We never did ride the elephants. While we were in South Africa, we’d seen advertisements for an elephant safari, where we could ride pachyderms through the bush. Somehow, we felt that the Asian elephant has a longer history of being a working animal than the African, and opted to wait until we were in Thailand. But, definitely put it on our “to do” list; at least mine and the girls’, if not John’s.
When we headed to Mae Hong Son, a small town near the Myanmar border, the thought of elephant riding resurfaced. Somehow, though, our handful of days there were filled with other things. In Chaing Mai, we found that communicating and making reservations via the internet can be problematic. John made reservation for two days of cooking school, and although the online confirmation didn’t actually say it was a confirmation, but just a note acknowledging what information he’d sent over, the van picked both him and Hannah up when we expected.
Choosing an open day in our schedule, I made a reservation with the Elephant Nature Park, a facility recommended on a couple of blogs by travelers and expatriates in the area. We would not be riding the elephants there, as it was a rescue facility and their focus is on the experience of the animals rather than tourists. About half of Thailand’s elephants are domestic, and not protected by law like their wild relatives. Considered livestock, the training process typically includes several days in a “training crush,” an elephant sized pen that the animal is squeezed into and held so she can’t move. She is then beaten and stabbed with sticks with nails tied to the ends. Food and water is withheld, and sleep is deprived. The purpose of “torture training,” a method used for centuries in Thailand, is to show dominance over the animal and force her into submission. The animal emerges from the torture more malleable and willing to accept the mahout as boss.
Elephant Nature Park sent me a confirmation with a link to a site to make a payment with my credit card. I made the payment, and everything seemed fine, except there was a message at the end that said there was some sort of error in processing. I didn’t worry too much because the e-mail said my reservation was confirmed and everywhere else we’d visited also accepted payment on arrival.
We’d not received anything else, no note telling us something was missing, and no we’ll see you in the morning, either. I sent an e-mail the evening before, double checking the pick-up time, as a transfer to and from the park was included in the daily rate. But, unfortunately, it was after we’d arrived back home from the day’s adventures in the late afternoon, and I did not hear anything back before it was time to meet the van downstairs the next morning.
We were excited and waiting in the lobby of the apartment building at 8:00 AM, ready to meet our ride. We sat there for an hour. Finally, I went back upstairs and checked my e-mail. The message said “I am sorry, but we are fully booked today. Can you come tomorrow?” While I am glad for them that they have so many people crowding through their doors that they don’t need to follow up when something goes wrong with a “confirmed” reservation, it is too bad for us.
Unfortunately, we were out of time, and now we have left Thailand. I hear there are a few elephants in Vietnam; maybe one will cross our path yet. But, most likely, we’ll have to wait for another time for pachyderms.