Thursday, October 23, 2008

Riding Giants in Thailand

Before leaving Japan my friend Calum and I took a week long trip to one of the most beautiful countries in the world: Thailand. While we spent most of our time in big Bangkok, on the third day of the trip we took a bus to Ayutthaya, the ancient capitol of Thailand which lies about an hour and a half up river from Bangkok. Ayutthaya is famous for its temples (wat in Thai) but for me Ayutthaya is all about riding the local giants; the ELEPHANTS!

Before leaving for Thailand I made the resolution, come hell or high water, to ride an elephant; even if I had to ride it bareback in the Thai jungles. Fortunately, for only 200 bhat ($6) a piece, anyone can ride an elephant outside Ayutthaya's most famous temple, Wat Mongkor Bopitr. I jumped at the chance, I mean, how often does a dude get to ride an elephant?

Riding that giant was a jostling dose of royalty. I can understand why the elephant is the vehicle of kings in many Asian countries; sitting atop the largest land mammal and looking down on the tiny people your giant could crush at will, fills one with a sense of raw power. And traffic accidents, forget about it- nobody wants to rumble with an 11 foot tall (3.4 m), 12,000 pound(5,400) elephant. Mark Twain summed up his elephant riding experience in a similar fashion, "I could easily learn to prefer an elephant to any other vehicle, partly because of the immunity from collisions."

As we tromped along the walking course I tried to talk with the driver but he didn't have much to say. He walked us quietly to the edge of a lake where we paused and looked out over shoe-string waves to an old temple on the far shore. The experience was priceless. In my opinion there's no better way on the planet to spend $6.

The elephant is a holy animal in many Asian cultures. In India, where Twain rode his giant, the most popular deity is Ganesha, a god with a human body and an elephant head helps people through troubles.

Elephants are also play an important role in Thai culture where they serve as the national animal and were once found on the Thailand's national flag. Everything elephants do has some special significance, especially breeding. After our elephant returned to the corral and we dismounted, I visited the nearby gift shop and bought an amazing elephant postcard which showed the sacred act of elephant coitus. With a scene so graphic, I'm glad it wasn't one of the sights I came across in friendly Thailand.


  1. You know, that high quality playing cards guy is a real pain in the ass. But I give him props - he does offer high quality playing cards on his website. As for the elephants, I learned a lot from that postcard. I'm not turning republican or anything, but I'm kind of bitter that the democrats have a wimply little donkey.