Phuket, Thailand

Hara (Mahout) and Ongi with Susan & Harry

March 21, 2012

Phuket (pronounced Pooh-KET), Thailand is a popular resort island located just off the southwest coast of Thailand.  It is known for its beaches.  But for us this visit was all about elephants.  The tour we chose was called ‘Siam Elephant Safari’.  

Getting off the tender was quite an experience.  The dock was a floating dock that was pieced together, apparently to make sure tenders could dock in deep enough water.  So our adventure started on the dock.  For those of us who are good walkers, it was no problem.

We boarded a bus which took us to a point where we had to get into 4-wheel drive vehicles to take us out to the safari camp.  Once at the safari camp the first thing we did was watch a show with two baby elephants.

Hachu gave us a painting demonstration, and Punok proved especially quick when it came to picking up her mahout’s hat and placing it back on his head.

Each baby elephant is given a mahout, one who works with, trains, rides and tends the elephant.  The mahout and the elephant are paired for life, so they age together.

Once the show was completed we headed over to the point where we would ‘board’ our elephant for the much-anticipated ride.  Fortunately for us, they have a platform with stairs that put us right at the level where we could just step onto the elephant, as shown at here.

Here we are proudly sitting atop Ongi, our elephant.   Her mahout is Hara.  Harry and Hara.  Pretty easy to remember.  The mahout’s place is always on the elephant’s neck.

Our ride lasted about 30 minutes.  It is decidedly difficult to take good photos from the back of an elephant!  But the ride was great fun.  Along the way we saw some rubber trees that were being tapped, which was a perfect segue to the next phase of the tour.

Once we dismounted our elephant we walked over to where they gave us a demonstration of how they make rubber.                                                                                

The process starts with tapping the tree; then soaking the rubber in a mix of water and formic acid; it is then dried in a coconut shell, and run through a wringer multiple times until you come up with a sheet of rubber.

Our next stop was a demonstration of how to make jungle curry.  It was a chicken and pineapple curry made with a medium-hot curry paste.  They showed us how to make fresh curry paste, and then we got to sample the finished product.  Delicious!

After this stop we went on to one where we got to try Thai coffee and/or tea, and some little rice pancakes.

While we were enjoying these delicacies, we watched a demonstration of plowing a rice field with a water buffalo.

The last station we visited at the safari camp was one where we saw the traditional method of hulling  rice.  Susan tried this and found that it takes a tremendous amount of energy to hull any quantity of rice.

Photos show a sheaf of rice, baskets of hulled rice, and the device the Thai’s have traditionally used to hull the rice.  The flat basket is used for the winnowing process (get rid of the hulls), as well as for sorting the whole kernels from the partial ones of different sizes that get broken during the hulling process.

Once we arrived back at our buses we were taken to a hotel for a buffet lunch at the Thai Naan Restaurant, that had an amazing variety of food.  It also had some beautiful examples of Thai wood carving.

We were supposed to have a demonstration of how monkeys are trained to harvest coconuts, but for unknown reasons that did not happen and a stop at a huge jewelry store was substituted, while on our way back to the ship.  This stop was of no interest to us, as we were not interested in buying jewelry or other souvenirs, and even if we were interested, everything seemed very expensive.

Once we got back to the dock we spent a few minutes walking the beach and looking at the souvenir stands, before boarding the next to last tender back to the ship.  The photo below is of the long-tail boats that are popular among the Thais.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the photos in the album.

Long-tailed Boats

© Susan L. Stone 2015