There was two things that I absolutely wanted to do in Phuket, and one of them was to go for a ride on a Elephant. Okay, a girl that I dated once told me that it isn’t all that fantastic, and in fact it is quite rough, but I took her warning to mind (and she was right by the way, they aren’t the most comfortable of animals to ride) and still wanted to ride an elephant. So, I booked a half day safari tour which involved going for a ride on an elephant (though I later discovered that one of their safaris also involved a monkey show, which I kicked myself for not paying too close attention to the brochure).
Anyway, before I continue I probably should say a few things about animal cruelty – I don’t like it, at all. It was because of this that I felt a little uncomfortable going to this place because no doubt they had to train the elephants and I really don’t know how you can train some animals without using the reward and punishment technique (reward the animal for doing good and punish it for doing bad). Okay, you can actually train dogs without having to resort to cruelty and I am sure you can do that with other animals as well, however I am always mindful that these animals are being mistreated. The thing is though that for centuries people have been using animals to aid them in their work, and I guess the problem I have with animal cruelty is where they are kept in really small cages and starved – such as the infamous puppy farms where pet dogs are breed.
There is another thing that I must mention before I continue. I browsed through a number of reviews of this place on Trip Advisor and was quite surprised to see a number of people criticising this place about their treatment of animals. Okay, I will admit that it did make me a little uncomfortable but seriously, what did you expect? It wasn’t as if you weren’t forewarned. Everything was in the brochure so anybody with half a brain could have worked it out. As for the elephants, seriously, these beasts are carrying tourists – you simply cannot let them do what they want because a couple of disgusted tourists with their perceived cruelty to animals is nothing to some tourist getting trampled by an elephant because it has been spooked. Being on a horse that has been spooked is bad enough, but do you really want to be sitting on the back of an elephant that is scared out of its brains? Look, if you want to go on elephant rides, you are going to have to put up with the fact that they may have used some techniques that make you feel uncomfortable (I did) but if you seriously object to it then go down to the beach for a swim, because I highly doubt you will find a place where you can ride an elephant where the operators have treated the animals within the incredibly narrow view of how an animal should be trained.
Another thing that I find fascinating is how in South-East Asia elephants are actually working animals. This is not surprising considering that most of the inhabitants of Africa tended to live hunter-gatherer lifestyles so never needed to train animals (or Elephants at least – they did train dogs). However the inhabitants of South-east Asia developed some very sophisticated societies, which included farming. Since elephants were native to the region, and are very strong and hardy animals, it is not surprising that they would be put to work. Mind you the South-East Asians weren’t the only civilisation to use elephants as working animals: the Cartheginians, and even the Greeks, used elephants in war (and in some cases, such as with Hannibal, very effectively, though from what I understand pretty much all of his elephants died when they crossed the alps).
So, I had the morning to myself so I pottered around the hotel writing stuff (and drinking some coffee down at Black Canyon Coffee, not that their coffee was any good, but then again I can hardly tell the difference) and then jumped into the bus to head off for the safari. The problem was that as we were making out way to the heart of Phuket island it started pelting down with rain. Okay, rain in Thailand means that it pours for about ten to fifteen minutes and then stops, however this rainstorm lasted around half-an-hour. In fact as we were driving along the road we noticed that quite a few of them had become really flooded. It was then that I realised than in Thailand drainage sucks.
Fortunately, when we finally arrived at our destination the rain had stopped, though it did, quite un-Thailand-like, continue to drizzle for the next half-an-hour.
We had to potter around the lobby for a while as we waited for the other guests to arrived, and once they did we were all divided into our various groups. The thing the Amazing Bukit Safari is that they have a number of tours on offer (I took the mini safari, but looking back I should have done the animal tour, which I just discovered not only includes a monkey show, but also a snake show). Anyway, after pottering around the place for about half an hour and taking a few photos for my blog, we were then led off to jump onto the elephant.
However, before I continue, here are a couple of shots of the lobby:
and also a photo of a little friend I made (though it really didn’t like me cuddling it):
Another thing that comes to mind are the dogs (and to a lesser extent the cats). I am always quite wary of dogs overseas namely because in Australia we don’t have rabbis. I’m not sure if cats have bad diseases as well, but whenever I see a dog overseas I tend to give it a wide berth. Especially since in Australia you don’t see all that many stray dogs wandering around (cats are another story though). I guess I have developed this mindset that while I am overseas I am not in Australia and the rules that I have grown up with don’t apply over here. Even in Hong Kong I was very mindful of the dogs, but then again I would hardly call Hong Kong one of the cleanest cities that I have visited (especially if you find yourself wandering around the back streets of Mong Kok at night).
So, we made our way to this raised platform that the elephant pulled along side allowing us to climb onto the seat on the back. The elephant jockey (for want of a better word, though I can’t imagine him actually racing them) would climb up onto the elephant using a rope, and while I could probably do it, I’m sure many others wouldn’t appreciate the inconvenience.
