“We highly recommend everyone who visiting Phuket to try elephant ridding experience,” says the advertising.
We don’t need to be rid of them completely; we rather enjoyed looking at them in Phuket, but the family’s elephant trekking experience was underwhelming, to say the least.
Elephant trekking is one of the ‘must-do’ events while in Phuket, to judge from the number of brochures advertising it in every hotel lobby and tour booking stall. It conjures visions of a wild adventure, lumbering through jungle tracks where no wheel could ever roll, with rivers to ford and the chance of shooting a tiger (with the camera of course).
I should acknowledge here that I did not try elephant trekking personally; I sensibly went for a bike ride while reliable sources very close to RT’s LOTR did the research on my behalf.
We did come across a couple of elephant trekking places the day before, and stopped to feed the elephants waiting by the roadside. This was cheap fun (100 baht – about USD3.50 for a dozen little bananas). The elephants seemed to enjoy this part of the day too, and the handlers were particularly good with the grandchildren.
The next day, the family set out for the much anticipated elephant trek.
When they discovered that it began behind the shooting range and a go-kart track on which visitors could ride ATVs, next to sad caged monkeys waiting to do the famous Monkey Show, they guessed that this was not going to be such a wild natural adventure after all.
And that’s how things turned out. Shortly after the start of the 45minute ride, the handlers were trying to sell souvenirs to their captive customers on the elephants’ backs. ‘No thankyou,’ said the 5 year old politely, ‘We don’t need any necklaces.’ Who says that travel teaches a young child nothing? Tip to guide: Offer him a plastic dinosaur or a dragon next time.
The jungle was no longer pristine. When hungry elephants walk the same short route over and over, they snack on the environment as they go. The 3 year old fell asleep. Soon enough they were back at the go-kart track with the souvenir photograph of the ride.
Nobody blamed the handlers for the disappointing event. They have a job to do, their elephants to care for, and it can be assumed they are not well paid.
There are various organisations offering elephant trekking in Phuket, most promising longer (and more expensive) tours, and it is to be hoped that some are better than this one. Anyone with a testimonial for an excellent elephant trek in Thailand is welcome to add it to the comments box below.
The 45 minute Phuket Elephant Trekking Tour costs 1000 baht for adults, 900 baht for children.