Lungta Livyers #16: Elephants and Eating–Adventures Big and Small in Thailand

People who knew me when, when I had my last full year sabbatical leave in 2001-02, might remember that the last time I was in Thailand, I spent some weeks volunteering at an elephant sanctuary for injured, retired, or orphaned elephants. It was life-changing to spend time in such close contact to elephants young and old. So, it was a great thrill to be in close proximity to over 75 wild elephants within 2 days of arriving in Thailand. I must digress…

I started teaching at Memorial in 1995. The physical education class of 1999 started at the same time I did and as a result, we bonded and I’ve stayed in touch with many of the students in that class since then. Kerry Dyke is one of those students. After travelling with his class (and me) to MUN’s Harlow campus, he was bitten hard by the travel bug. He’s spent almost his entire teaching career in international schools and living in many countries including more than a decade in Thailand.

When Marian and I decided we would spent some in Thailand, I got in touch with Kerry and he offered to show us some of his favourite spots and experiences. Kerry has been leading experiential learning trips for students most often with an environmental focus. Kerry said he’d love to pilot test an experience with elephants with Marian and I and we were more than game. In eastern Thailand, there are still many wild elephants. They travel in herds that range from six to sixty individuals and they can cause a lot of damage to crops and houses as well as kill people sometimes. The wildlife folks in Thailand (and other places) are always trying to solve the human/elephant conflicts so both can led healthy, safe lives and they are running a pilot program that Kerry is trying to help support the project by bringing folks to see some wild elephants in a way that both the elephants and observers are safe. The pilot program is using bee fencing to protect villagers’ property and crops.

It turns out elephants don’t like bees! And I suspect bees don’t like elephants who disturb their hives. As you can see from the picture above, you can see one of the hives suspended between two posts. Each hive is connected to its neighbours by a rope that spans the openings between the hives. Should an elephant disturb the fence, the bee hives move and the bees come out and repel the elephants. So far, it seems to be working…

You can see here that the elephants are dirt bathing just outside the bee hive fence and we are being treated to getting to watch bath-time.

We’d also watched the elephants earlier as they muted their way through the jungle and headed down to the river. We were the only tourists there watching-the rest were local villagers and program representatives.

There were many young elephants in this herd and I told many stories of what it was like to work with a nine month old and a two year old elephant when I volunteered at the sanctuary. After spending the entire afternoon watching wild elephants in the wild, we had dinner behind the beehive fence prepared by the owner of the property. She’s become quite famous locally because of the bee-hive fence and she said she’s pleased with how well it’s working. Kerry’s company is called ReWild Thailand.

Toi, Kerry’s wife, became our Thai food coach during our first stop on the drive to eastern Thailand. We turned our appetites and general willingness to try new foods over to Toi and she did not disappoint. Making food stall choices with aplomb at 70 kph, we tasted everything from appetizers to dessert, new whacky fruits to late night noodle stands.

With this excellent start, Marian and I have been enjoying Thai street food every night and have made it our mission to try as many fruits that we can here. Thus far we’ve sampled jackfruit, snake fruit, passion fruit, dragon fruit, longans, pineapple, rose apples, jujube apples, bananas, guavas, sapodillas, ground cherries, strawberries, pomelos, mangoes, tamarind, tangerine, watermelon, custard apples and we have some egg fruit that we have to wait three days for it to ripen and we are on the hunt for just one bite of durian. We’ve eaten so much fruit we call ourselves “The Fruit Bats.” We signed up for a Thai cooking class and we were thrilled that it included a market tour so we could ask about several of the fruits as well as try some traditional Thai snacks. We learned to cook four Thai dishes and look forward to replicating them at home.

There are a few other adventures to catch you up on including learning to cook using bamboo and getting to the highest point in Thailand-not to mention a few treks in Nepal…it’s been a busy time of just keeping up with the planning and logistics and writing that I’m doing for work but I’ll try to be more timely from here on…unless there is a new fruit to try or jungle to explore. More soon…

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2 Responses to Lungta Livyers #16: Elephants and Eating–Adventures Big and Small in Thailand

  1. Noah says you should ride the elephants. The girls said the pictures are cool.

    • TA Loeffler says:

      You can tell Noah that I rode some elephants when I worked at the elephant sanctuary. Now a days, most folks don’t ride elephants any more but sometimes they help give them a bath in the river. Glad you enjoyed the pictures. Today we tried durian and mangosteen fruit as well as rambutans.

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