I’m on the back of a Honda Phantom motorcycle on a winding mountain road as we leave Chaing Mai behind and head into the hills to the town of Pai. 3 hours of winding road through the mountains takes you back in time to this small hippie riverside village. The town itself can be explored in an afternoon, but it’s what lies in the surrounding jungle that is the real draws.
From Pai numerous kinds of treks can be arranged from one day to one week with activities including kayaking, rafting, visiting traditional hill tribes, elephant riding and more. Not to mention there are lots of waterfalls, caves and one giant canyon all within easy scooter distance of the town. In the evenings the main street is blocked off and the Pai night market springs into action. There are lots of arts and crafts type trinkets that are quite different from the “same same” souvenirs we’ve seen everywhere else.
Since our time left in Thailand only allows us for once night in Pai, we’ve booked ourselves an elephant riding excursion – our last big “to-do” item in Thailand. So the four of us (Andrew and myself and another Canadian couple we’ve been travelling with for the past few weeks) head out the following morning to meet our rides for the next few hours. We’re in a group of only 3 elephants, so there is only one other couple besides our group which is nice. We have the option of riding on a platform of the elephant’s back, or just bare backing it. Since this may be our one and only opportunity to ride and elephant we chose the bare back option for a more authentic experience.
We climb up a ladder to and onto the elephant’s back and then we are underway. Contrary to popular belief elephant riding is not as comfortable as it seems – and after 3 hours on the back of a motorcycle my butt is really killing me. We start down a path towards the river, with the elephants stopping to eat at every opportunity they get. Elephants don’t move very fast so you’ve got lots of time to look around, grab photos and just relax.
We eventually make it down to the river and start to walk down stream. We get to a bend in the river where our guides tell us to hand our cameras, hats, sunglasses etc. because the elephants are going to play in the water with us. Our elephant handler (who speaks no English), is trying to the elephant to do something (we assume sit in the water or something similar), when our elephant tries to shake us off his back. As I am holding onto the ropes with dear life all I can think is that the elephant has snapped and is now trying to kill us. He stops and then repeats this a few times before I can safely jump off his back and run to shore. From the safety of the shore I can now see all 3 of the elephants trying to dunk the people on their backs on way or another. It is in fact a trick they have learned to plunge people into the river. Much relieved, I watch as everyone gets thrown off their elephant’s backs into the water, and snap some great photos of Andrew mid air.
Now that I know the true strength of these beautiful creatures, the ride home gets my blood pumping a bit more. And while they are generally docile animals, I certainly wouldn’t want to be the one giving the orders just in case they do decide they’ve had enough of their day jobs!