What do you do, when you are stuck on an island for 5 days?! Well you ride things of course! As you may know, I am infatuated by elephants. I read and incredible book about 10 months ago, called Modoc . It is a true and inspirational story about the greatest elephant that ever lived. I highly suggest that you all read it, including you (MARINA)! Then for my birthday this past year both Mike and Marina (Mikes sister) gave me beautiful and special elephant necklaces, which I now wear constantly as a reminder of love, family, and good luck. Ever since then I have dreamt about getting to ride and play with my very own elephant!
So it seemed fitting enough to go visit elephants (chang) on an island named after them, Koh Chang. We were a little apprehsive/hesatiant on which company to go with. We wanted to make sure that we went with an ethical elephant first, type of company. Not one that chained their elephants to poles on the side of the road, for tourists to gawk at. However, after much deliberation and research we chose Ban Wan Chang It is part of the Asian Elephant Foundation, which helps with the protection of Elephants. So with that said we threw on our bathing suits, covered ourselves in mosquito repellant, grabbed our rain jackets ( it was down pouring), and jumped in back of a pickup truck to head to the camp.
We signed up for a 2 hour tour, which included swimming and bathing with an elephant. Riding on one for an hour, and then feeding. The site had 10 elephants, so I was under the impression that there would be 10 of us on the trip. NOT the case. There were probably 40 people at this camp. Half of us were herded like animals to the swimming part of it. While the other half were finishing up there ride. Once at the river, it was incredible to see how this slow moving, huge mammal gracefully plunged herself into a river, and splashed around! Of course Mike and I were the first ones to volunteer to get into the water with her. A lot terrified, yet intrigued I slowly waded into the river with this beautiful creature. As we climbed up upon her back, I couldn’t help but feel immensely weak and helpless next to her. But I put all my strength into scrubbing her rough skin. However, the experience was quick lived, because I was issued off for the next person to have their chance.
Next came the ride on Nam Wan, which means water. She is 26 years old, same as me! I was disappointed by this part of the day. We were told that the Mahouts (elephant trainers) would walk beside the elephant, to relieve some of the weight and to give us (me) a sense of control. Our trainer however, only got off after I persisted, then he asked for a tip. (All the other Mahouts were off their elephants). I was then able to ride right behind the neck of the our elephant! She also talked to me through, grumbles, and elephant blows! Which also could have been mistaken for her yelling at me, but I like to think it was friendly hellos. After the hour ride, we were brought back to the camp, to feed our elephant. I was so excited, to touch her nose and to look at her in the face. However, all the bananas has been snatched up already, and Mike and I were left with 3 bananas to feed our deserving Nam Wan. Then we were asked for a tip, again. Which we handed to our Mahout grudgingly.
The whole experience was too fast and too touristy. I was hoping for a connection and chance to really get to know our elephant, but once our 2 hours were up, they were already getting ready for the next set up people. It makes you wonder if these elephants really have a good life, or if once again they are being used for human pleasures, and a source of income.
Never the less it was an experience that I will never forget, and If our budget can make it happen, there is an Elephant sanctuary in Chaing Mai Thailand, where rescued elephants live. There are no tours and no rides that go on there. We would get to spend the day doing the dirty work, feeding and cleaning the elephants, along with taking a class, to learn more about elephants. We would even ge to spend the night there. Although it is pricy, but when in life do you have the chance to become a Mahout for the day, with the largest land animal in this world?!