Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Elephants Are My New Favourite Animal!

I had seen the Extraordinary Elephant Tour on Trip Advisor before my trip but hesitated to book it due to the high price (about $275 Canadian) so when I was in Bali I emailed the company and asked if it was possible, as a single traveller, to join another group and thus have company and reduce the cost. They sent me an email with the contact information of another single traveller, Bree from Australia. I contacted her and we quickly agreed to join up and share the cost of the excursion. I was very glad I did because this turned out to be one of the best days of my travels (despite the horrid night I spent at the Atlanta).
Bree and I at the Bridge on the River Kwai.
Bree and I had a top of the line, fully loaded van to ourselves as we drove through the countryside of Thailand. She helped me to book a new room for the next two nights at a luxurious five star hotel in Bangkok, the Sukosol, for a cost of $62 a night. We made stops at the floating market where we perused the market from the comfort of a longtail boat and then stopped at the Bridge Over the River Kwai. I informed Bree, who is twenty eight, about the historical significance of this working rail bridge as we ate a delicious lunch at the floating restaurant nearby. On our way to the Elephant Safari in Kanchanaburi we passed the cemetery for the prisoners of war who perished in this area and our guide, Na, said that tourism had greatly diminished in this region because the younger generation was not as aware of the historical significance of the Second World War. Being a historical aficionado myself and familiar with European battle sights, it was an honour to have the opportunity to visit the Pacific memorials. I told Na that I had met an older gentleman in Hamilton who was of Dutch extraction and had been incarcerated in a Japanese POW camp at the age of eleven. He had told me stories about being separated from his mother and sister who died in a camp and this made my visit much more personal.
Floating Market

Bridge on the River Kwai

After about three hours we arrived at the elephant camp and I was happy to see that the elephants were obviously well cared for and although they were "working elephants" they were given free time to roam through the vast jungle areas and "play' in the adjoining river. Na told me that taking people like Bree and myself to frolic in the river was a nice break for the elephants so they could cool down and play with one and other.
I usually try to put on a brave persona when having new experiences but getting onto an elephant, bareback, about fifteen feet from the ground was a little scary to say the least. When I saw that we would need to negotiate a steep decline down to the river I was even more nervous and almost asked to get off but I decided that I should persevere and told myself that I would never get this opportunity again. I tried closing my eyes but this was actually worse so I put my trust in Junta Por, my elephant, and my Matouk, his handler, and headed down to the river. I'm so glad I did because Bree and I spent an amazing half hour playing and cooling down in the river. Nothing compares to being thrown from the trunk of one of these amazing, gentle animals into the muddy water of a Thai river. Absolutely awesome!

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