Who are you calling Dumbo? The joys of Elephant Trekking in Koh Chang

Who are you calling Dumbo? The joys of Elephant Trekking in Koh Chang

You can’t go to Koh Chang aka Elephant Island and not ride on an elephant. Likewise, you can’t go to Bangkok and not ‘bang’ a lot of ‘kok’. “James, can I keep that bit in?” “Deffo, hahaha”- we’re like Beavis and Buthead. – I’ll check later that he is out souvenir shopping with his mum (bless) and not in Nana validating my erroneousness.

It took a minibus, a ferry, a taxi and a golf buggy to deliver us to our Koh Chang holiday destination. The cheaper option would’ve been a bus but I felt shady on the other passengers for inflicting my kid’s whining and my impatient shouting upon other holiday-makers. Turns out they behaved immaculately, I am ‘O’ of ‘yee of little faith’ fame. The car ferry took us across to the elephant shaped island (it’s not so-called because Nelly lives there, its the shape, who’d have trunk? Sorry). On arrival Granny exclaiming “This is exciting!” as we were driven up steep winding roads, through jungle in the blazing sun, the sea shimmering below. This is going to be something else, we all thought.

The ‘Spa’ aspect of our ‘Spa Resort’ is a fallacy, it is closed for refurbishment. No massage! (I know I might sound like a tit, but that was one of the main reasons we chose it for our first holiday in Thailand). We’re out of season and while this means we don’t have to listen to awful jazz bands or queue next to Newton Faulkner-a-likes for a can of Singha on the beach, it means this resort is not firing on all cylinders. The second restaurant is shut, so the posters on the walls offering pizza and a beer for pennies isn’t going to happen. We can cope. There is a huge cement mixer and a pneumatic drill on the bit of beach allocated to our resort. Can I cope with that? There’s been building work going on next to our apartment for months and although I can in my ‘Up’ moments transform the noise into Bjork like music, I could do with a break from sound. They’ve put the G’parents on a different floor to us, not next door as we requested. There’s barely space to unpack our clothes (James tells me when we get home that he found hidden drawers under the TV, Grrrr!). The kids have to share a bed, they’re only small but will they just muck about at lights out? The town is too far away to walk to, you know if I have a sudden urge to buy a wind charm and a snorkel. The cable car to the beach isn’t working and we’re at the top of a bloody big hill (called ‘Romantic Road’!) Oh shit! I’m going to have to complain. I don’t like to complain, it’s awkward, especially here where the staff are so smiley. I complain over the phone, “I’m not happy?” and list my reasons. We’re offered a taxi to a masseuse in town, a free trip to a nearby waterfall and a go on a kayak across to an island. None of which we take up, my inner diva seethes, my outer diva accepts. I imagine some friends will be cross at me for not complaining harder, let me be zen, ey. James says he’ll write and complain, I laugh because we won’t.

Our views are amazing – as in what we see, not our opinions, which are more like ‘can’t everybody just get along, equality, kindness, you know’ – neither of us are particularly opinionated. We’re here to do what we moved to Thailand to do and we’re up a mountain in the jungle. Now I’m in Koh Chang, its beautiful, peaceful, a paradise, the air is clean, our lungs can fill and we can clear the Bangkok black bogies away. But hang on, we’re out of season because it’s…rainy season and it’s lashing down. After long downpours the sun creeps out with the insects – palm-sized butterflies, hovering dragonflies, toads, newts, lizards, unidentifiable bitey things, mozzies. For a week I swipe the air in front of me, hop from side to side, slap my thigh and brush my ankles – I resemble a country line-dancer strayed from my line and consider “yee-haa’ing” intermittently, support the theory of any quizzical onlookers. However, the other holiday makers seem to have lost their smiles, even at our kids! What the blazes? I suggest to James there was on offer at this spa for the recently bereaved and he supports this theory.

A cleaning lady brings me a leaf insect on her palm. They’re referred to as “walking leaves”, Phylliidae, or wood-mason’s leaf. It is the best camouflage I’ve ever seen, it’s a leaf with a bright green body, brown around the edges, leafy veins, dew drops and he’s missing a leg (I later read they can regenerate a new leg, phew). He has a mate, who walks off towards a banana plant, it looks like he’s being blown by the breeze, but its all part of his leaf-like act. I want Abe to be as in awe as I am, like the Gerald Durrell kid in “My Family and Other Animals” but he complains he can’t see it (told you it was good camo) and wants to go down the slide in the pool. I feel like my folks must’ve felt when they’d take us to castles around the British Isles and the only bit I liked was the joy of a new rubber from the shop, or the sniff of a tassled leather bookmark.

To escape the rain we plan a day out, we’ll go on an elephant trek. “James are you sure it’s ok? It’s not tight on the elephants, our fat arses to carry? I mean, should we be riding on them, this isn’t The Raj”. James has checked Tripadvisor so our minds are at ease. We plant the seeds with the kids so they’re prepared and don’t refuse the jungle adventure and a ute of sorts takes us to Ban Kwan Chang, – like a retirement village for heffalumps. A few elephants are mooching about in the rain, like stray pensioners cockling beside the seaside. When we pull up the rain turns to monsoon – I’m not fully behind this venture.

