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Published: November 18th 2006
Note: A farang is a foreigner like me and Kate.
So we left Kanchanaburi to visit the "Elephants & friends foundation"
just outside the town. Its a titchy little camp in the middle of nowhere where a gang of mahouts (or elephant trainers/drivers) look after elephants rescued from mistreatment in various forms from dodgy tourist camps to industry. There are 6 elephants there in total - 5 old females and one randy 20 year old male called Sidoh.
We got there and were shown to our hut (it really was a hut in the jungle) by one of the non-english speaking staff. Then we met the semi-english speaking owner, Phot. He was very enthusiastic about everything! He immediately told us that John, the long-term Australian volunteer was not around cos he was riding a unicycle in Bangkok promoting Thai whisky. Hmm, we thought. Maybe something was lost there in translation...
Anyway...minutes after arriving and seeing an elephant close up we had lunch. We didn't realise we were having lunch until I heard a man shout "YOU!!!"repeatedly in my left ear. When I looked round a bowl of food was being presented to me. "YOU!!!" became
a general term of address over the next few days. But in a nice way.
Then we had to ride the elephants down to the river for their evening bath. Shedding anything we didn't want to get wet, we were thrust onto the shoulder of an elephant each from a little platform with a mahout in charge of each of the big fellas and us shaking in our sandals hoping we didn't tumbble to our death. Elephants are tall. And their hair is very bristly. When you get up there on one it's rather scary. Particularly when you go down a slippery slope towards a fast moving river. No saddles included - bareback. Anyway...there we were, slowly plodding down a 45 degree slope, hangng on for dear life with the mahouts casually relaxing on the animals backs and uttering gentle grunts to coax them on.
The elephant bath was fun but it seemed to be a case of the mahouts generally instructing the elephants to throw you off so they could laugh and drag you back on. Oh well, small price to pay. It was incredible.
Over the course of the last 2 days we've ridden
elephants 4 times, each time lasting over an hour. We've bathed them in the river. Brought bananas from a local grove to feed them. And generally lived in the jungle with what felt like (and practically was) an extended family of Thai people with only Phot speaking english. The non-english speaking mahouts had basic commands for us like they did for the elephants - "You!!!" (points hand at me) "Back" (gestures for me to move to the back of the elephant) etc... Kate
So there I was, 8am, balancing on the roof of a pickup truck to climb onto the back of an elephant. My 31st year is getting very surreal.
The "Elephants & Friends" Foundation was set up by Phot and his Belgian wife after they had some bad experiences as mahouts in elephant camps in Thailand and wanted somewhere were elephants were treated well and mistreated elephants could be looked after properly. Unfortunatly his wife died this year, but they all now want to keep her dream alive. You can go and stay at the camp for just 1400 bahts per day (1000 if you stay more than 2 nights), including your hut which has electricity
and a fan and all your meals which are cooked by a young Thai girl and are lovely. You get to ride the elephants when they bring them from the jungle at the beginning of the day (they stay there and eat all night - no wonder they are so big!), and in the evening when they take them back there at night. Each time you take them for a bath in the river.
I was riding a female elephant called Sopbon (I think), who had ragged ears where they had been cut and was still having a big hole on her face treated. She hadnt been at the Foundation very long after her owner had taken her to Phot when the camp he had kept her in had mistreated her. Its a very bizarre experience to sit on the head of a massive animal with your legs tucked behind her ears as she wanders along. The first time I was pretty scared, but after a while you learn to just move with the elephant and relax, and you stay on just fine. Its really relaxing actually. Bathing them was really good fun, the mahouts get them to role
In the river
Trying to stay on the elephant as she rolls in the water. Not easy.
over so they can wash them and you have to try and stay on.....I actually stayed on every time, even when the mahout fell off (well, Ill be honest, I was holding on with my legs round her neck and onto her ears, whereas the mahout wasnt holding on at all, so it wasnt exactly fair competition). The elephants are obviously having a great time, trumpetting and splashing and rolling about. Sidoh the male liked to throw people into the river! He did it to Kris once. It was very funny.
We only stayed 2 nights but we could have stayed longer. Apart from being abit saddle sore (if you think riding a horse is painful on your bum, try an elephant) we had a great time and everyone was lovely. It was really peaceful living in the jungle and the elephant riding was just fab. We would definatly recommend it to anyone going to Thailand. Im sure our amazing photos will convince you!
The website is
By the way, John came back from Bangkok yesterday where he had actually been advertising Thai whisky on a unicycle. Painted gold. Obviously surreal things translate properly afterall. Kris More Rentokil culinary adventures...
Following the cockroach incident I figured I was out of the woods. Until I met Phot at Elephants and Friends. After dinner on our first night he enthusiastically ambled up to me, Kate and another volunteer and asked if we'd like to go hunting rats and frogs with him. EH?? "Hunting rats and frogs to eat!" he replied.
It was then we noticed the mahouts were already practising their aim with catapults.
We said ok for some reason.
A load of mahouts and us crammed into a pickup and we set off into the night to a farmers field. We plodded around it in darkness with a few torches between us for what seemed like hours but found not a single rat or frog. What a relief. Anything we caught was going on the dinner table.
When we got back to camp I attempted to explain to Phot that my job in England was catching rats. He seemed unimpressed with my efforts that night given this info. I explained I did it with poison. He laughed "Anyone can kill rats with poison!"
So there you go. Maybe Rentokil should start using catapults.
Where bananas come from before they get to Tescos
You heard it here 1st...
We have more photos and some video of us bathing elephants - and getting very wet ourselves. We will put them on when we have charged the camera batteries up. Watch this space, it is well worth it!
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