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Photo Friday: Angkor Thom, Cambodia

I’ve ridden camels. I’ve pet sharks. I’ve been thrown off an ostrich. I’ve had my lunch swiped by a monkey. But up until my visit to Cambodia, I’d never actually sat on an elephant.

Angkor Thom, CambodiaWhen Mom and I were in South Africa two years ago, we visited an elephant sanctuary. We fed them, we nuzzled them, we walked them. But I just couldn’t justify paying the $100ish the facility wanted for a quick 10-minute ride. Yet, when we got to Angkor and found out we could take a trip out to one of the temples on top of one—for the bargain price of $15—I was sold, as was the rest of my Semester at Sea group.

Angkor Thom, CambodiaWe divided up into twos and threes and each waited to board our chariot. From there, we were chauffeured out along a river, around the South Gate and back.

Angkor Thom, CambodiaIt was similar to riding a horse on a trail ride in that the “driver” has very little control and the transportation stops for a snack whenever it so desires.

Angkor Thom, CambodiaWhile I won’t begrudge the elephant—they are magnificent, beautiful, soulful creatures—the experience was a bit underwhelming. The ride was…bumpy. (Duh.) In fact, I even started to get a little motion sick on the trip back! Four months on the ocean and my stomach remained perfectly calm—thanks to the glory of medicated miracle patches called scopolamine—yet five minutes on an elephant, and I was ready to yak.

Angkor Thom, CambodiaI couldn’t say I was upset to disembark my ride when we got back to base camp, though she was sweet.

Angkor Thom, Cambodia

How about you: Have you ridden an elephant before? Was your experience similar to mine?

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Comments ( 47 )

  1. Beautiful photos, looks like you’re having such a good time :)

  2. We went elephant riding in Thailand, but sat on their necks, not on a seat and spent all day with them. It was scary, particularly for my four year old, but an amazing experience, one of the highlights of a nine month trip. Lovely photos.

    • Thanks, Victoria! I didn’t even know you could sit on their necks! Having a seat definitely made the ride a bit smoother, I imagine.

  3. Years ago, they use to give elephant rides at our zoo. Not as exotic as riding one in Cambodia, but yeah, the swaying took me by surprise. :)

  4. Elephant riding, and walking, is still on my list. But I’m sure not as exciting as the ostrich ride, where I didn’t fall off. ;)
    Might have to go back to ZA next winter.

  5. Way back when I rode an elephant in Thailand which was okay but last winter I went on three elephant rides in Chitwan National park in Nepal. One of the highlights of my life! We were able to see a rhino and her baby as well as deer, a snake (ugh) and a few other critters. (but no tiger sadly…) The animals are used to the elephants so carried on with their business of eating and ignored us. I was amazed at how the trainer had her remove branches to clear the way through the dense forest and how she knew where to step on rocks. The guide told me they think about where to put every foot. Much more coordinated than me!!! Elephants are amazing creatures and now are my second favourite animal…after dogs of course!!!

    I am hoping to visit Viet Nam and Cambodia next Christmas so maybe I can take another elephant ride although I doubt it will ever be as magical as Chitwan.

  6. Yes, in the Big K parking lot when I was seven. Does that count?

    • Sure it does! It’s a real elephant, right? Scott actually didn’t go with us because he’d done one in the supermarket parking lot also as a kid =)

  7. $100 for an elephant ride? That’s crazy! Good thing you held out for a cheaper one. Our local zoo gives elephant rides and the kids love it!

  8. My husband and older daughter went on one a few years ago at a place near us called African Lion Safari. I was nervous the entire time watching her up on top of that elephant and praying she didn’t fall off!!

  9. Just wondering how often you used the scopolamine patch on the ship? I had never used them until going on an 85 foot ship in the Galapagos. Didn’t have many issues until I got home & apparently had scopolamine withdrawls! It was quite bizarre, lots of dizziness & confusion. Great pics! Thanks for sharing all your awesome travels.

