Thailand: Elephants

Monday, March 28, 2011

On our trek adventure in Northern Thailand, we got the chance to see one of Thailands biggest residents; elephants!  Before our trek to the hilltribe, our guide delivered us to an elephant sancutary.  We were encouraged to feed the elephants bananas (with the peel and all!) and then we got a chance to watch the elephants getting a bath.  It was really cool to see how much the elephants enjoyed getting soaked and scrubbed in the river.  One of the elephants seriously stared me in the eyes like a human for five minutes straight; I swear.  After the elephant bath - we were directed to the elephant auditorium where we got to watch the elephants perform their tricks.  The elephants worked together to move huge logs and then the baby elephant painted (!!) a picture of a tree. 

While at the sanctuary we learned a lot of interesting things about Asian elephants:
1. Asian elephants differ from African elephants in a lot of ways.  The Asian elephant, for example, has a head shaped like a rounded "M" while the African elephant has an upside-down "U" shaped head. 
2. Asian elephant ears are not higher than the elephants' head (but African elephants have ears that rise above their head)
3. Elephants have amazing memories.  If a person does something unfavorable to an elephant and then returns back - even after 10 years - the elephant will remember the wrongdoing and react cautiously around that person. 
4. The circumference of an elephant foot doubled is the elephant's height!  So, if you're ever walking through the woods and stumble upon an elephant track, you can measure the circumference of the track and then multiply it by two - you'll know just how big of an elephant you need to keep your eye out for!

Around the the 2 hour mark in our jungle trek, we began hearing noise like trees were falling down.  Our guide, Ponchai, suggested that maybe since it was burning season, the fire was burning down some bamboo trees.  But as we got nearer the noise, Ponchai changed his mind and told us that the hilltribe villages will let their elephants loose to go out and feed in the jungle.  No sooner did Ponchai telll us this, did one of our trekking companions say, oh yea, there it is.  We all looked across the river valley and there IN THE WILD was an elephant.  It was really cool and a little unnerving to see such a huge animal without any restraints.  Granted, it was about half a football field away - but its AN ELEPHANT.

After our night in the hilltribe, we even got to hop on an elephant's back and take a little hike through the jungle.  "Hop on an elephant's back" is really a very lighthearted way to describe our elephant riding experience.  In all reality, our experience was a little more anxiety-ridden and terrifying than we had imagined.  First, it's AN ELEPHANT, which means it is an enormous animal that up close and personal is actually very intimidating.  Second, our "driver" decided to bail ship after about 3 minutes of our ride.  He just hopped down and walked behind us...and by "behind us" I mean behind Brandon and I on the back of an enormous, un-guided, animal.  Third, it took us about 2 minutes afterwards to discover why the driver got off...our elephant had a sinus infection...and kept lifting his trunk up and blowing elephant boogies all over us.  Fourth, this wasn't just some easy, flat ride we took; our elephant (with us on her back) hiked both up and down hillsides rivaling the ones we had trekked the day before...thankfully with ease - even if it did look physically impossible for a being that huge to handle the terrain.

Even though it was more scary than we had thought it would be, it was still an experience that we'll never forget and we're thankful we did it.  We'll leave the elephant riding up to Reese Witherspoon* though.

*Reese Witherspoon is in the upcoming movie, Water for Elephants.  If you didn't yet, read the book!  Its a great one.

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