James takes Abe and they happily plod off. A larger elephant is called in for for the Grandfolks and as the fat arse of it sways off in the distance I see the seat is tilted towards Grandad and decide to ‘think myself feather-light’ and sit centrally. When Patti and I climb on Nelly moves, she’s gently reprimanded and I’m disconcerted. I see a hook on a stick dangling over her big flapping ear, but never see it used and hope it’s to do with chaining them or something painless and necessary. It’s an odd sensation my bare feet on her cold wrinkled, coarse-haired back. I try and be lighter like I did when James carried me/dragged me across the threshold when we got home from our wedding. When I look back on that moment I conjure images of the Roly Polys and Les Dawson. I try and tred gently and respectfully.

Then I’m handed a weighty golf umbrella, which I hold in my weaker left hand, it wobbles from side to side, drips water on our driver and a wet patch forms on his sweatshirt, please don’t hate me and drive with abandon! I clutch Patti to my right, but already I’m welded to her by the plastic of our 7/11, 35Baht waterproofs. I ask if she’s ok, but she can’t answer, she’s busy breathing in her plastic hood at every intake of breath. It sticks to her face and as I gasp and move it for her to breathe, I hear the Scottish tones of presenter Lynn Faulds Wood echo through the forest, “that’s a potential death trap”. I remove the hood, Patti replaces it, she’s enjoying asphyxiation and she’s too young to be warned about the INXS frontman. There’s only a rusty pole stopping us falling off our seat but we could both slide under it. Why is everyone else smiling? This is fucking awful.

It’s jerky when we set off and we both slide about “Jesus! It always happens to the ones at the back, how come we’re at the back?” What were dry sandy paths are now muddy puddles, “Peppa pig would like it here Patti”. “And Geoge” she adds, then sings me the theme song while I hope elephants can’t sense fear. To calm myself I turn my attention to snakes. Would an elephant freak out at the sight of a snake? Or would it sit down and we’d fly off the front? Can they handle mudslides? The path is fast becoming a river. I realise I know nothing about these awesome creatures.

“Dumbo” is my only elephant knowledge and because a boy at school once called me “Dumbo” on account of my ears protruding through my hair, I’ve never been a lover of the film. Yes, I was pre-op ‘bat winged”, that’s what they call it before corrective surgery when you’re 11. It all helps with the self-esteem. Its alright, I showed them bullies with my painful ear operation, 6 weeks off school and being put in the second to bottom sets for everything on my return …Oh, I tell a lie, I have seen elephants at Chester Zoo, I passed focussing only on the stench and the length of an elephant willy while he chanced his arm – not with me, with a female elephant. My ears weren’t THAT bad.

Oh I wished Attenborough was here, a calming nature guru. I’m more likely to have to tolerate James’s derogatory impersonations of Bill Oddie. Some of the elephants are scoffing the vegitation, they’re not really in a line but they’re following the same orangey river of a path. They all seem happy, a bit stoned- truth be told. The umbrella is a hindrance so I put it down and use it as a stick to bash the branches out of our faces. I have a mantra in my head about us being ok and Patti not falling off. It happened to my friend Caz in Koh Chang! She What’s app’d me about it, she slid under the bar – “seriously man, I nearly got trampled on by that fucker”…(she’s teaching your kids people, just saying)… I can’t stop thinking about it. “I hope you’re praying” I shout to Granny who smiles in amusement at the fear on my face, perhaps she is resigned to her fate. Abe’s loving it, he turns, smiles and waves on cue.

Do you need a licence to drive an elephant? Our boy steers this beast with his foot on the mammal’s ear. He turns and gives me a laminated card, he’s selling souvenirs made from dead elephants and not harming live elephants, but luckily James has the cash so I’m saved from that particular dilemma. (He puts his hacksaw back in his pocket) and we continue down the hill, one eye closed, telling Patti “that was fun, what an adventure, ey”. She’s loved every second. We clamber back onto the wooden platform, where if it wasn’t for fear of disease I’d papally kiss the ground.

We’re given pineapple and water while we sit in a wooden shelter and talk about the trek. I have the thousand yard stare and can’t really join in. The ute takes us back to our resort where it continues to rain. We’re enjoying our holiday despite the elements. I’ve had a lifetime of training for rainy season by living in the North-West of England, like Inuits with snow there are many terms I like – lashing, pissing, teaming, pouring, and now I have monsooning. It doesn’t stop the kids who love wellies and puddles. I think after the trek has sunk in a bit more I’ll reflect on it and be appreciative, I’m just glad it’s over for now. To help inspire me I ask Abe.

Me: “Abe, did you enjoy that?”
Abe: “Yep”
Me: “What was your favourite part of the elephant ride?”
Abe: “When Granny and Grandad’s did a poo”.

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