[UDATE: There has been a lot of discussion recently about whether elephants and tourists in Thailand can ever be a good mix. Here’s John Roberts, the founder of the Elephant Foundation (which works with the Four Seasons Golden Triangle) on the subject: “Certainly elephants should all be wild, where they’re free to make their own decisions and perform ecosystem services. This is the reason a large amount of the Foundation’s money and effort is spent keeping wild elephants wild.
“Thailand, however, has around 3,500 non-wild elephants and we also need to find ways to look after them. There isn’t enough wild to put them back into, so a well-planned tourism activity such as ours is a great way to do that – they get to walk around as a group, meet new people and lead a rich and varied elephant life. The elephants enjoy it: there seems to be a modern misconception that captive elephants live entirely in misery and fear no matter how you look after them. I have to say that in 16 years of living among elephants I have seen no evidence of this – I have seen elephants looked after badly and I would never seek to bring a wild elephant into captivity but I’m entirely comfortable with this as a way to keep those already in captivity fed, watered and amused.”]
Sitting on top of an elephant, I look down over Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meeting at the Mekong river as the sun begins to rise. I’d ridden the gentle giant, called Thong Kam, up the mountain to watch dawn breaking over the Golden Triangle and now she’s taking a well deserved break and snacking on banana trees. Her foot effortless crushes the tree trunk into smithereens and she eats enthusiastically – it’s time for me to dismount and breakfast myself on fresh fruit and coffee the guide has set up for me.