Asian elephants weigh an average of 5.000 kilograms and measures 2,5 to 3 metres in height, with columnar legs, huge head, elongated nose and large ears; grayish to brown in color – at times a rare white; sparse and coarse body hair; tusks and ever-growing upper incisors are present in the male species but usually absent in the females; the nostrils are at the end of their trunk, the tip of which has a small fingerlike projection that enables these creatures to pick up even a peanut. They drink by sucking water up into the trunk and then squirting it into the mouth. Well, the puzzle is complete, is it not! It is the Asiatic species of elephant, Elephas maximus, which differs from its African counterpart, with smaller bodies and ears.
A climb aboard an elephant is in itself out of the ordinary for obvious reasons; there are no elephants – out of zoos – in the European and American continents, and that these mammal finds no equal in man’s history – Hannibal, the Carthaginian General made large use of them against the Romans; in countries like Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, elephants have been depicted in many episodes of the Lord Buddha’s lives in mural paintings. The elephant is one of the various animals in Hindu mythology: Airvata the elephant – celestial vehicle of Indra, and of course the elephant-headed god Ganesha; and finally you see it depicted as icons all around Thailand in restaurants, bars, shops, and the name of one of the popular Thai beers is ‘Chang’ which in Thai language means elephant.
I was in Krabi, definitely intrigued by the importance of the elephant in the Thai culture. A fortunate encounter with a group of travelers who strongly recommended an elephant trekking tour made me book with their recommended tour operator for the 2 and 1/2 hours trekking with the national animal of Thailand. We were transferred from our hotels to the Elephant Trekking Camp in the forest at Khao Thong (30 minutes drive from Ao Nang). The elephant approached the platform and, one by one, the group climbed on the saddled bench on the pachyderm’s back. As the elephant firmly stomped its legs, I suddenly realized that I was high above the terra firma. After a short ride off the beaten track, the elephant headed straight into thick jungle. The saddled bench started to quake due to the uneven terrains, but I was safely strapped to the saddle with a safety belt. I was in the safe hands of the animal and its rather young master. I was further reassured by my travel companion who was on his fourth elephant trek – the previous ones taken in an African safari.
The entire tour was slow-paced and rhythmic; the mahout allowed the animal to stop at leisure and I was surprised at these creatures’ ravenous appetite. Their contorting muscular trunks pulled and tore up huge bulk of vegeta as I had never seen before. One of the elephant attendants told me: “Our elephants are not working elephants, they work only with tourists; all our elephants are well looked after, well fed, and above all we love and respect them”.
After the trek, full of unexpected surprises including the elephants answering to nature’s call (discover this for yourself), we were given the chance to feed them – apparently elephants don’t forget acts of kindness, a nice thing if you have a face-to-face encounter with these powerful creatures. It was then time to say goodbye to these amazing creatures before being transferred back to our hotels. They say an elephant never forgets; one thing is for certain: I will never forget the encounter with these animals and the trek on their back. There is no better way to enjoy some of the most spectacular sceneries Krabi Province has to offer than from the back of one of these gentle giants.