Oct 4 - Ran-Tong Elephant Center
At about 9:30 pm last night we finally decided on which elephant encounter experience we wanted.
E-mailing Ran-Tong, I received an immediate response asking me to reconfirm, and by 10:00 pm our reservations and hotel pick-up were arranged. The trip out to the center took 1 1/4 hours, and we saw some countryside that was how things must have looked before cities and urban development happened. When we arrived at the Center, the eleven of us in the van got out and were introduced to a few of the elephants by feeding them bananas. We were then instructed as to the five most common commands (in Thai) we'd use that day; stop, go, left, right and lie down. We were given a change of clothes to wear; Karen tribe shirts, then learned how to get up on one (bareback), and keep our balance while she (in this case) followed our, but mostly the mahouts (trainers) commands. Not so easy for a few of us...We then followed a jungle trail, sometimes muddy and boulder strewn, for about a one mile circuit; most of us two to an elephant, one fellow by himself. What fun! We got back strained a bit, dirty a bit, but willing to do more. The scenery on the side of the hill with the valley below was spectacular. Lunch followed; pretty good. After lunch we rested a bit before mounting up again for the long ride to the river. It was funny to have some of the animals listen, some refuse to go forward, most all stop off to grab a branch of bamboo to eat or take a small drink of water...it took a while to get to the river. The mahouts treated the animals well, and no animal was mistreated in our presence. At the river, we all got in and helped bathe the elephants, inbetween water fights and general frolicking around. The elephants seemed to really enjoy the water, certainly enjoyed the bath, and the baby elephant (was he adorable, or what...) had been trained to spray everyone with water, so it didn't take long for us all to be soaking wet. Lots of pictures were taken, we all got elephant kisses and hugs (OK, let me hear you all say "ahhh") and it was then time to mount up and head back. Our butts and inner thighs are just a bit sore, but the slight rolling motion didn't take long to adjust to. (At first, most of us held on for dear life, then relaxed as familiarity set in.) After changing out of our wet clothes, we got back in the van for the trip back to Chiang Mai. Our pictures will get sorted into an album later, but the memories of the experience will be with us forever. Riding an elephant in Chiang Mai, Thailand...whodathunk?