The elephant ride was the high point of our tour. We walked into the camp in awe of these intelligent, marvelous creatures who can weigh up to 4,000 Kilograms. The first thing that greets you is a stand where you can buy bananas and sugar cane sticks to feed them as you walk around and see all of the elephants. Notice the bananas hiding in my pocket as the elephant promptly put a hat on my head so I would give her a treat. Most elephants in Thailand are domesticated since there are approximately 3,000 elephants in camps and only habitat enough for 300 in the wild. (It is against the law to capture a wild elephant.)
Each elephant has a mahout and a keeper. When a mahout grows old, his son often takes his place so the elephant has a human family in which he/she places trust for life. If the elephant changes owners, the mahout typically goes with the elephant. They can work until they are 40. They live to be 50-60 years old.
We road out into the jungle and crossed the river a couple times. The elephant babies cavort and play along with the working adults as we rode along. At several stands on the trail, the elephants get a snack. They are gentle, well trained and well cared for just as we care for our working horses. The Thai government inspects the elephant camps and the Thais are proud of their elephant heritage which is long, enduring and colorful.
The elephant can easily carry 150 kilograms on his neck and 600 kilograms on his back. (100 Kilograms equals about 220 pounds.) Even so, I was worried about that when Mason and I were riding our beast. The trunk has 40,000 muscles with no bone. The trunk can perform quite delicate tasks but is powerful enough to lift 800 kilograms. Whew! Now, that is one powerful beast. They are amazingly good natured and take to domestication quite easily.
From the camp, we loaded onto bamboo rafts for a trip down the Ping River. On the way, we saw many elephant camps. They hug the Ping because the elephants need much water and green food. Many camps are small with just a handful of elephants.
The ride was refreshing and our pilots allowed each of us to pole the raft. The Ping is shallow at this time of year, a gentle, pleasant float.
After lunch, we visited a farmer who grows tea and herbs. We tasted several interesting cold tea drinks with unusual flavors added. One tasted like peach, another, turmeric tea, was gritty and slightly bitter. His specialty is growing herbs and we walked through his garden where the cooking and medicinal herbs had name tags for our benefit. From the farmers pier we loaded into a long boat for our "dynamite" tour. The dynamite was an all you can drink rum and juice drink with sweet snacks. Salty snacks are rare here.
It was such a perfect day and then, we disembarked in the dark at this ancient temple. Panu asked us if we wanted to send away bad luck in a paper balloon like the Thais do?
We divided into groups and held what looked like a white paper lamp shade about the size of an oil drum in diameter, three feet high, with a top. The bottom struts held a "tuna" can full of wax. The wax is lit, the balloon fills with heated air until it is hard to hold. Then we let it fly and watched as it went up, and up and up and away with our bad luck. It was magical.