We are just back from our 17 days in Thailand and I am catching up on the photo editing and blog posts. It was a very long trip home so the priority has been sleep and re-stocking the fridge with food! I’ve covered off the Khao Lak part of our trip, except for our trip to the elephant park. So today, elephants it is………
On our honeymoon Anto and I visited an elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka, which was a great way to see the elephants up close. My parents had done several elephant park visits on various trips through Thailand and Indonesia, but my Mum was keen to take the kids to see the elephants during our Khao Lak trip with her. Apparently the hotel used to organise trips to an elephant park only a few minutes away, but upon enquiry were now doing trips to one that was approximately 45 minutes away. They said they didn’t like the way the elephants were treated at the nearby one. I was only keen to give our tourist dollars to one doing the right thing so we agreed to the half day excursion to the Phang Nga Elephant Park. There was a full day tour on offer but the second half of the day involved jungle trekking on foot (no elephants) so with it being 35 degrees and having 2 small kids we were more than happy to do the half day excursion and leave it at that!
On the Saturday of our first weekend away we were up at our usual pre-7am for breaky and were dressed and ready for our elephant visit pick-up by 8.30am. We had been informed it was a 45 minute drive to the elephants and we would definitely be back by 1pm at the latest (the half day tour included a lunch and waterfall visit, for which we had packed swimmers for everyone). We also requested car seats for the long drive. The transport arrived and as usual, there were no car seats. The drivers looked perplexed, but agreed that we would be getting baby-seats but bundled us into the van and headed off to do the pick-ups from other hotels. As our hotel was the furthest out for the day we had to suffer through a few pick-ups and then we finally hit the town and baby-seats were obtained and fitted. Shame about the 20 odd minutes without them but at least we got them in the end. I know all the locals think we are weird for even asking for them giving the large number of infants I saw being transported in their mothers arms on the back of a motorcycle, but we weren’t keen to take risks we didn’t need to, especially with the often questionable driving.
Another couple of hotel pick-ups and a full van and we were on our way. Luckily Soren napped for some of the trip. Astrid chatted non-stop and with our 2 being the only kids on the trip the other adults were probably cursing our presence. About an hour and a half after leaving the hotel we finally arrived at the elephant park. It looked like a fairly new park, lots of construction and brand spanking new toilets and office area. We had been told there were 8 elephants they used for trekking plus a 5 month old baby elephant and a few older babies that we could visit after the trek.
We decided that Astrid would ride on one elephant with Anto and Mum and I would take the other one of our two allocated elephants with me keeping Soren restrained in the ergo. After we all had a drink, visited the facilities, and stretched our legs we spied some cute elephants just hanging around munching. We were told to get our shoes off and head up to the elephant hopping-on station, so we climbed the stairs, shoes off and waiting as each elephant was loaded up with their one or two people.
Astrid had been excited for days about her elephant ride but we weren’t sure if she would freak out when she realised how big they were. She wasn’t the least bit worried about jumping into a seat 3 metres off the ground, with nothing but a flimsy rope keeping her in. She was all smiles and in a couple of minutes Anto and Astrid were off and trekking up the muddy path.
I loaded Soren into the ergo and jumped onto our elephant along with my mother. We somehow got the biggest of all the elephants, maybe they thought we had too much breaky, or perhaps they thought Soren was bigger than he actually was! Soren was a little annoyed I insisted on keeping him in the ergo, but he is a huge wiggle worm and I doubt I could have held him still and stopped him climbing off the elephant in the hour and a bit we were riding them. He liked it when there were other elephants behind us as he got a good view. Like his sister he didn’t seem the least bit fussed about being over 3 metres in the air.
After a few minutes we passed a banana station. This is where a ‘banana tax’ was imposed and we were all encouraged to buy some bunches of bananas to feed our hard working elephants. We figured it was fun for the kids and bought a few bunches. I will admit that it was fun tapping the elephant on the head and watching him reach his trunk up to grab a banana and quickly shove it in his mouth.
The few bunches of bananas lasted over an hour and provided plenty of entertainment. Sometimes the elephants were cheeky and just decided it was time for another banana, and it was hard to refuse. Soren thought the bananas were him to eat (bug infested and all) and was getting a bit annoyed about not being allowed to get his hands on them.
It was extremely hot, at least 35 degrees and very humid. With a Soren strapped to me I was even more hot and sweaty. The seats also aren’t all that comfy with a metal bar across your back, but it was very cool having the elephant sauntering along with us getting our ride. You could feel their big muscular bodies under your feet, and they didn’t seem overly concerned about the weight on their backs. Soren and Astrid were having a ball. Especially Astrid, who I could hear non-stop chatter from, even several metres back.
