The day started with being picked up and driven for an hour into the countryside!
I was really excited for this day as I had booked it online, a 2 day elephant training course at Woodys Elephants. [Please note I did research and these elephants are really well looked after, Woody thinks of them as his family, he gives them lots of breaks and he always puts the elephants first. There are no tricks or shows here.] When I arrived I was told it was just going to have to be a day training for me as they thought I would be with a friend and didn’t want me to stay overnight on my own, which was a real shame, and I was gutted, but I still had the day to enjoy at least! Woody came in and introduced himself and told us how much the elephants mean to him and why he does this! We were then taught some basic commands in thai, and as everyone started writing them on their arms I’m glad I know some thai language already!
Here’s what we learnt;
Yuk ka – Leg up
Soong – Higher
Bai – Forward
Toi – Backward
Yut – Stop!
We went down to the areas where the elephants were kept and fed them bananas, where after each time they would give us kisses!! Also met the babies, called Happy and Sky, My elephant was called Fah, which is Thai for Sky, and she was Woodys favourite. I can tell why as she was really well behaved! To start training we had to learn how to first climb on the elephant, which is harder than it looks. You have to grab the top of the elephants ear with right hand then shout Yuk Ka! so the elephant lifts its leg up, then put your left foot onto one side, and your right foot on the elephants knee, then shout soong, and the elephant lifts you higher so you can then somehow throw your left leg round and end up on the elephants neck. None of mine were that elegant, but i got up! (See pics below) Once up we were then taught how to use the hook (its blunt, and not used to harm the animal) but to gently press on the temples on the opposite side of the way the elephant has to go, whilst kicking the elephants ear, and shouting in Thai. So, if you want to go left, you use your left hand to put the hook onto the elephants right temple and shout “Sai” whilst kicking your right foot. All the time using your other leg to hold on round the elephant neck because there is no other way to hold on and when the elephant moves its really difficult! Also practised the other way and Yut- stop! Then I got back down. Getting down is the reverse of getting up, but every time I missed her foot and sort of just slid/fell off of her. I said sorry in Thai each time.
After learning how to turn, we then tried getting on the elephants and going forwards and backwards, then gave the ele’s a break and cleaned the shed for a bit. Lunch was included so after cleaning ourselves we had potatoe soup, rice, sweet and sour chicken and lots of pineapple.
The afternoon was the best part. We once again climbed on the elephants, sat on its neck and went on a trek round the whole area! Its really hard as there is nothing to hold on to and you bounce around, and going up and down hills means you’re falling about lots too, but it was really fun. Halfway the elephants got a break and we were taught how to make a straw from a banana leaf so that we could all have a drink of water. At the end of the trek, the elephants were given “candy” – sugar cane, as a treat. One of the mahouts told me we could eat it too, and used his teeth to peel it for me. It was pure sugar! I wanted a photo of me eating the sugar cane and the elephant too, but as I went to pose the elephant used its trunk to grab the cane out of my hand. Guess it didn’t like me stealing its sweets from her!
After another rest the elephants went into the river and were told to lie down. We were given brushes and told to get in too, to give them a clean, but really it was a huge water fight, the elephants winning as they squirted at us with their trunks. The baby also joined in and was such a cutie, mainly falling around and loving all the attention!
We got out the water and climbed onto the elephants again and this time we went into the deep lake, so that the elephants could go swimming with us on their backs, was hilarious and a few people nearly fell off! At the end I paid just for the one day training, not 2, and it cost me 2000THB, so roughly £40 and worth every penny!
I was super happy with the day and when I got back to the hostel it was made better by being invited by 2 guys (Pierce from UK and Inon from Israel) to go get drinks. We ended up in a rooftop bar overlooking Chiang Mai and inviting another girl who was sat alone (Jenn from USA) to join us, and had a really good night meeting new people.