While I loved exploring Bangkok, my favorite part of any overseas trip is always venturing beyond the city limits. Thailand was no different. We spent one day of our recent trip to Thailand out in Kanchanaburi Province, with a few stops along the way. Our ultimate destination was an elephant sanctuary on the River Kwai, where we bareback rode elephants through the forest and into the river where we bathed and played with them. It was an experience I’ll never forget!
Before I go any further, I should note that visiting elephant sanctuaries and camps in Thailand is very controversial. Many of the elephants at camps are treated very poorly and often not rescued. I thoroughly researched the company and elephant sanctuary that I chose, Tour with Tong, and felt comfortable going to their private elephant sanctuary. Some people argue that you should not visit any elephant sanctuary or camp to stop the cyclical pattern of exploiting elephants for money purposes. However, I believe that the money I spent at the elephant sanctuary was instead supporting the sanctuary for caring and rehabilitating the rescued elephants. That said, do your research before choosing to visit an elephant sanctuary or camp in Southeast Asia.
Maeklong Railroad Market and Amphawa Floating Market
One of the reasons I chose Tour with Tong was for the ability to customize my day trip and visit various other tourist sites that were not readily accessible by taxi or public transportation in Bangkok. We had a private guide and car, which allowed us to go at our own pace and adjust our itinerary as the day went on. We had a great day with our guide, Nid!
Our first stop was the Maeklong Railroad Market. The market is literally on and between the railroad tracks in a small town outside of Bangkok. Twice a day, the train goes through the town. When that happens, some people move their goods off the tracks while others leave them and let the train rumble right over them. The area where the train tracks run through the town is very narrow and you have to stand very tightly against the wall to watch it come through the market. We were lucky enough to see the train come through and it was astounding to watch!
Our next stop was the famous Amphawa floating market. It was fun to hop on a boat and travel through the canals, but you could tell that the market catered towards tourists. For this reason, I much preferred the Khlong Lat Mayom floating market closer to Bangkok. Visit at least one floating market if you go to Bangkok, but if you are able to choose, go with Khlong Lat Mayom floating market.
Bareback Elephant Riding in Kanchanaburi
When we made it to the elephant sanctuary, no time was wasted. After quickly changing, we said hello to our elephants by giving them a few snacks and then were helped onto the elephants. While riding an elephant in a carrier on its back can hurt the elephant, riding bareback on the elephant’s neck does not. However, it is definitely a little scary riding on the neck as you are on top of a massive creature and balancing is very difficult. There is nothing to hold onto but the elephant himself. You ride the elephant with a mahout (elephant trainer), and they do help you balance if you seem uneasy or start to fall. It took a few minutes to get comfortable and when I finally did, we started going down a steep incline into the river!
While I knew we would be going into the river with the elephants, I didn’t quite understand that the elephants would actually be swimming with us still on their necks. Apparently, some elephants go under water and some don’t. I was lucky to get one that loved to swim. I had trouble balancing on the elephant on land, but balancing while the elephant swam was on a whole different level!
Nonetheless, it was an amazing experience. After “swimming” for a few minutes, we hopped into the water and were given brushes to help bathe the elephants. They look big enough while standing, but when they roll over in onto their sides in the water while you bathe them, they are just enormous.
After the bath, it was time for a little playing before we rode back up and said goodbye.
Both my husband and I loved our experience with the elephants and it was definitely the highlight of our trip to Thailand.
Feeding Monkeys and the Bridge Over the River Kwai
On our way back from the elephant sanctuary, I asked our guide if we could see wild monkeys anywhere nearby. She took us to a temple in a nearby town that was full of wild monkeys! Two women with fruit stands sold baskets of fruit to you to feed the monkeys. While feeding the monkeys was also a little nerve-wracking at first, I absolutely loved it and was so glad our guide was able to add in that side trip for us.
Our final stop of the day was the Bridge Over the River Kwai. Thousands upon thousands of prisoners of war and forced laborers lost their lives building the bridge. The famous movie, with the same name, is loosely based on the World War II construction of the bridge. It was later bombed during World War II but has since been rebuilt. It was an interesting stop and also was set in a beautiful area.
On both our way to and from all of the destinations, our guide Nid was full of stories and information about all of Thailand. We had the best day with her and would highly recommend booking a day trip with Tour with Tong!