We have had some friends who have made their way to Thailand in the last few years, and they were more than happy to provide recommendations when we asked. We noticed some common themes in those recommendations, one of which was that we absolutely must ride the elephants in Chiang Mai.
To be honest, our elephant experience started off on a rocky foot. We had booked our spots two months in advance, and come that morning we were up and in the lobby by 7:30AM as requested waiting for our pick-up. 8AM rolled by, then 8:30AM, and then it was 9AM. At this point we had the hotel call the Elephant folks to see what the hold-up was. Long story short, it turns out that they forgot about us, but they would send someone immediately to pick us up. At this point I was pretty annoyed (jetlag + 5 hours of sleep + 1.5 hours waiting in a lobby twiddling my thumbs does not a happy Holly make), and well, disappointed and worried that my precious elephant bonding time would be cut short. Turns out we had nothing to worry about: after a brief introduction we were up and on our way. Mine was a sprightly 8-year-old elephant with a full head of hair and a penchant for spitting. Jared’s was a 40-year-old lady who was 5 months deep into a two-year pregnancy and boy was she one large elephant.
Since we were late in arriving we essentially got a private elephant tour with our own personal photographer for the first half of the day. We held on tight and rode across a small stream and up into the gorgeous green hills. My elephant was clearly feeling the 40*C heat because every 5 minutes or so she would spit on her left side and then spit on her right side in an attempt to cool herself down. Since I don’t have the ability to store and spit water on myself, I sure was lucky that my legs were right where she spit so I got cooled down too – phew. Since Jared’s elephant was busy creating life and eating for two, she decided to stroll up the hill on her own time grabbing grass and whatever other goodies she could find on the path along the way. Once we finally arrived at the top of the hill we caught up with the rest of the group, grabbed lunch, and then that’s where the real fun began. After giving one of the group’s elephants a big muddy rub down (my elephant was the lucky one) and getting a little muddy ourselves, we all headed back down the hill to the river to bathe the elephants and ourselves. Jared’s mahout was quite the instigator – after washing my elephant off I look up to see Jared doing a flip off his elephant into the river. Once, twice, a third and then a fourth. Front flips and back flips. Just like a big kid.
We spent our last night in Thailand rehashing all the wonderful things we had seen and done. We both agreed that this day, the day we rode the elephants, was probably THE highlight of our trip.