Riding up top we got a good view of the elephants big heads, with spiky hair. They were constantly flapping their ears and sometimes they would wrap around your legs. Up close it was interesting to see how wrinkly their skin is and feel how spiky the hair on their heads is. Their feet are not small and you could hear them squishing into the ground as they walked. There were plenty of plants for them to eat along the sides of the path and they would often stop for a snack.
Astrid didn’t at all mind the slow, plodding and very bumpy ride. After awhile her elephant guide asked if she wanted to hop on the elephants head. I probably should have been more concerned about my 3 year old sitting on an elephants head, totally unrestrained but she was loving it. I also wasn’t expecting her to stay there!
She loved feeding her elephant bananas from on his head. The elephant didn’t seem to be minding either. After awhile Anto moved onto the elephant’s head too, and the guide got the more comfy ride on the seat. At least now someone was holding onto Astrid again, although she was doing a pretty good job on her own. There were a few quite steep slopes though. Anto says that riding up on the head required a lot more effort than sitting in the seat. He certainly got off looking sweaty and tired. I was also offered the opportunity to sit up front on our elephants head, but with Soren in the ergo I figured it was better to stay in the seat.
Astrid was giggling and smiling all through the hour plus ride, even when her elephant did a big trumpet that you could hear from miles away. I think elephant riding was pretty much the best thing ever in three year old land. Once we had done our loop through the jungle we headed back and hopped off our elephants.
It was then time to go and see the baby elephant. The park has a 5 month old baby. The babies mother had been in our trekking group and the little bub had walked along with mum. It was a bit of a slow ride for the couple on the mummy elephant as she had to keep stopping to feed the bub. The baby elephant was extremely cute, and very friendly. He was having a bottle of milk with his adult carers and happy to give us a pat and a cuddle. Astrid and Soren thought it was the best fun ever to give him a pat. After a full bottle of milk he headed back to his mum for more of her milk. Obviously a hungry bubba! The mummy elephant was also very friendly and happy to let us give her a pat and wasn’t the least bit fussed about us giving her baby lots of pats.
After plenty of elephant pats, we headed back to the park entrance where we were presented with cold water and some very tasty pineapple. We were also presented with some photos that had been taken of us riding, in elephant poo frames (that we know wouldn’t get through quarantine) but we declined to buy them, much to Astrid’s annoyance. During our trek the guide for our elephant had offered to take my camera and take some shots. Of course I had my DSLR, with a push-pull lens, on manual, with back-button focus. I handed it over with a 10 second explanation of which buttons to press and hoped for the best. Had I of realised they would take pictures for us I would have bought our compact camera with us that probably would have worked better for that purpose. Our guide seemed more than happy to play with my camera and was clicking away. Surprisingly he did pretty well and quite a few shots were usable with a little editing, I think he might have been a secret photography enthusiast. As you can probably tell some of his photos even appear in this blog post!
After our re-fueling on pineapple we were bundled back in the van for the drive to the waterfall. This was around half an hour and we were all pleased to be back in the air conditioning. Soren took the opportunity to have a little nap. We had been instructed to take swimmers so we could swim in the waterfall, so we had lugged swimmers and towels for all of us. Once we arrived at the waterfall (along with several busloads of tourists). We trekked down a dirt path with all our gear and found a large muddy puddle with a trickle about 5 metres high. It clearly hadn’t rained in awhile and that was the extent of the waterfall. It was so underwhelming that I didn’t even bother to get the camera out, much less bother to get everyone changed for a swim. Our refusal to let Astrid swim in the mud resulted in a mega-tantrum.
We tried to avert the melt-down with promise of lunch at the restaurant back up near where they had parked our van. Luckily food helped calm her down. I even managed to get something vegetarian (yes a plate of mixed stir-fried veggies yet again). Soren mostly ate watermelon. It was so hot in the restaurant we thought we might melt and we were keen to head back to the hotel for a swim and a rest.
Finally we were bundled back in the van and the drop-offs commenced. Some people were doing the full day tour but the half-dayers had to be dropped off first. When the full day tour people realised their afternoon activity was a 3 hour jungle trek in the heat to a waterfall (which they were informed currently didn’t have water in it) they all opted to go back to their resorts. This made us the last drop-off again, but it did give the kids a chance to have a rest during the drive. Once back at the resort we were very pleased to get out of our sweaty, elephant odour clothes and jump in the pool. There might have even been a recovery cocktail or two……… 2 weeks on Astrid is still talking about her ride on the elephant!