads we used are small, relatively empty, and seem to go on forever as they wind through the quiet hills. This is the Thailand that I’ve waited for this past month.
We stopped off at our rural guesthouse retreat and entered one of the most soothing environments I’ve experienced so far. The rooms themselves are extremely basic but the delicious meals cooked by the family makes you feel right at home. As a vegetarian in this part of Thailand that basically means a lot of fried egg for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I occasionally opted for scrambled because variety never hurts haha.
A few minutes after dropping off our kit at the retreat, we were whisked off on the back of a 4×4 to our elephant adventure! While preparing for the trip I misunderstood the Elephant Park to be a conservatory so I was a bit surprised when we first arrived. The elephant park doesn’t necessarily have the nicest facilities for it’s inhabitants (and it was odd that the elephants were lightly chained when not in use) but the trainers there are extremely kind to the massive steeds. After lunch we learned the basic commands of elephant riding (literally 5 words that none of us were able to use effectively) and we each had a few minutes to feed and snap some shots mounting and lying on our elephants’ trunks. Their primary purpose seems to be to take visitors out on rides to the nearby river. But for many of them, this life is far better than where they came from (circus cruelty, hard forestry labour etc.)
After a long day of travelling to the park, riding the elephants, and washing them by the river, we head back to our guesthouse to get better acquainted with our elephant guide (who speaks hardly any English but still manages to chat up all our girls). We’re really starting to feel like one big gap360 family now as we eat our meals at one of the huge square tables at the retreat and cool off with a couple drinks and card games at night. Actually, I think we’ve eaten almost every meal outdoors so far and it’s something I’d definitely like to continue back home (as long as it’s not -50degs and snowing out.)
On Day 2 at the Elephant Park, we upgraded from bareback elephant riding to hold-on-for-dear-life makeshift-chair riding. Luckily for me, I was paired up with Big Joe for our ‘jungle ride…’ I have no clue what ‘Big Joe’s’ real name is, but this guy was absolutely massive so the name seemed appropriate. In elephant world though, massive is good because massive means more stability when straddling its neck 15 off the ground. Minus the fact that he made my legs cramp from spreading them so wide, Big Joe was a solid steed who was calm, cool, collected and knew exactly where to go without any commands from us (which if given, were ignored anyways.)
10 minutes by elephant (never thought I’d say that) from the park, we found a river to let our elephants cool off in. This was our chance to jump on their backs, play with their trunks, and a whole bunch of other shenanigans like water fights with the trainers as well. TRAVELERSTIP1: You definitely need a waterproof camera at this stage (if you don’t want to pay for the photos taken by the trainers) and will need one for most other activities on the trip too! TRAVELERSTIP2: It might also help to bring some swimming shoes with you for these activities in the river (to avoid unnecessary cuts etc.)
After saying bye to our elephants and welcoming being on firm ground again (where my legs aren’t constantly shoulder width apart), we headed off to my very first tropical waterfall! It was absolutely beautiful to swim in, and being with a Thai guide allowed us to know the safest places to jump off from (while casually avoiding whirlpools.) The walk up the cliffside (clinging to slippery rocks) wasn’t so bad, but standing on the precipice of the jump was terrifying. In the end though, the jump is thrilling and being in Thailand is all about pushing my boundaries and trying new things. With that, I’m ready to push my physical limits tomorrow (I go to the gym once a year) on our trek up the mountain! See you on the other side (hopefully)!