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Exploring Samui’s hidden interior on the back of an elephant.

Exploring Samui’s hidden interior on the back of an elephant.A lot of visitors head to the beach again and again, thinking it’s pretty much the only activity on Samui. After all, beaches abound here and they have an almost magnetic pull. But they’re not the only attraction. Away from the coastline, there’s a completely different Samui waiting to be discovered - the world of the interior. A few roads make brave attempts to traverse it, but not very effectively, and all but one peters out. Even after 30 years as a tourist destination, there’s no easy way to get into it.


The heart of Samui consists of endless coconut plantations, dense orchards and jungle as well as primordial rainforest. Exciting? You bet. It’s pretty close to being The Land That Time Forgot. It’s a beguiling place, filled with trees and plants and sights that you’ve probably never seen before. As such it makes a great alternative to the beach.


And since elephants are native to Thailand, a wonderful way to get acquainted with the interior is to ride on the back of one of these primordial beasts. They know their way around, and while they walk the forest paths and tracks, you can sit back and relax. There are plenty of elephant safaris on the island, but one of those that’s tried-and-trusted is Living Thailand Tours.


It’s the brainchild of Khun Add and his wife, Khun Nee. They know the terrain here well and have set up an elephant camp on the island’s east side, at Baan Chang, just south of the island’s spectacular Namuang Waterfalls. It’s a great location, in other words. They offer several tours that will acquaint you with Samui’s inner world, its activities and the people who live and work there.


Firstly, there’s simple elephant trekking. Here you sit on a chair that’s set on the back of the elephant while you venture into the forest. A trainer, or mahout, is with the elephant at all times, ensuring safety. You can go on a 30 minute ride or, better still, one that lasts for an hour and will take you much deeper into the jungle.


Baan Chang has a total of nine elephants, which all come from the mainland. Each elephant has its very own mahout, who looks after it and has done so for many years; mahout and elephant go hand in hand, or perhaps in this case, trunk in hand. The nine elephants and nine mahouts comprise the small and select team here. It goes without saying that all the animals are licensed, and all visitors are insured when they’re trekking.Exploring Samui’s hidden interior on the back of an elephant. (Hotels and travel agencies are shown all the relevant documentation and thus can go ahead and recommend Living Thailand Tours.) The elephants are all treasured and you can see them at the compound being watered and fed, when they’re not out and about. And just like many of us, they’ll have a shower after their work’s done. You’ll be able to see all of this when you’re at Baan Chang. Many visitors like to relax after their ride – and people like to linger here and watch the elephants, and perhaps have a drink in the shady garden.


If you’d like to do more than just go elephant trekking, Living Thailand Tours arranges two interesting packages, both of which will give you some insight into the more traditional way of life on Samui. The first is simply called Eco Samui, and here you go not just elephant trekking but see a lot more besides. You’ll see local people splitting coconuts that have been harvested, forming huge piles of discarded shells. You’ll also see how the shells are crafted into various bowls and artefacts, ready to be sold. And later on you’ll find out how to make curry paste from scratch. So, in future, instead of buying it ready-made in sachets, you’ll be able to make your own, as do all the good chefs on Samui. The trip also takes in the second of the two waterfalls at Namuang, usually an impressive sight, unless it’s a very dry season. A monkey show is also included, and you’ll also be able to feed the elephants themselves. The trip takes a total of four hours, and starts in the morning.


The second trip, the Living Thailand Safari Tour, takes seven hours, and is an all-day outing. It follows the same lines as the Eco Samui trip, as above, but there are even more activities included. As the trip is much longer, lunch is also included in the price. You’ll also visit a mountain viewpoint and spend time exploring the Magic Garden, one of Samui’s hidden treasures. It’s basically a valley at high-altitude with a stream running through,Exploring Samui’s hidden interior on the back of an elephant. populated with dozens and dozens of stone statues, many of which are of Thai mythical beings. The entire garden is very atmospheric; it’s a sight that not many visitors see. You’ll also be able to visit Wat Kunaram where you’ll see an extraordinary sight: a monk who died years ago but has never decayed. He sits – and possibly he’ll continue doing so for decades to come – in a glass box close to the entrance to the temple, and wears his traditional orange robes, as well as a pair of sunglasses.


For all the excursions that Living Thailand Tours offers, you can book through your hotel or through any travel agent. On the day of the elephant ride or tour, you’ll be picked up from your hotel by truck, and after it’s over, you’ll be taken back again, making getting here and back very easy and relaxing. If you have a car and want to go independently, you can find Baan Chang quite easily. On the ring-road, if you’re heading south from Nathon on the west coast, then keep going until you come to Namuang waterfalls. A few minutes’ drive more and if you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll see the temple of Wat Kunaram on your right. The turning for Baan Chang is just before this, almost opposite the temple. Turn left into the small lane here, and after about 500 metres you’ll see the sign for Baan Chang.


Elephant trekking and taking a break from the beach is always a great way to liven up your time on Samui. You’ll see plenty that most visitors just never experience, and it’ll definitely add to your feeling of being in a truly exotic destination.


 Dimitri Waring


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