    • I only used them during rocky patches, so for example, I went the first two weeks across the Pacific without needing them, but then had to wear them anytime we were at sea while sailing around Africa (which was very tumultuous). I used a half a patch for three days at a time, then would switch it out until we were on land again. Many people on the ship only needed a quarter, but I have a really high resistance to medication, so I figured more was better in my case, particularly given my weak stomach! I never had any side effects that I noticed, but I’ve heard many travelers who used whole patches instead of halves complain of dizziness, etc.

      • Thanks for the info. It was quite odd to have withdrawl symptoms about 36 hours after removing the last patch. Luckily the symptoms only lasted about 3 days. I read some online that some people’s withdrawls lasted for a few weeks!
        Thankfully I only seem to get motion sickness on smaller boats. We had one night on this last trip where 16 out of the 18 passengers were sick & most of us were wearing a patch… it was definitely rocking!

  10. Hi have ridden an Elephant in Thailand and even though I enjoyed the experience I have learned alot about how some families and Mahuts care for their Elephants that I have decided not to take a ride on one again.
    In Thailand there is alot of mis care of the Elephants and it is rather shocking.

    I spent a day at the Elephant Nature Park (days after my ride on one) and the experience blew my mind.
    Lek who started the park is an amazing woman and doing so much for these hurt and mistreated Elephants.
    I really do reccomend anyone who is going to Thailand and will be in the Chiang Mai area to get to her park and experience what I did. It was such a mind blowing day and I intend to get back there and volunteer for a week or so when I can.
    http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/

    • I’ve read quite a few travel blogs lately written by volunteers at this very park! Sounds like a great organization. Regretfully, I didn’t even think of the possible mistreatment of the animals while I was riding them. Next time, I will remember your words.

      • It did not occur to me either untill I went to Leks park.
        Although alot of the Elephants are cared for by great Mahuts — alot are not and it was such an eye opener as to how they break the spirit of the Elephants to make them suitable for work. We watched Leks Discovery Chanel piece after spending the full day with the Elephants and there was not a dry eye in the house once it was over.

  11. we rode elephants in thailand on a “trek” – i also felt a little motion sickness come on. the elephants were so lovely, but the hook thingy the guide was using turned my stomach as much as the ride itself.

    my favorite part was the elephant snack shack where you could buy bananas and they’d sneak their trucks up their backs and take them from your hands.

    after our trip, i basically became obsessed with asian elephants and especially in their conservation efforts. have you read about the painting elephants of thailand? amazing stuff! my students love, love, love all the children’s books devoted to the topic.

    one other weird part of this “trek” was my husband contracted dengue fever and spent the next month pretty ill.

    • I was convinced for half the voyage that I had dengue fever, as well! I still don’t know if that’s what it actually was, but I did spend about a month fatigue and with flu-like symptoms, and it does seem pretty ubiquitous in that part of the world, as well…

  12. Before I spent time at Elephant Nature Park and learned about the training process for elephants to accept riders and then the conditions they are kept at the camps, I really wanted to do this. While I am sure it an amazing experience for people, it would be great if more travelers were aware of the impact it has on the elephants. For those who want to go and do this, I would suggest reading this and then decide. http://journals.worldnomads.com/responsible-travel/story/81053/Thailand/Why-Elephant-Riding-Should-Be-Removed-from-Your-Bucket-List

  13. I think I would prefer a camel. A little closer to the ground just in case :-)

    • Agreed. I’m not ditching the camel as my totem anytime soon (though I do love me some elephants…just not to ride necessarily)!

