For our final full day in Chaing Mai we booked an elephant trek outside the city in same area we were the day before, Doi Inthanon. Our guide picked us up from our guesthouse bright and early, and we hit the windy Northern Thailand roads. The ride wasn’t exactly the most enjoyable as we were in the back of a songthaews (think small truck with a canopy on it) for about an hour and a half. The stop for coffee and a quick bowl of noodles helped break it up! When we arrived at the elephant camp a group of elephants was just leaving the camp to go on their trek and one ventured over to us in the back of the truck. The pesky elephant could smell the bags of banana’s in the back of the truck with us. So this big trunk was poking through the windows in the back trying to find these banana’s! One of the trainers quickly came over, got that elephant’s trunk out and back with the group of elephants leaving for the trek. It was this moment that we realized just what we had gotten ourselves into, these fellas were big! Really big, playing with an elephant all day sounds really fun, but in reality the earth shakes with every step these big guy take. Were supposed to boss them around? Yikes!
Once that big group of elephants left all that was left was us, our guide, and this elephant eating in the distance. Overall the elephant didn’t look that big, until he brought her over and all 4000kg towered over us! We spent the next hour or so just feeding her the banana’s from the back of the truck and getting to know her, we like to think of this as bribing our new friend to like us. After all the banana’s were gone we sat down to learn the khmer commands to control the elephants, about elephants in general (ladyboy elephants even exists, males without tusks), and about this particular elephants history. Our elephant, Aryana, was 65 years old and worked in the Burma lumber industry dragging logs down the mountain before she was saved and brought to Thailand. She sometimes can be stubborn and not listen, but usually the 3rd time she will! The guides like to call her The Rock, because she seems stoned all the time. She doesn’t listen on the first command like she is too baked to hear you, unless food is involved aka she has the munchies!
Soon after we were schooled on elephant commands, the trainer did a little monkey-see, monkey-do on the different ways to get on the elephant. First up was the head down method, so you’d say ‘jalong!’ and the elephant would put it’s head down so you can leap frog up. The next was he showed us was leg up, where the elephant lifts and bends his front leg like a stair so you can climb up (song-sung was the command for that one). The last and hardest one for the elephant was Malong, lay down. Where they actually get down on their stomach, this one took the trainer 4 times to say before Aryana would do it! After the trainer did all three it was Aaron’s turn to do monkey-do (as Jessica was still pondering whether or not she was going to run home). Both head down and leg up went off without a flaw! The lay down method wasn’t done because it’s tough on the old girl. After getting on/off down pat, it was time to ‘Huh!’ aka ‘Let’s Go!’ in Khmer. Off Aaron went around the camp getting the hang of turning (say peh and put the bull-hook on the opposite side), stopping (say how and grip her with your legs a bit) and backwards (say toi and put the bull-hook on her forehead). Aside from the small detour to a pumpkin patch a little off in the bushes, controlling the elephant went well. We will also mention to our animal lover friends that we never used our bull hook to hurt Aranya, and neither do the trainers at the camp. This hook was blunt and not pointed and does not break or scratch her skin, it only alerts her which way we would like to go.
Now it was Jessica’s turn, but she wasn’t exactly fond of the idea at this moment still. Instead it was off to the water hole to cool off Aryana and get her a drink. Jessica and the traininer brought out the hose and bucket to cool and hydrate all 4000kg of her. About 30 minutes later, the trainer asked if Jess was now ready and she gave a head shake. It took a lot of hyping up and cheering Jess on the elephant too but she did get on! With her knee not being a 100% yet from surgery, Jessica got on from one of the trainers hut just to be careful and the trainer rode with her to make her feel safe. After Jessica rode Aryana around the camp for a bit without a hiccup, she got off and we went back into town for lunch.
We had a quick bite to eat, then met back up with Aryana and another elephant to go on our trek. Jessica got the new elephant and Aaron got old tested and true Aryana. Up the mountain we started to go walking through mud, over logs and stopping at camps once and a while. Aryana showed her veteran prowess taking side paths to avoid logs while Jessica’s young buck took them all on. After our trek we took the elephants back to where we picked them up, dropped off Jess’s and took Aryana swimming with us in the river to get cleaned up! Rolling around, spraying water, relaxing, Aryana was sure enjoying the water and the scrubbing and we were enjoying the cool waters break from the heat! It was pretty amazing when she layed down in the river it turned from quick moving to standstill. Once Aryana was squeaky clean we got out of the river, kissed our new friend goodbye and headed back to Chiang Mai.
The next day we had to take the train in the afternoon back to Bangkok. So we got all packed up but during this time we could hear an siren outside go off with some talking on a PA, we heard that sound the day before and didn’t think much of it. At the reception desk we got to talking with the receptionist and she mentioned there was some insane flooding in the area. We knew it rained a lot that evening, but not enough to wash houses and people away! During this talk with the receptionist we found out the trains where cancelled and we had to head to the train station to get a refund. Some collective thinking later and we had our plan of attack so we could catch our ride to Cambodia tomorrow at 7:30am. We waved goodbye to our guesthouse and walked up to the road to catch a tuk-tuk to the train station. It must have been luck of the draw, but we got a smoking good driver! Expecting a big lineup at the train station for refunds, we forgot about traffic. The bridges were all packed with cars and people taking pictures of the overflowing river. Then the main roads were slow moving being under 20-30 cm of water. However our driver got us off the main roads and down back alleys to beat the flooded streets. Quickly we pulled up to the train station, with no lines, and got our refund then headed to the airport! At higher ground in the airport we shopped around for the cheapest flight to Bangkok via the ticketing kiosks, found it and booked it.
Our flight was originally suppose to leave at 5:10pm, then was delayed till 6:40pm and then again till 7:40pm. We finally got in the air sometime after 8pm and landed in Bangkok after 9pm. Which sucked cause we booked a 5 star hotel for the night cause we figured it’s be nice for a change, too bad we only got to spend probably 8 hours in it! The next morning we left our hotel at 6:30am and caught our ride on time to the Cambodian border then Siem Reap.
Getting to the Thai-Cambodia border went off without a hitch, getting through it was another story. Long lines and corruption all make for a lot standing around. In all it took us almost 5 hours to get our visa’s and back in a cab to Siem Reap. From the Cambodian border town, Poi Pet, it was another 2 1/2 hour drive to Siem Reap. Once we got into town we had to switch to truck cause the cab couldn’t go deep into the town cause of…flooding, oh boy. The truck took us as far as they were willing to our hotel, cause apparently it’s Atlantis, and told us to walk the rest. With water up to the middle of our shins we walked for a bit then said ‘we have no idea where we are lets get a tuk-tuk’. We hopped in and off we went, the driver also offered to take us to a different place cause he also confirmed it was flooded out too. Not too keen on the offer onward we went to the one we booked and low and behold it was high and dry. 2 cabs, 1 van, 1 bus, 1 truck and 1 tuk-tuk later we finally made to our final destination! Here we are dry and safe in our hotel planning out our days in Cambodia, somewhat dreading that trip back to Thailand. Stay tuned, next blogs hint, a Blockbuster hit was filmed here. Thanks for reading!