Thailand Part 2: Elephant Treks, Whitewater Rafting, and More Ladyboys

Riding an elephant is one of those iconic activities for most visitors to Southeast Asia, and while I really wanted to do it, it was important to me to make sure my money did not end up in abusive hands. In the past, most elephants were used for transportation of people and goods as well as for logging. With the government ban on rainforest logging in 1990, thousands of elephants in Thailand were left unemployed.

Elephant Logging

Needing new ways to feed their elephants, many owners saw the continuous increase in Western tourism as a perfect opportunity to make some money. Unfortunately, this has led to many elephants being overworked and exploited. I do not need to see an elephant paint me a picture or dance in a stupid costume, chained at the ankles and addicted to drugs. There are companies out there that fight against this however, taking great pains to ensure the well-being of the endangered species while still providing tourists the opportunity to spend time with the majestic beasts.

After doing some research, I found a place I was comfortable with and figured what better way to celebrate the birthday of the King of Thailand than to ride his elephants and white water raft his rivers? He’s in the hospital so I’m sure he appreciated the thought, yanno, since he obviously couldn’t do it. Now, as exciting as riding an elephant may sound, I have to admit, the novelty wore off about 10 minutes into the ride, at which point I sort of just thought, “Wow, this thing moves reeeaaally slowly.” Seriously, who gets bored riding an elephant?

Elephant Ride along the Water

I thought maybe I was just too comfortable sitting on the chair up on my elephant’s back, so with the encouragement of the mahout (elephant master) I decided to crawl off my chair and climb down to ride bareback. As the chair was taking up all the space on its back, I essentially had to ride on its neck, holding onto its ears for stability. With every step he took I thought I might slide down onto his trunk (at which point I’d suddenly be wearing a leotard and someone would cue the circus music…or at least that’s how it played out in my head). Maybe not the most comfortable way to ride an elephant, it certainly kicked up the excitement level. We first mounted the elephants from a platform, so it wasn’t until I actually stood on the ground and looked up into those giant marble eyes that I really appreciated the beauty of these gentle giants.

Showing my Elephant Some Love

After the elephants took us to the water, we began the rafting adventure. I was doing the trip with the Australian boys I had zip lined with as well as a few girls I had met along the way. For one reason or another the chubby Thai guide in our raft took a disliking to babyfaced Jason (perhaps because he kept “forgetting” to paddle), and mocked him relentlessly throughout the trip, calling him a “ladyboy” and constantly trying to get him to fall out of the boat. When we finished rafting, our guide must have mentioned something to his coworkers because they all swarmed our raft, pointing at Jason saying “which one ladyboy?? you ladyboy? ahahaha ladyboy ladyboy!!” Poor Jason is probably scarred for life.

Because it was the King’s birthday, the markets that night were even busier than usual, swarming with vendors selling everything from mystery foods to tortoise shell guitars.

Night Market Stall

Chiang Mai Night Market

Handmade Soaps

In celebration, people were lighting giant paper lanterns which created trails of golden orbs as they floated off into the sky. The lanterns are meant to bring good luck to whoever releases them, or at least that’s what they tell the tourists.

30 Bhat for a Wish

After another day browsing the markets of Chiang Mai, I headed towards the border to Laos, passing through Chiang Rai to visit Wat at Rong Khun, or White Temple as it’s more commonly referred to. This stunning Buddhist temple is the work of a man named Chalermchai Kositpipat, who funded the temple himself so that he could take creative liberties where he pleased. I was a bit surprised to be standing inside a Buddhist temple and find that in the eyes of the giant devil painted on the main wall were none other than Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush.  <<cue Team America puppets>> “America..f*ck yeah…”

Wat at Rong Khun

Aside from visiting temples and riding elephants, I ate as many (authentic!) Thai curries as I could stomach before I hopped on a longboat in Chiang Khong, waved goodbye to Thailand, and headed for Laos.

Where I arrived two minutes later…

17 thoughts on “Thailand Part 2: Elephant Treks, Whitewater Rafting, and More Ladyboys

  1. Hey Shannon !!! WOW you drove an elephant thats amazing. I hope that you like Thailand food becosue i sow a lot of reports that show taht that people eat disgusting things.

    In You are so Lucky that you were there in festivities. Its look really interesting how people there do that giant paper lanterns. I wish some day i could watch that.

    Shannon your crazy and happy stories are so amazing I really like to read your crazy trips.

