During the past week, Theresa and I spent four days and three nights in the Royal resort town of Hua Hin. Hua Hin is located about 125 miles southwest of Bangkok on the western shore of the Gulf of Thailand.
The town became a resort in the early part of the twentieth century when King Rama VI built a summer retreat here. In the 1920s, King Rama VII built a palace named Klaikangwon, which translates as “Far From Worries”. The palace is still in use today and the Royal Family apparently spends a good bit of time here.
After Rama VII built his palace here, Hua Hin quickly became popular with the upper classes. In the mid 1920s, direct train service was established between Bangkok and Hua Hin and the resort area became popular with the general public.
The weather forecast for our trip was a bit spotty — 60% chance of thunder showers each day but the first. With this in mind, we determined that we should make our first day memorable in case the weather turned against us. (It didn’t rain at all while we were in Hua Hin — Thai weather forecasters are no better than those in the States.)
We took a shuttle from our hotel into downtown Hua Hin and then hired a Tuk-Tuk to take us out to the Elephant Safari. The Elephant Safari offered an Elephant show as well as a crocodile and cobra show, but we really weren’t interested in either one. My objective was simple — I wanted to ride an elephant and that is what we did.
After buying our tickets, we went up a set of stairs to a platform and waited just a few minutes for the next elephant and driver. The driver, known as a mahout, sits up near the head of the animal. A large seat (o.k., more of a board with a back) is attached to the elephant’s back with a large rope. With the help of one of the workers, Theresa stepped on to the elephant and had a seat; I immediately followed her. Our trek through the hills and waterways began.
Now when the pachyderm got started, we seemed to be swaying from right to left and back again. I think that it was because the animal was first taking steps with its left legs and then with its right legs, but it might have just been trying to maintain its balance. In any event, my immediate thought was that I was back on my friend Eric’s sailboat leaving the relative calm of the upper Niagara river and entering Lake Ontario. Anyone who was with me on that trip seven or eight years ago knows this is not a soothing thought. Luckily, the elephant soon began walking in a more comfortable (for me) fashion and my desire for Dramamine quickly dissipated.
The driver uses a lot of persuasion to get the elephant to move and go where he wanted it to go. He would sing to the animal, rub its ears, and yell at it, and, when all else failed, he used a metal hook on the end of a one meter pole to persuade the beast. We followed a well-worn path up and down some hills, into and out of a stream and a small lake, and ultimately back to the starting point. As we entered each waterway, the elephant had to make its way down a muddy incline and it often stopped right at the water’s edge, most likely to get a drink. I was a bit concerned that the elephant was going to gather a large mouthful of water and then use its trunk to spray the water on us. While my concern was misplaced, I would love to watch the elephants take part in the traditional Songkran water festival that took place the next three days throughout Thailand (more about that in the next post.)
About two-thirds of the way through our journey, the driver took our camera and took a couple of pictures of us. He then jumped down and ran down the path in front of the walking elephant to get more pictures of us on the elephant. Clearly an experienced guide and marketer, he then remounted the elephant and began showing us some souvenirs. We ended up buying a bracelet for Theresa that has ivory beads from elephant teeth and a half-dozen or so small carved elephants.
An elephant ride should be high on the list of things to do for anyone who visits Thailand. The elephants are strong, gentle animals, they do not smell, and they have incredible balance.
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2011 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.