I went to the owner of my hostel in Chiang Mai for advice on what to do during my week-long stay, and she highly recommended Woody Elephant Training Camp, which cost 2,400 Baht ($65 USD). After reading the brochure, I asked her to book my reservation.
A van picked every participant up from their hostels and brought us to the training camp, which was about an hour or two away.
The first thing we did upon our arrival was change into the provided shirt and pants since we would be getting wet and dirty. Then we were divided into two teams: The Candy Team and The Poopoo Team.
The Candy Team would be in charge of chopping down sugar cane to feed the elephants, and the other team would–you guessed it–scoop poop.
Our instructor, knowing nobody would volunteer to scoop poop, said that the sugar can fields were full of snakes. Luckily that didn’t scare me off, because he was lying.
The elephants, intelligent creatures that they are, were already well-trained. My fellow humans and I needed a lesson in giving commands in order to navigate our elephant ride through the jungle later.
The instructor would say a command word in Thai, and we would write the word phonetically on a piece of paper and attempt to memorize it. He also wrote everybody’s first name in Thai with a blue marker on the top of our hands so that he and the other staff members could identify us.
Our first task, before we split into our teams, was to feed the elephants bananas. We would hold out a bunch in our hands, and an elephant would suck it up with its trunk, and bring it to its mouth. Having never been that close to an elephant before, I was surprised by how hairy they are. We tried placing bananas directly into their mouths, but everybody was afraid of being licked by a giant slimy tongue.
While I was distracted, one of the staff grabbed an elephant’s trunk and pressed the opening against the side of my neck. It felt like a wet leathery vacuum tube. It’s a wild feeling.
Next, I traveled with my team in a van to the sugar cane fields where we chopped down the canes with a machete. After gathering enough food for our elephants, we tasted the sugar cane by placing a small piece in our mouth and sucking on it. I didn’t expect to like it so much.
When it came time to ride, everybody was paired up. My partner was a girl from New York. For the first shift, she rode up front. To get on the elephant, you grab his ear, step on its knee, and say the Thai word for up.
The guides walked along side us, taking pictures of us with our phones. They also reminded us of the commands when we forgot.
At the end of the trek, when I was riding up front, the elephants walked into a pond, and the water reached my neck. Despite the intense heat of Thailand, the water was freezing.
After returning to base, we gave the elephants a bath. We stood in shallow water and scrubbed them while they washed themselves by sucking water up their trunk and spraying their backs. Our guides had their fun by aiming the trunks at us like water guns.
We ended the day with a very unique photo-shoot. Two elephants would link their trunks, and everybody took turns sitting in the middle like a swing.
Within a month, all those pictures were on the Woody Elephant Training Camp website for us to download.
If you ever get the chance to visit the beautiful city of Chiang Mai, I highly recommend this experience.