In Thailand, the elephant is more than just a beast of burden. Known for their loyalty and pleasant nature, they are a national symbol. Thais practically revere them for their war-time service to the country’s monarchs in the past. Stories are often retold about how Thai kings led their troops in the past against Burmese invaders astride an elephant.
The animal occupies a special place in the hearts of the Thais that they even liken an ideal marriage to that of an elephant, with the good husband being the front legs choosing the direction and the wife being the back legs, providing power. A trip to Thailand, therefore, would be incomplete withouta close encounter with an elephant or a visit to an elephant camp.One such camp is found in Pattaya – the Elephant Village.
Pattaya’s elephant camp and sanctuary was founded byPhairat Chaiyakham in 1973, though it opened it’s gates in Novemberthe following year. Mr. Phairat, who speaks several languages, was born in Bangkok. Since childhood, he has always been attracted to elephants. When he was growing up, he regularly visited the countryside to learn more about their existence. “If there’s anything I don’t know about elephants,” he says, “it should be something not worth knowing.” There are 30 elephants living at the Elephant Village and each is taken care of by two mahouts. More like caregivers, these mahouts take care of all the elephants’ needs. Indeed, a very strong bond exists between them. The Pattaya Elephant Village offers visitors three programs to choose from: the three-hour Combination Trek,which includes lunch or dinner, depending on one’s departure time (10:30 a.m. or 4:30 p.m.); the one-hour Elephant Trek, which is available all day; and, the one-and-a-half hour Elephant Demonstration Show entitled “Training the Thai working elephant.”
The itinerary of the Combination Trek includes a jungle adventure on the back of an elephant, a river cruise on a bamboo raft and an ox-cart ride. It is capped with a Thai buffet lunch – or dinner, as the case may be – with a choice of Western food for those not too fond of the local cuisine.
The second option, the one-hour Elephant Trek, consists of an elephant ride and a safari-like adventure in a Land Rover vehicle. It also includes tasting of seasonal Thai fruits and a chance to see how silk is produced from silkworms.
The Elephant Round-up or demonstration, the third option, offers guests a chance to see trained elephants do amazing tricks. Mr. Phairat plans to expand the camp’s elephant population and include a visit to a Rosewood forest as part of the elephant trek’s itinerary.
He also wishes visitors to join him in his efforts to preserve the Thai elephants whose population has been dwindling. A thousand years ago, he volunteers, Thailand had around 250,000 elephants in Thailand. There are only 550 now. “We must do our utmost to preserve these animals andeducate people about their existence”. The Pattaya Elephant Village recently received an awardfrom Trip Advisor, an internationally acclaimed travel organisation,for providing travelers a unique experience.