Samui Wining & Dining
TREKKING OUT
Cutting through the confusion of trips, treks and elephants – at Baan Chang, Living Thailand Tours.

TREKKING OUT

“I really have no idea about the other elephant trekking places – we don’t have any connection with them. And the majority of our business comes through outside agents. But I do know what these agents have told me. They have said that they get to see all the other places. And one thing they say to us is that our elephants are happy elephants. The other thing is that we have fat elephants, compared to other places. Many other elephants have the skin hanging off them in folds. But then, we’ve had some of our elephants now for 20 years. We were the first elephant trekking business on the island. How could any of us not get to know them like they were our children and, worse, ever think of treating them badly?” So said Khun Noi, overseer and manager at Living Thailand Tours.

          

Let’s come back to that in a moment. In the meantime, here’s a problem for you to solve. How many elephant trekking companies are there on Samui? Answer – there’s five, including one near Big C hypermarket! And if that sounds too much like urban elephanting, there’s another not that far from Fisherman’s Village in Bophut, too. Next question – how many names can you find for elephant treks on Samui? And the reply to that one is . . . a heck of a lot more than five. Some elephant companies are marketed and sold under the agent’s name as well as their own. Some companies are also wrapped up as part of a package tour that includes another four or five activities and, again, packaged under a different name. It’s really quite confusing.

          

Plus there’s another thing to be aware of, too. This is Samui. We’re a little tourist island that’s around 50 kilometres wide, from coast to coast. Up in the north of Thailand, where there are tens of thousands of square kilometres of virgin jungle, you can head off on an elephant trek which lasts three days, fording rivers, forcing your way through the undergrowth and camping out in the jungle at night. Here on Samui, the shortest trip is 15 minutes out and 15 minutes back again, on a wide and well-worn path between the coconut trees. So be prepared!

          

Having said that, it’s really very pleasant indeed. Well, it can be, if you go with the right company. Like many things here, when folks are chasing the tourist dollar there are some places that are lacking in, shall we say . . . integrity. But not at Living Thailand Tours.

          

Khun Kongsak Chanpuang – better known by his nickname, Khun Add – is a very pleasant and sincere man who brought the first elephants to the island over 20 years ago. 

          

Today he has eight of them, all of which are treated with the gentle courtesy and respect they deserve. They’re all based in a delightfully landscaped little estate that’s accessed from right on the main ring-road, directly opposite Wat Khunaram, the temple where you’ll find the somewhat hip ‘mummified monk’. And if it’s any measure of Khun Add’s dedication and integrity, he and his family all live in a very nice house that’s part of the overall estate.

TREKKING OUT

Victoria is an elephant. A large, very clean, and somewhat plump elephant. And as Khun Noi took me over to say hello, she (Victoria, not Noi) swung her head placidly and reached out to give me a friendly sniff. And then – she winked at me! “Her real name is actually Boonhai,” Khun Noi continued. “All our elephants have Thai names, but we give them ‘farang’ names too, because it’s easier for the tourists to relate to them. She’s 45 years old now and has been with us ever since we moved here.”

          

Still recovering from the unique experience of having been come on to by an elephant, I almost missed what she was saying next. “Each of them has their own ‘boy’ who stays with them all the time. Khun Dia is paired with Victoria, and he has been with her for about eight years now.” And this is just another small touch that’s symptomatic of the care with which these elephants are treated. Towards the back of the compound, there’s a tall thatched structure that rather looks like it should have a slide attached, like on a kiddie’s playground. Only in this case the platform at the top is at elephant height and you’ll slide onto the back of an elephant instead. And around the elephant yard there are lots of bananas and troughs of water – an element which is sadly lacking with some of the other trekking companies.

          

Incidentally, the name above this ‘elephant slide’ is ‘Baan Chang’, meaning simply ‘house for elephant’ in Thai. And that’s also the other name by which this trekking company is known, so look out for it, too. Another big plus is that that the elephant treks here are actually out in a thick and lush part of the jungle. However, you’ll also see Living Thailand Tours associated with other packages. They run one called ‘E-co Samui’ which includes an elephant trek, then returns to allow you to experience the rigors of making a curry paste, followed by going out to the monkey show in Hua Thanon. This is followed by a stop to see some very skilled craftwork with items made from coconut wood, and the processes of stripping the coconuts for their raw materials. And then up to the restaurant at Namuang waterfall to finish it off. Plus they also run another trip which additionally takes in the mummified monk and the utterly wonderful Magic Garden – but this last one is a whole story in its own right.

          

It’s all very well organised, and most folks staying on the island opt for the convenience of booking either through an agent or via their hotel, from which you’ll be picked up and then returned to afterwards. But it’s another measure of this company’s attitude that, if it’s raining on the day you’ve booked, you can postpone your trip for a day or so, or else get a full refund. Remember the name: Living Thailand Tours. This is one company that loves and respects its elephants.

          

 Rob De Wet


 


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