I am a Mahout For a Day!
The elephants of Thailand are beautiful!
A major part of the Thai lumber industry until recently, there is now only a tiny lumber industry left (the country has gone from 95% forest coverage 100 years ago to a fraction of that today) and it uses machinery, not elephants. As a result, the elephant population has dwindled to about 2,500 in the entire country. Most of those are now employed in the service sector, entertaining tourists. But their life is precarious – they need a lot of attention and care from their mahouts, not to mention food – and so the more people who ride them, the more stable their existence. I am ready to do my bit – by riding elephants at every possible opportunity. Come join me as I will be a Mahout for a Day!
A Mahout for a Day
There is an elephant safari just down the road from Club Bamboo, and at 10:00 a taxi takes me there. I go alone. Greg decides to stay at the hotel and update the web journal. At the safari, I climb a set of stairs to a platform about 5 metres above the ground. The mahout stands with me, and calls out to his elephant, who comes over and expertly sidles up to the platform. I cautiously stand on the elephant’s back to get into my seat, and the mahout takes up his position on the elephant’s head. We quickly cross the main road and start up a hill. I am sitting right behind the mahout, and still sway wildly with each step the elephant takes – it must be worse when there are 2 and each sits on one side of the elephant. Up we go, stopping from time-to-time (at the elephant’s discretion, of course) until the mahout decides that it is time to move. Then he yells at the elephant, and off we go again.
We get to the turnaround at the top of the hill – very clear in the mud that this is where the elephants turn. The view over the Andaman Sea is wonderful. The mahout takes my camera, and tells the elephant to lower his head so he can get down. He takes a couple of pictures of me, then tells me to get out of my seat and to sit on the elephant’s head in the mahout’s position. I do, again cautiously. After a couple of pictures, the mahout calls out to the elephant who starts walking down the hill. I realize that I get to pretend to be the mahout on the way down, and work hard to enjoy the experience. At the bottom of the hill, we go back to the platform and I get off. The mahout says something to the elephant, who raises his head so that he and I are looking at each other, eyeball to eyeball. He raises his trunk up onto the platform and we shake, hand to trunk.
Beach and Naps
Greg and I then head for the beach, and meet up Graeme and Tony for a leisurely lunch in a seaside restaurant. The sea is beautifully calm and warm, and the afternoon passes lazily. After naps back at the hotel, the 4 of us head out for dinner. We go to the Sea Hag, the name of which is not appetizing, but the reviews overcome our hesitation. We are glad we did – the seafood is delicious, and the prices, while high compared to the norm in Thailand, are still low compared to anything at home.
After dinner, we wander over to Paradise! Paradise is a complex of sois (literally: “alleys”, but really “side streets”) around the Royal Paradise Hotel, one of the 3 high-rises in Patong Beach. There are 15 or 20 bars and restaurants in the 4 or 5 streets that make up Paradise as part of the BarBeer locale of honky-tonk Gay Phuket and we have adopted them since our arrival. We head to the “James Dean” where we are all greeted by name by Jin, the maitre d’. After a couple of beers, we head to the “Boat Bar” for the 1:00 a.m. drag show. The drags are great, and get the applause they deserve, but the chorus boys are less than enthusiastic.
Show over, we all grab a Tuk Tuk back to the Club Bamboo, ready for sleep. This Mahout is tired out!
Thursday, April 8th, 2004: Patong Beach, Koh Phuket, Thailand