  14. I want to ride an elephant!!!!!! I love them!!! I’ve only taken a (drunk) picture in the china town elephant in DC and after that I want to ride a real one. and a camel too!!!! btw i just got my sister in law to send me info about Ecuador’s beaches. I will translate and send that to you :)

  15. Elephant rides can be great experiences, but in most of Asia especially in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand the elephants are horrifically mistreated! Bull hooks have been made illegal in most western countries, but they are everywhere in Asia and you can see your driver wielding one with its sharp hook against the elephant. Its so sad. It’s such a complicated issue because you can’t really ask all tourists to do the research into how animals are treated before they pay for an interaction. It would be a ridiculous notion tourists want a good time not to do homework, but after having worked in an elephant village in India, it’s pretty appalling to see the conditions the elephants live in.

    • Yeah, I can see that. Reminds me a lot of Water for Elephants and reading about how animals are treated in the circus (or at least were in the past before the bull hook was outlawed). Have you ever heard about Mary the Elephant, the famous circus animal who was hanged in Tennessee for trampling someone? SO SAD.

  16. I think I would probably enjoy the nuzzling part better than the riding part too. I’d almost always rather snuggle a critter than ride one.

    • Agreed! I worked on a horse ranch in Arizona for a couple summers, and I’d still much rather pet a horse and feed it sugar cubes than sit on top of it! Fellow animal cuddlers unite.

  17. Had a friend who rode an elephant in Vietnam. Her elephant spooked and ran away from the rest of the elephants, threw her off in the middle of the jungle, and ran away. She trekked for hours to fine the rest of her group. Crazy, right? She laughs so hard when she tells that story now.

    • Ha, that’s hilarious–though I imagine it was a lot funnier AFTER she’d rejoined the group. I might have been a little freaked out roaming the jungle alone!

  18. i think the most fun animal to ride is the camel haha (dedicated moment to the blog’s name!!!)…i remember i was on one and i was warning everyone around me (be careful, hold on tight when the camel lowers itself) and then when my camel lowered itself i still screamed (lol!!!!). glad you finally got to ride the elephant!!!! but hope the camel is still your favorite ;-) here is a photo friday from a couple of days ago for you [giving you your own medicine!]: http://a3.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc6/166906_2830412194067_1071960233_32652321_1830785023_n.jpg –was thinking of your jumping pics but i couldnt do it in this outfit!!! ^^

  19. You knew I was going to be crazy in love with this post right???????????

  20. Looks like you had a blast! Angkor Thom is my favourite section of this entire area.

  21. I just rode an elephant for the first time last month in Thailand. It was great! The guide on my elephant jumped down (apparently he wasn’t worried about the elephant wandering off) so I asked if I could get off the bench and sit on the elephant’s shoulders and he said I could. Now that was cool – but definitely a bit scary. :)

  22. I road an elephant once – but only at a circus! Definitely didn’t ride far enough to get sick but it was terrifying. The swaying back and forth was the worst part. If I had the chance to ride another one I’d definitely to it. Just not for $100, I’d rather nuzzle it for that price.

  23. “I’ve ridden camels. I’ve pet sharks. I’ve been thrown off an ostrich. I’ve had my lunch swiped by a monkey. But up until my visit to Cambodia, I’d never actually sat on an elephant.”

    I think this is my favorite opening paragraph ever. I really need to ride an ostrich one of these days.

  24. LOL, I get the reference to trail riding on horses. Most of them have learned to ignore their poorly trained riders. When I was a kid, we did get to go through the drive through at Arbie’s on horseback when we went riding, though. Caused quite some raised eyebrows. I imagine if you showed up on an elephant that would be even cooloer:)

    Daisy

  25. This was my favorite temple!!! so much fun looking at the faces. I thought it was more fun/better than Angkor Wat. Nonetheless, this photo is dedicated to you. Love and light…: ))))
    http://a5.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc7/401342_2934410113950_1071960233_32688476_1485890624_n.jpg

  26. I was laughing out loud about your description on riding an elephant! I rode one in Chaing Mai and though I was going to toss my cookies! I think it was the part about being so high up and really tilting at a scary angle back and forth!

  27. Oh my goodness – these photos are amazing!!! It’s one of my dreams to one day play with elephants! They’re amazing creatures!!! Great post!

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