I had a good couple of hours this morning - despite it raining I booked to go on a mini-Elephant ride (a short ride, not on a mini-elephant), as I never do that sort of thing and I needed to get out of the hotel. It's so different being somewhere alone rather than in a couple or group, especially in an unfamiliar country and culture, and I am much less likely to hire a car or do touristy things all on my own, it's far too scary!
I was picked up outside the hotel at 1130 along with a young Australian couple and a group of three Japanese, and was driven away to I know not where, since my Phuket geography is not very good other than Patong is north, Nai Harn is south, and that sort of thing. I had been told that there were elephants down near Nai Harn so I'm guessing that is where we went.
I had been in two minds whether to go on this trip, wondering whether it was exploitation and how the elephants should be in the wild, but when we arrived the people seemed very nice and the elephants well looked after. And at least they are safe and not risking being killed for their tusks.
The first part of the trip was to feed the two very cute baby elephants (whose names I’ve forgotten) with little bananas which they would either take with trunks or ask for it straight into their mouths. Each of us then went in with them and got big suction kisses on our cheeks and ears which was very funny, they were so gentle and the ends of their trunks were surprisingly dry and not slobbery at all. With the (verbal) encouragement of their trainers/carers the youngsters then entertained us with a drum and a harmonica and played some Lady Gaga (apparently).
After much amusement doing this, we set off for our 30 minute ride on a wooden seat on the back of the elephant, complete with a safety lap belt, and umbrellas as it was still raining. Phuket is very green and tropical and getting wet really doesn’t matter much when the rain is so warm. My elephant was a 25 year old named Beyonce, apparently because she had a generously sized bottom! My ‘driver’ was quite chatty and half-way round he invited me to ride sitting behind Beyonce’s ears while he got down and walked and took photos with my camera. Of course I knew that the ‘don’t tell anyone that I let you do this’ was just a ruse to get an extra tip, as I’m sure it was standard policy despite the big sign saying that it was against the rules! But I didn’t mind because it was fun and this is Thailand.
I have to say that I didn’t feel very secure sitting there, especially with Beyonce lumbering on along the twisting path and over uneven ground following the instruction of the walking ‘driver’, but I know I would have regretted it if I hadn’t taken the opportunity. Beyoncé had very tough skin and hard black hairs on her head, but even wearing shorts it didn't irritate the skin at all sitting astride her. However, I was quite relieved when could sit back in the seat again! And then we were back and it was time to climb off and feed Beyonce some bananas before the drive back to the hotel for a shower, especially to wash the elephant kisses off my neck...