Elephant trekking in Phuket

Asian elephants have been used as work animals for many thousands of years, but now they are not as efficient as modern machines, so many of these elephants are left without work.

I realise there are some people who may believe that magnificent beasts like elephants shouldn’t be expected to work for humans, but the fact is that once there is no work for them, elephants become expensive to maintain.

One of the ways some entrepreneurs have can receive enough income to maintain elephants, and to give them a life instead of the alternative, which would be to destroy them, is to offer elephant rides to tourists.  This has led to elephant trekking becoming a reasonably popular activity for tourists, particularly in Phuket in Thailand.

I have been on one of these treks and, surprisingly, I found it to be a very pleasant activity without actually feeling too touristy.  I chose to go trekking at an elephant compound that is close to Cape Panwa on the far south of the island, and the reason why I chose this venue was because there was still plenty of natural jungle around the compound, and when we did the trek we were trekking along jungle trails, which gave the trek some semblance of authenticity.

There were a couple of aspects about the trek that I found to be quite enjoyable.

Firstly, I didn’t have to sit astride the elephant, as I have done elsewhere.  Sitting astride the bare back of an elephant is an unusual experience, simply because there is nothing to support your legs so gravity gives you the sensation of them being dragged down.  Also, when you sit on the bareback of an elephant, you can feel every sinew and every bone in the elephant’s back as it moves along.  To describe this in as delicate way as possible, it is like having your bum cheeks do the cha cha whilst the rest of you struggles to find a centre of balance.

The elephant that I rode in Phuket had a bench seat on its back, one which faced forward, so that you could rest you feet on the elephant’s back, and it was much more comfortable than riding on a naked back.                                                                                                                    

Another aspect that surprised me was just how nimble your average elephant is.  We descended and ascended some very steep hills, and I found the elephant to be remarkably sure-footed, using those massive feet quite daintily to negotiate a rough trail.  I especially liked the way my elephant could find its sure footing and pick up and eat food with its trunk simultaneously.

The third surprise was just how quite an elephant is when on the move.  There is no need to describe an elephant’s size, because it is substantial, but they move through the jungle with a quite eerie silence, so that you do really get the feeling of being alone in the jungle.

I forget what I paid to the experience, but it was well worth it, and much more enjoyable that I thought it would be.

Elephants are lovely animals, and if you are anywhere in Asia where elephants have had a long association working with humans, do the trek, because the cost is helping to preserve these remarkable beasts.

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