Day 75, March 21:
Our eyes popped out of our heads when Humberto, Duffy (our bear that went around the world) and I looked at the shore excursions available out of Phuket, Thailand. There was something called the Siam Elephant Safari, a six hour program that included a 30-minute ride on an elephant! We immediately booked the tour.
Exploring via bus and then four-wheel drive vehicle from beautiful Patong Beach, a long stretch of sand dotted with resorts and backed by green hills, where our ship’s tender dropped us off, we headed to the Chalong Highlands for panoramic views of the island, which is Thailand’s largest isle, and the sea. We continued on to the elephant camp where we learned about this incredible creature’s life cycle, which spans up to 70 years of age. Asian elephants, by the way, are different from African elephants: not as big in size, with two distinctive bumps on their heads and smaller ears.
We climbed onto a platform that made it easy to get on a bench for two – in our case, for three, as Duffy rode with us – on the elephant’s back, with its trainer sitting in front of us, perched on the animal’s upper back. Our elephant, Tu Ti, was so cute, just 2 years old and very lively, often passing other elephants both on the right and the left as we progressed through a jungle trail framed by trees and plants including banyans, rubber trees, and – of course – elephant ear. The ride was bumpy in places, but what a thrill!
Another big highlight was the baby elephant show, with these cute creatures performing tricks including painting, picking up hats from the floor and putting them onto their trainers’ heads, and even playing the harmonica! After the show we were able to pose for pictures with the pachyderms and a baby got so close to me I could feel on my arm its breath coming out of its trunk – it was like a hair dryer in the low setting.
Yet other delightful features at the Siam Elephant Safari camp included coming face to snout with Handsome, a tame water buffalo (water buffaloes are used as beasts of burden to plow fields for the cultivation of rice).
We also watched demonstrations on how to make Jungle Curry (spicy!), how trees are tapped for rubber, and how rice is prepared from crop to ready for consumption.
Lunch at a nearby buffet restaurant enabled us to sample many local dishes in various degrees of spiciness – the sweet and sour fish, the stir-fried vegetables, braised pork and jasmine rice were delicious.
“Now you have enjoyed a good day in Thailand,” our guide Rose said. “Sunny skies and spicy food.” And an adventure on an adorable elephant’s back!
Freelance travel writer Georgina Cruz and her husband Humberto are currently sailing on Amsterdam’s 112-day Grand World Voyage and will be sending in cruise diaries throughout their time on board. She has logged 174 voyages to all seven continents and visited more than 100 countries.