After embarking for Ayutthaya the next day after waking up at 5 a.m., we head to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, a colorful market of produce, small meals, tourist junk and more sold by vendors on small boats docked alongside canals.
After we wander alongside the docks, taking pictures with cobras and slow-moving lorises and picking up some Thai tourist garb and seasonings, we pick up some things to eat, including noodles recommended by Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods himself.
Mike and I eat our noodle bowls next to the canal alongside P.A., where we can witness the craziness of the market and also enjoy the best noodles I have ever had. Zimmern really wasn’t kidding. We get a few more things to take on the way, including some chips that are basically unfolded wontons with poppy seeds. It seems like everyone has picked up some sort of odd-looking food at this stop and we spend the busride trading and trying our neighbors’ foods.
Then, we head to the Taweechai Elephant Camp where everyone is more than psyched to ride elephants through the jungle, an activity that seems truly Thailand.
As the bus pulls up to the camp, everyone peers out their windows to see the elephants wandering around and being hosed off in the camp, some already being fitted with seats on their back for riders. We are standing up, ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ and wondering why everyone on this tour didn’t sign up for this excursion.
Although I’m excited to ride and see the elephants up close, I feel a little anxious about getting on the back of one of these gigantic creatures, known for being smart as a human in many ways – mourning their loved ones, being able to articulate their place in the world and what is next for them. I’ve learned through a lot of pre-Thailand research that popular animals such as elephants and tigers are exploited in this country and the last thing I want to do is add to that, as much as I would love to ride an elephant for awhile.
P.A., our tour guide, assures us that even though many places and people throughout Thailand do exploit their animals, this camp does not and the elephants are very well-treated. I’m not sure how much I believe him and I keep careful watch of the elephants once we are there, but I appreciate his story about how he once saw an elephant tied to a tree hunting through a dumpster for food, so he called the police and kickboxed the elephant owner and the police refused to prosecute him for his good deeds.
Mike and I are soon saddled up on an elephant, led by a Thai rider who speaks zero English and rides bareback as we sit on the outfitted seat. The rider, who looks about 12, eventually lets us ride the elephant bareback as well, even though bumping along on an elephant with no sort of reins or seat is no easy task.
After the elephant ride, we hop on a bamboo raft to float down River Kwai, and with some quick currents and idyllic jungle scenery it’s definitely way more fun than bobbing along the Delaware River, an annual ride for most New Jerseyans in the summertime. Although the ride down River Kwai is shorter than we would have liked, it feels refreshing and cool, a welcome respite after bouncing on top of a dusty elephant for a half an hour. Life could definitely be worse.
CONTINUE READING HERE: A step back in time to ancient Ayutthaya