On Saturday 15th December we booked in to do an elephant trek in the north of the island at Ban Kwan. Koh Chang is known as the ‘elephant island’ as there are so many here, but the other treks and other companies do not treat the elephants as well, they live on the roadside next to a very busy heavily trafficked road, are made to do tricks and they do not have as good quality of life
But in Ban Kwan the elephants still live within the jungle with a small community living around them. Each elephant has its own mahout (said “ma-hoot”) which is a person who has sole responsibility for that elephant. They feed, bathe, train, care and build a special bond with their individual elephant.
So, we got one of these funny open truck taxi things that I have explained about earlier, and it took about 25-30 minutes of driving facing sideways along bumpy steep winding roads. All a very uneventful journey until one child became a little bit travel sick and projectile vomited all over the taxi and the people surrounding him. Lovely. Luckily we were just round the corner from the Ban Kwan so we only had to put up with the smell of hot sick for a few minutes.
We arrived under the jungle canopy and instantly it felt cooler. We were offered water and pineapple and then we went on a short walk, following an elephant, to a little river. The elephant went in with his mahout for a little dip, and another smaller elephant joined us. “You can get in” a woman told us and we all slowly, a couple at a time, braved the cold water and swam over to the elephants. We were told we could climb up, which is not as easy as it sounds! Adam was surprised when he put all his weight on, that the elephant didn’t even budge. I climbed up after and was shocked at how prickly they are. I imagined tough leathery skin but it was actually covered in short bristly hairs. Once aboard, we were able to give her a good ol’ scrub and wash her down, and then when she had enough she sunk down into the water and we fell off.
After bathing we walked back up and all formed a queue upon a high elevated platform ready to climb onto an elephant. Somehow we got one of the smaller elephants and a Mahout that looked about 12. But he was lovely with his elephant, singing away to it, and not using his claw like contraption that others seemed to use quite exuberantly. Which we were thankful of. We went for a trek through some thick jungle, up an down steep hills and slopes, which feels even steeper when sitting upon the back of an elephant! We also found that our mahout was a chatty little thing and he asked us lots of questions about us, and we found out that he was actually 15 “same, same” he said, pointing to his elephant. So he was the same age as his elephant!
Towards the end of the trek, whilst we were still moving, he points to me and says “you drive?” In which i freaked out a little and pointed to Adam. He told Adam, “stand up” whilst the elephant was still moving (?) and climb over the bar to the elephants head and to sit himself down onto its neck. Adam did so very wobbly, but managed without falling off, which I was very impressed with. Then the young lad explained to Adam how to steer the elephant with his feet, what to say to make it stop or go. He did a great job! He steered it all the way back to the platform where we were to get off.
Once off, we got to feed them bananas. We were able to get so close, putting the bananas in their trunk and stroking them. On a whole it was a truly unforgettable experience. I would do it again in a heart beat.
As we walked away to get back in the taxi thing, I said to Adam proudly, “you were a mahout!”, in which he replied lazily, “yeaaa I’m a reet hoot.”