  2. Hi Shannon ……… XD the picture with the elephant is beautiful.
    I wish that I could ride an elephant in the following years.

    well not in Thailand, It is far……….
      but …maybe in Ecuador. Well, for the moment in Ecuador because, I want to know also other countries … XD : ) : )

  3. Really, who gets bored riding an elephant? hahahhahaa Maybe I could throw up there.. hahaha because if it was extremely slow I start to feel nauseas. hahahahha but That was pretty cool.. Ride a elephant.!!!! bravo! hahahhaha I thought it was excellent that you have looked for a good place to develop this activity, we must not support to animal exploitation. You were very smart to do so.

    I enjoyed reading your adventure, because in some way I have has approached other realities and reading I can transport me to these places. It is very entertaining as well as educational, not only because of the places, also for being an English text.


  4. Hey Shannon!!!! I like your life,it is very interesting …….The picture with the elephant is pretty nice ….When I grow up I wanna be like you,,, you’re a woman explorer..I’d like to know Thailand becuase it like a interesting place.I think that the experience was almost like a fairy tale!!! I guess that all of you had a great time and had an incredible memory …. You are very young. You may continue visiting new places and writting about this ……. A like this story

  5. I’m a little jealous of this post 🙂 Riding an elephant is for sure my favorite part. All your pictures are so beautiful. And the paper lanterns remind me of my friends wedding in California, at the end of the wedding we all released paper lanterns making a wish for the couple. We had to do it fast because we were close to the airport. So we didn’t have much time. Some people called the local channel station and said they saw UFOS flying by the airport 🙂

  6. Thailand

    Your desire to experience new things make you take risks, like riding an elephant not so sure it is but it must have been an incredible experience for you feel under you a giant.
    Then browse and walk around markets full of vendors offering you all, visit these incredible temples that if it must be incredible lucky you to enjoy all these experiences.
    And learn about the customs and traditions of the people views.


  7. Hi¡¡¡¡¡¡¡
    Your description about this new activity is exceptional.
    To ride an elephant couldn’t forget in the life.
    While I was reading your experience, I had the feeling of slow, vegetation, heat and water over an elephant.
    The photos posted in this section are beautiful and they describe your emotions during those days that you had the opportunity to be there.
    I’m enjoying each of his travels and learning new things from different countries across of your words.

  8. Definitely, I agree whit you..
    The animal could be a great help for many thing even though we shouldn`t abuse of them in order to make money…
    In the other hand Thailand seem me one of the most great places for to visit, maybe the temple, markets and the traditiones look fantastic is wonderful when you arrive in another countri an you can appreciate all its history and culture fron that countri.

  9. hi Shannon
    I’m glad your nomtes an elephant because that is the most exciting and slowest in the world, not as nomtar horse because he dego of experience as my family have 5 horses and rode every weekend.
    Poor Jack think nobody likes to be told but I qu lazy7boy the win and ended it with that nickname. I hope you had fun in Thailand.

  10. nunca he tenido la oportunidad de mirar a un elefante en vivo y pienso que debe ser una experiencia emocionante, quisiera tener la oprtunidad de viajar tanto con tu…

    te felicito por compartir tus experiencia con nosotros

  11. wowwwwwwwwwwwwwwww… I think that experiences that you had to ride a elephant would be a wonderful think. Maybe i couldn’t do it. I will be veru nervous but at the same time it could a exciting think and you can remember all your life that amazing think that you did. You are so brave and an adventurous person. You have a lot of power in your life and you are not afraid in doing different thinks.

  12. I love your picture whit the elephant I have always wanted to be as close to one as you are, I think your experience was fantastic… I love the paper lanterns for good luck, I believe that it is a culture with many interesting things to khow and I find very nice that you could be in the city of the temples. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. 🙂

  13. Hi Shanon
    I believe that when a person travel to many countries, appreciate more the life, because know how is the life in another country, and know things that can learn and teach to another persons.
    When you travel you can compare your type of life within the type of life of other persons, for example with the people of Asia you can compare that your life is really better, but also you learn things for the asia people, things you could not learn if you had not traveled.

  14. i have no words….
    i am very excited reading your experiencies of trips… I wanted to go working there before i dropped out of mi college but I have never had the worth to say ” i am going”… I guess this place is not beautiful just for the places but also the culture is very interesting for me.. I would like to know more details of it…
    In one word about this post, it is awesomeeeeee… even more than POTATOES jajaja…………………… (just kidding)

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