Elephants were the tanks of the ancient battlefield, with Siamese soldiers riding them into battle. More recently elephants in Thailand have been used mostly in the timber and logging trade in the North.
The elephants in the camp were a combination of retired logging elephants and their offspring. These Asian elephants are smaller – in weight and height – than the African elephant. They have smaller ears and a number of other marked differences but are docile and friendly, kleen to grab a banana from you with their agile trunks.
To get into the chairs strapped to their backs we climbed a tower, got onto the mammals, fastened seat belts and set off along a dusty track. On both sides were rubber tree plantations being tapped for the latex sap. Along the route we passed a processing station where the latex sap is settled in coagulating pans then rolled into sheets with the water being pressed out before the raw rubber is hung on wooden bars to dry in the sun.
On the hills above the rubber plantations towered a mix of tall trees. Their broad leafed crowns blossoming on top of bald trunks merged into a canopy 45 metres above the ground, forming primary rain forest. With smaller trees forming lower canopies their combined shade seals the forest floor from sunlight allowing only ferns and other plants requiring little sunlight to grow.
After half an hour of swaying motion we reached the end of the trail and dismounted from another tower. A path ahead led up to a waterfall for the adventurous or we could opt to sit around with the elephants before mounting up and heading back to the base camp where another minibus had turned up with ice boxes full of beer and canned soft drinks.
The trips from the hotel are timed at three hours and whether transport is provided by the hotel or a local tour operator expect to pay around 1,200 THB ($37, 1,163 RUR, GBP 25) per adult. Minimum two adults and children 50% discount. English speaking guide provided.