The morning of our tour started out interesting. Long story short, Win (who set up our tour on the ferry ride over from Phi Phi) didn’t alert the tour people that we needed a pickup and the women at the hotel (the first unfriendly people we had come across on the entire island) weren’t at all helpful. In fact, we were even yelled at for not making the reservation through them! But, eventually we were able to get a gentleman from the hotel to help us call the elephant trekking people to let them know we were scheduled for a tour that day.
We were at least a half hour late from when our tour was supposed to start, but when the pickup came for us the employees were very apologetic for having missed us. And once we arrived to the tour location, the vibe was so chilled and relaxed that you could immediately tell that even though they had tour “start times” they really didn’t pay that much attention to them!
Instead of starting with the elephant trekking, we went off on a guided hike (on foot) through the jungle to the bat cave and waterfall. We started with the bat cave and while it wasn’t that deep to walk through, the most impressive thing about it was that there were trees growing just inside the cave and the trunks of the trees had grown through the roof of the cave! Also there was a very large mushroom (magic??) growing deep inside the cave beyond the point of light reaching, which I’d never seen before either! The bats were teeny and so freaking cute!! Every now and again one would stir and fly around a bit or simply stretch its wings then curl back up for a nap.
After the cave we walked to the waterfall, which unfortunately due to lack of rain was rather lackluster. However, it was still quite pretty and due to the heat of the day felt very nice to stand under the water to cool off! The best part about the waterfall were the cleaner fish AND a cleaner shrimp!! After cooling off under the waterfall Anna and I stood around in the shallow areas of the waterfall pool and watched as the fish surrounded Anna’s feet nibbled away. None of the fish were interested in my feet until suddenly I felt a little tickle on my pinky toe and looked down to see a cleaner shrimp nibbling!! He was just adorable to watch as his little front pincers hacked away dead skin around my toe:) I could have stayed there all day getting my free shrimp pedicure, but alas it was time to head back and hop on an elephant:)
When we had first arrived to the elephant area, another couple were coming in from their elephant trek and one of the people was sitting in the “saddle” while the other was riding on the front of the elephant… I wasn’t sure if this was allowed for everyone to do, but I was going to ask anyway! I was informed that it was ok to sit on the front of the elephant, but I had to properly, meaning I had to sit as far forward as possible on the elephants neck so that the sensitive area would not be damaged or strained. We climbed the stairs to a platform and first I mounted on the head (essentially) of the elephant while Anna got on in the saddle. I asked if I was sitting forward enough to which the trainer said “more forward”. So I pushed forward. “More forward” he said again, so I moved further forward…
Now, I’ve been a horse back rider for over 20 years, so I do know my way around riding horses and the feeling and sensation of that, so I figured it couldn’t be THAT different to ride an elephant… I was wrong!! You literally had to sit so far forward on the neck so that you were tucked directly behind the elephants ears and all you had in front of you was the head of the elephant and then the ground. You would think that with the size of the elephant’s head, that it would give you comfort of not falling off, but seriously, once on top, it really isn’t that much space! The safe space on the neck is so far forward and so narrow that it was hard to feel 100% comfortable about not falling off. I had to keep my palms flat on the top of the elephant’s head to help with balance and her movement was so foreign that I had to hold on for dear life with my thighs too!
About half-way through the trek Anna and I switched places (with the trainer again telling Anna several times to “move forward” before continuing on) and what I found amazing was we both had similar stories in that every time either of us felt like we were losing balance to the left or right, the elephant would flatten her ear against our leg as if she was holding us steady! Throughout the ride her ears were constantly flapping around to keep the mosquitos and flies off of her, but the minute we felt like we were losing balance in either direction, the corresponding ear would stop slapping and it would snap shut around our leg for a couple of seconds until we were back in balance, then they would resume their regular fly swatting action. Absolutely amazing!!!
That experience was one of the most amazing I’ve had. And again, while I was a bit reluctant at first to sign up for the tour because of not knowing how they treated the animals, I can say with assurance that these elephants are well taken care of and loved. The trainers were constantly loving on them in one way or another, none of the trainers had a hook prod that you often see at other elephant places, but rather they only had a thin bamboo stick, which they used as walking sticks for themselves more than anything else. They never once struck an elephant and during the trek, they walked behind the elephants simply chatting amongst themselves. If the elephants stopped to grab a bite to eat, the trainers would say something to them, give them a pat, and wait until the elephant was ready to walk on. They were all so chill, comfortable and good with the elephants that it was amazing to see.
After our trek we spent, I don’t even know how much money, buying bananas for the elephants to nibble on as a thank you. Of course a gazillion pictures were also snapped and lots of loving and praise was given to the beautiful beasts. It was an experience I won’t ever forget and feel so grateful to have been able to do. Thank you Anna!!!
On to Hangover to Koh Ngai (Hai)