Twice now we have ridden elephants in Thailand. Once, in Chiang Mai three years ago. And once, in Kanchanaburi. Both times we rode in seats on top of the elephant’s back.
It is awe-inspiring to sit so high from the ground and be taken for a ride. But I wanted more. I wanted to ride bareback and I wanted to be thrown from the elephant’s back into the water. So we made plans to visit Thom’s Elephant Camp just outside of Pai, Thailand.
Recommended by Edventure Project, it sounded like the perfect place for my elephant wishes to come true.
We were picked up at our guesthouse at 8 am and taken up the road to the elephant camp. After putting our personal items and shoes into a locker we were shown to our elephants. Rand and I would ride together and our 3 girls would share an elephant. Three British women were assigned to a third elephant.
The elephant Rand and I would ride stood before us. The elephant trainer, who is called a mahout, gestured for me to climb onto the elephant’s back. Um, OK… I had no idea how to get up onto the giant creature. The mahout pointed to the elephant’s knee and the elephant’s ear. I was supposed to step onto the knee and grab onto the ear to hoist myself up. I was not graceful, but I managed to clamber my way onto the elephant’s back.
Rand did the same and sat behind me. The girls were led to a platform and climbed onto their elephant from there. Apparently, Rand and I either looked strong enough or foolish enough to climb up from the ground. It was actually pretty fun.
One of the British women refused to get on the elephant, so she walked along beside us as we rode the elephants along the path.
We were taken on a path through an overgrown field with views of the hills all around. The elephants lumbered along, stopping to eat vegetation on the way.
At one point our daughters’ elephant took off at a run. They found it pretty exciting to bounce around on the back of an elephant, especially with nothing but a rope and each other to hang onto.
It wasn’t long before we realized that riding bareback is not as comfortable as riding in a seat. The person who rode on the ridge of the elephants back had it worse, but even my spot just behind the elephant’s head caused inner thigh soreness.
After our ride through the field we were taken down to the river. The third British woman finally got up the courage to get on the elephant. Their elephant walked into the water, they got their picture taken, and the elephant walked back to shore.
But not our elephants. We wanted the full experience. We had worn our bathing suits under our clothes, so I took my shirt off and tossed it on the ground next to some stuff the mahout was leaving on shore. I left my pants on because elephant skin and hair is very rough.
Tip: If you ever ride an elephant bareback, wear long pants. The poor British ladies in their short shorts spent much of their ride complaining of their discomfort.
Our elephants walked into the water and the mahout began calling out commands. Soon the elephant’s trunk dipped into the water and sprayed us with water. And then sprayed us again.
Another command was called. The moment I had been waiting for. I held tight to see if how long I could stay on before being bucked off into the water. Rand was tossed off first (because he wasn’t even trying to stay on). Then seconds later, I was in the water.
We climbed back on and were tossed off again. Then the mahout gestured for us to stand on the elephant’s head and jump off. So we did.
Finally it was time to go. Playing in the water with an elephant was everything I dreamed it would be. Our family had a great time. Only Sierra (the same daughter who was afraid of the swimming monkeys) was a bit scared to be in the water with the elephants.
We rode our elephants to shore. The mahout said a command and our elephant picked up my shirt and handed it to me.
Back at the camp, we fed our elephants bananas. If we said, “thank you,” the elephants would respond back. Also, if you stood next to the trunk, the elephant would give you a hug. Arwen was getting a hug when a nearby mahout called out and the elephant start to pick her up.
Our family had so much fun at Thom’s Elephant Camp. If you ever have a chance to be thrown into the water by an elephant, I highly recommend you do it.
Click here for a video my husband made of our elephant experience.