Riding Elephants in Chiang Mai
The day after Alex and I petted the tigers, we rode elephants at the Baanchang Elephant Park. This park rescues and takes care of elephants that were previously used as loggers (actually illegal) or in circuses.
We first changed into our mahout clothes (elephant riding uniforms)- don’t they look spiffy? They were pretty comfortable!
We started out by feeding the elephants a breakfast of bananas and sugar cane. The elephants would grab the food from our hands with their trunks and then feed it into their mouths. We petted the elephants while feeding them- they aren’t soft! Actually the hairs on the elephant are prickly and their skin is rough!
Next, we learned the elephant commands in Thai (down, up, straight, back up, stop, turn right, turn left), before each climbing on top of an elephant. Each elephant is commanded to get down on its ‘knees’ and we climbed on (I needed a push to get onto mine!). The elephants then stood up slowly and off we went! It was quite scary! We were riding bareback, holding onto the elephant’s ears and head. And we were so high up! We had to practice each of the commands several times, before the elephants got back down on their ‘knees’ and we hopped off.
After lunch, we were introduced to our own elephant, that we would ride around the park (twice). Alex and I decided to share an elephant (it was cheaper than each getting an elephant), and our elephant was a pregnant female who loved to eat (she always stopped to munch on vegetation). I sat at the front, near the head, and Alex sat at the middle (he said his ‘seat’ wasn’t very comfortable because the elephant’s spine dug into his butt). We each had a mahout trainer with us, leading the elephant along the path.
There was one point when our elephant veered off the path to eat some elephant grass, and our Thai commands failed us. Luckily, the trainer was able to get our elephant back on the path. At the end of our ride, we had the option of wading into a pond and washing the elephants (Alex went, I watched). The elephants love the water, but were pooping in the same water where people were washing them (pretty gross poo water). Luckily, we all had showers before boarding the bus back to our hotel.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I don’t think I’ll be riding an elephant again (especially bareback!) anytime soon!