By Sebastian Buur and Ida Holt
First things first. When dealing with animals in Thailand and all over Southeast Asia, it’s important to take animal welfare into account. By all means, it’s far too easy to book an elephant ride or any other attraction involving domesticated wildlife where the animals are not doing too well, to put it mildly. So we’re happy to report that this doesn’t look to be the issue here. The elephants seem healthy and lively, and are treated well by their trainers or mahouts, as they are called.
Thom’s Elephants are located a few kilometers outside Pai, easily found on scooter or even easier with the provided pick up from town. After a small feeding and hugging ceremony everybody mounts their designated elephant and heads towards the stone forest which is not a huge, majestic petrified forest, but rather an area with rocks sprinkled all over the place. Still, it’s nice scenery, with working farmers providing a cool backdrop.
At one point your behind starts to feel a little sore. Don’t worry; riding a huge animal that was designed mainly for eating (200 kilos of food per day to be exact) and not for transporting smaller bi-pedaled beings around, it’s all part of the experience.
A long ride ends on a high note
After a while it can get a little bit redundant. The novelty wears off, and the view isn’t really that diverse. Luckily, the terrain shifts in a few places, adding in some dramatic downhill to the action. These animals might come off as bulky and slow paced, but they are remarkably agile for their size. You’re never in any danger, but the tension is there, and that spices things up. Alternatively, ask if you can get off and just walk besides the elephants for a different take on the whole thing.
After about one and a half hour of riding, the grand finale comes with a bang. Final leg of the two hour journey is swimming with the elephants, and that just about makes it worth all your money. The elephants simply scramble into a small river, spray water on you with their trunks and then start to throw you off. If it sounds dramatic, it’s because it is. But in a good way. Easily the highlight of the day, people kept climbing their elephants and got thrown off over and over again. At this point, you feel like you’re interacting with the elephants more than just using them as transport, and that’s a whole lot of fun.
You can by a ton of different tours here, but if you just feel like riding the elephants, the two hour tour with the river in the end seems about right. It’s an experience we’re not likely to forget anytime soon, and interacting with animals the sheer size of these magnificent beasts is quite the story for when we get back home.
Operator: Thom’s Pai Elephant Camp
Address: 107 moo 2. Tumbol Maehee. Pai district. Maehongson. 58130 Thailand
Prices: 2 hour tour with bathing in the river: 700 baht per person. (1200 after August)
Also offers mahout training (full day course), rafting and hot tubs.