2. To date, I've never ridden a horse before. Not sure why that is, as I don't have a fear of them (I don't think) and actually see it as something I want to try. What I can say at this point though is that I have ridden an elephant. Yes, an elephant...be jealous. Basically, the region around Chiang Mai is known for its Asian elephants and opportunities to interact with them. In my opinion, it does take some research to do this excursion right, as there are some operations that force the elephants to do things that are not natural for them (painting, kicking a ball, etc...) and while this may be cool to see, outside of the tourist's eyes, these elephants are “forcefully taught” to do these things for the benefit of the tourist dollars. Not wanting to contribute to the maltreatment of elephants, I made sure to do my visit at a park working with rescued elephants from across the country, knowing my money was going to a worthwhile cause. Now to get off my pedestal and tell you about the experience.
The day started with us changing into the clothing of “mahouts” (trainers). This is important as the elephants have learned to identify their trainers by this clothing. We then spent time feeding the various elephants bananas and sugar cane which was really cool. Among the elephants we were feeding was a baby, that would give you a big, wet, sloppy kiss if requested. Never one to turn down a good kiss, especially from an elephant, I was in – it turned out to be more of a hickey, though without the lingering effects... After the feeding/kissing, we moved on to learning to ride and guide an elephant, including commands to have them turn right/left, stop and essentially lay down so we could get off of them. We then used these commands to ride on the elephants (bareback) up and through the jungle until we reached a lake where we got to give them a bath - though as you may be able to imagine, standing in a lake with elephants is not necessarily the most hygienic of things – but that is something you can't be concerned with in the moment.