The first thing many people think of when they think Southeast Asia is elephants. While they are much more prevalent in Laos and Thailand, they seem to be part of everyday life. They help with agriculture, transportation, logging (unfortunately), and anything else that an animal as common as a horse in the states might be used for.
Before leaving on our trip, we had read in our guidebook that there were a few elephants at Angkor Wat that give rides along the busiest corridors. We had completely forgotten about them until we spotted an “Elephant Crossing” sign.
After talking to a handful of people and narrowing down where the elephants were, we were pointed toward an inconspicuous table with a few employees talking amongst themselves. After wheeling our bicycles over to the table, Bree explained that we didn’t need transportation, since we have bicycles. We were, however, interested in petting and taking a quick picture with the animals.
The lady at the table consented to let us take a ride down to the intersection and back, and would only charge us $2! Given that the typical ride up a nearby hill or around a local temple costs anywhere from $15 – $20 per person, this was a great deal.
Bree: The elephants had thick, leathery skin with stiff bristles. While the Asian Elephants are smaller than their African cousins, I was still surprised at how huge the elephant was as it approached me. I was a little bit scared to be so close to such a huge, beautiful creature.
Ben: After our brief encounter, we climbed the stairs to the platform built around a tree and boarded the elephant. A man came shouting after Bree to hand him her camera – clearly wanting to take some pictures. After a bit of hesitation, she finally handed it down as we both held our breath hoping we’d ever see our SLR again, and the elephant started lumbering down the street.
Luckily the man really did just take some pictures for us, and he zealously followed along snapping image after image, clearly having a great time. Before too long, we were back at the tree and made our way back down the stairs.
As we hung out in the shade following our ride, we delayed our departure to watch the elephants resting nearby. I had been worried about the treatment of the animals given the many horror stories we have heard, but they looked surprisingly good. They didn’t arrive until well after the heat of the day had subsided, having rested during the middle of the day, and as they stood in the shade local fruit-sellers brought bunches of bananas & coconuts for the animals to crush and eat. They didn’t seem to need any prodding, and looked generally upbeat. What a cool experience!