I made myself comfortable (I had an umbrella, and a bag to put my electronics in just in case it started to rain) and then we moved off.
And yes, it was really rough. The elephant doesn’t seem to particularly care that it has people on the back and thus you feel as if you are bouncing from side to side. I wander how the Indian Maharajas how would ride on the back of elephants dealt with this inconvenience?
As we were making our way into the jungle (which wasn’t really a jungle because a lot of it had been cleared away much to my disappointment because I really wanted to trek through a really thick jungle, but then I doubt the elephant could have easily made its way through it, or if it did it would be constantly distracted by the abundance of food – the jockey had to goad the elephant a few times because it would make its way to a tree and grab a bite to eat) when the jockey noticed that I was by myself. So he asked me where I was from and whether I was married. Wow, I had had enough of those conversations the night before (and when I would show them my hand they would laugh and tell me that the men always remove their wedding rings).
Anyway the conversation went a little like this:
Jockey: Where are you from?
Jockey: Oh, Australia! You are by yourself! Are you married?
At which point he noticed two women on the elephant up ahead, so he moved the elephant up close to them and asked them where they were from, to which they replied Australia.
Jockey: Oh, there you go – Australia. Here, you ask them to marry you!
Me: I don’t think so. They’re not my type.
Jockey: No, not true, you ask them.
Me: Not really, I only like archeaologists.
I think that sufficiently confused him so he left it at that.
Anyway, we got to a point where he jumped down, grabbed my camera, and got me to sit on the Elephant’s neck. Now this is what I consider really riding an elephant. So, as he led the elephant, he took a few photos of me, and here are a couple of them:
So, the rather, or should I say incredibly, rough elephant ride came to an end and the next part involved meeting the baby elephant. I probably shouldn’t call it a baby because it was five years old, but it wasn’t as huge as some of the full grown elephants. They had also taught the elephant some tricks, including what they call the sexy lady pose (though it did have a bit of trouble performing that one). They also took photos of us with the elephant, and we even got to shake it’s trunk (which I thought was really cool – shaking the elephant’s trunk). However, instead of showing photos, the videos are probably much better, so here it is playing the harmonica and spinning a hula-hoop.
and here is a video of me feeding it (though I probably should have let the little boy have a try as well because after it had finished all of the bananas it really didn’t want any more).
I have to say that that elephant was really cute.
The Rubber Tree
Well, I’m probably getting ahead of myself a bit because our next stop was the water buffalo. That was really for a couple of photo shoots, but then again the water buffalo are also very common in Thailand, particular with the rice crops. These ones were really passive though, and in a way quite boring compared to the baby elephant. For some reason they really like us making the strong man pose (not that I will be posting those photos).
What was fascinating was the rubber tree. We were taken around the back of the complex to see this rubber tree and our guide then proceeded to show us how it was harvested. Basically you cut at bit out of the tree and then let it drain into a bowl. Once it has finished draining into the bowl, you then move to the next one and do it again until you have done all of the trees in the plantation. You then let the rubber dry and then flatten it out using a pair of rollers before shipping if off to the factory. What he told us was that you only ever slice the tree once per day – that means that it gives the tree a chance to heal and to continue producing rubber. Considering how important rubber is to our society it is not surprising that the Japanese really wanted to control this region during World War II.
He also told us a few things about the elephants as well, including the difference between the African and Asian elephants. For instance African elephants have big ears and small heads while the Asian elephants have small ears and big heads. Also only the male elephants in Asia have tusks (and they usually cut them off, or they had with the one I was riding, but that was probably to prevent it from goring us – they don’t grow back by the way) where as both males and females in Africa have tusks. There are also only around 500 elephants in Thailand, and of them only about 200 are actually working (though some of them are working illegally – maybe they don’t have the appropriate visas). Bukit Safari only has five full grown elephants and one baby elephant, and they don’t breed them (that is done elsewhere, up near Chang Mai I suspect where the elephant sanctuaries are located). Oh, and despite the fact that in The Hangover Part II you see some guy riding an elephant in the middle of Bangkok, that does not happen (which is a bit of a shame because I would love to see some guy riding an elephant through the middle of a city).
After this interesting lesson it was time to go and have some lunch, which included Thai noodles, and some Thai coffee. The two Turks that I was with assured me that Turkish coffee was much better than Thai coffee, but then this was pretty good coffee (especially coming from me). The reason I say that was because I didn’t need any milk or sugar, and it is very rare for me to be able to drink coffee without milk or sugar.
Oh, the food wasn’t bad either, though the noodles looked like the type of noodles I would get in Hong Kong.
So it was time to head back to the hotel, but on the way back our driver was kind enough to stop off at a Hindu temple so that we could take some photos.