Do Elephants Ride Motorbikes?One Giant Step
No, I don’t think so either. They also don’t like torrential rain, which is probably why we didn’t see any during our visit to Khao Yai National Park in Thailand.
We arrived to our guesthouse near the park (Greenleaf Guesthouse, which I highly recommend…cheap rooms, great staff and kick-ass tours!) in the morning and immediately signed up for both the afternoon ‘bat tour’ and the following day-long jungle tour. I was excited to see the bats but I really, really wanted to see a wild elephant.
We headed out late in the afternoon, stopping along the way while the guides spotted snakes and birds for us to have a look at. We got to the cave early enough to go inside and see the little critters before they woke up. It was a little stinky – all that bat poop – and dark but the guide coaxed us all inside to have a look. He explained about all the guano (bat poop) on the floor and how the locals come to collect it to sell, which sounds kind of gross but I guess it’s a living…and then he got all excited and started grasping at the walls frantically.
He finally settled down a bit and beckoned us all to come have a look. We were hesitant – I mean, who knows what is down there? – but we all inched forward. Our combined headlamps soon revealed that he was holding the biggest, creepiest, creepy-crawly I had ever seen. The thing looked prehistoric with a large body and lots of long, gangly legs. I must have stopped listening as he told us all about it because I can’t even remember the name of it! He soon let it go, but then caught a spider for us to look at, and then a cave cricket, and then the tarantula…okay, he didn’t pick up the tarantula…thank goodness!
By now we were deep in the cave with only our headlamps lighting the way. We could hear the bats chirping above our heads and, every once in a while, I could see the flash of one flying through a light beam. Then he took us to a particular spot and had us all point our lights up at the same time…the ceiling was filled with bats, all hanging upside down and starting to wake up. Another spot was like a cavern within the cave and our lights showed bats flying around inside. I wasn’t scared by it all, but it was a little creepy and I can’t say I exactly liked it. I was happy when we left the cave and drove to another spot to get a good vantage for viewing the bats leaving the cave.
Looking through the spotting scope, I could see the bats all flying around at the mouth of the cave and then, all at once, it was time and the bats started to stream out. Slowly at first, but then gaining strength and number, until there was a river of bats flying out. They streamed out in one long, meandering line, stretching from the cave out over the field we were standing in and into the hills beyond. The sound of their wings and chirping permeated the air as we all watch in awe. In total, more than 2 million bats disgorge from the cave every evening…it was amazing.
The following day was the ‘jungle tour’ but, really, I was just passing time until the afternoon when I knew there was a chance of seeing a wild elephants. We started by driving along the parks roadway, watching the monkeys that line the road waiting to be fed by passing cars. It was here that I realized that not everyone comes to the park to commune with nature. Apparently, the highway that runs through the park is a shortcut in the area and it’s many curves make it popular with motorcycles and scooters. The tourist trucks were all earnestly trying to see monkeys, gibbons, and hornbills while the locals really just wanted to get through thank-you-very-much.
Eventually we parked the truck and headed into the jungle on foot. It was much quieter in here and, in no time, the guide had spotted a family of gibbons high in the tree tops and had set up the spotting scope so we could all have a good look. It was pretty cool to see them swinging, Tarzan-style, from tree to tree (well I guess, technically, Tarzan swung ‘gibbon-style’, but…whatever).
We moved on until we heard the unmistakable (once you know it) sound of a hornbill flying overhead. This bird is huge with a large toucan-like beak and a tufted head. The guide trained the scope on a nest and we were able to see the male bringing food to the female inside…pretty cool.
Not long after that the rain started. It doesn’t just rain here, it pours…torrentially…and we were soaked within a matter of minutes. We continued to trudge through the jungle and eventually came to a grassy clearing that we had to traverse to find shelter. While walking through the grass I could see elephant tracks and kept my eyes and ears open just in case I might be extra lucky and see one while on foot. No such luck though and soon we were walking, slipping and sliding down a muddy embankment to the wildlife viewing shelter for lunch.
We waited at the shelter for some time for the rain to stop…my eyes searching out the surrounding grassland for that elusive elephant. It was not to stop though and, eventually, we headed out again to reach the truck.
Once at the truck a phone call came…elephants had been located at the other end of the park. We all hurriedly loaded into the truck and went speeding down the highway. I was so excited that I might get to see a wild elephant – once the truck started to slow I peered around every corner, and looked deep into the jungle just waiting for that first glimpse.
Soon, we saw elephant poo on the road and I shouted ‘elephant poo, we must be close!’…and, around the next corner we saw muddy elephant footprints on the road and I shouted ‘elephant footprints, those are elephant footprints!’. We slowly drove for several kilometers up and down the roadway, but spotted no other signs of the elephants.
The sight of another tourist truck on the side of the road made us stop and their guide signaled that elephants were just up the hill in the jungle. And then I heard a trumpet!! I could hear the elephants up there! We waited ever so quietly, willing them to come out and let us see them…but then a band of motorcycles rounded the corner with their whining engines. My heart sank and I knew that I would not be seeing any elephants that day.
The guides were great, they really wanted us to see an elephant, and we drove up and down ‘elephant row’ for more than an hour until the sun set, but the torrential rains and the hordes of motorcycles were too much and we didn’t see another sign.
I know they are out there though…playing their little elephant games just beyond the reach of our eyes in the jungle…hopefully we will have another chance to see them another day.