So I didn’t believe that our tour guide was being serious last night when he told us we were to be making paper out of elephant defecate. He was. The Thai people find it extremely amusing as well, giggling to themselves and muttering “poo paper” under their breath before bursting into hysterics again. Hilarious.
It actually isn’t as grotesque as it appears. The elephant diet here mainly consists of sugar cane and coconuts, and it is so humid that the faeces is more like straw compared to the softer, moister excrement of a British cow. And it doesn’t smell which is a bonus. Nevertheless they still made us stand in it… And jump around in it, insisting it’s “cleaning”. As vile as it might seem, the end product was surprisingly accomplished – the yellow-brown sheet sat in the sun ready to be dyed and made into cards, books, notepads and various other souvenir items. A job well done I’d say.
Following our trip to the paper farm we travelled to a nearby ‘elephant graveyard’. In Thai culture, elephants are observed and respected with almost god-like status, so ‘graveyard’ is a loose term – temple would be more suited to describing this magnificent palace to celebrate the largest land mammals on earth. Each tomb had clearly been thought through carefully, each with a different story and history behind it and each decorated with an array of statues, jewels and stones. The ‘graveyard’ itself was actually the size of a small village, and is in fact inhabited permanently by about five small families, making a small community consisting of a shop, a bar and the spirits’ of over a thousand elephants who have been lost in the last millennia or so. The place was eerily quiet and extremely solemn, and the respect between the Thai community and the elephants is so distinguished throughout the entire village, giving it a melancholy aura from the moment you pass through the gates.
However, the mood was quickly uplifted as we discovered we were to go kayaking down the river in the afternoon. The cool splashes of water serving as a refreshing contrast to the hot, dry air that consumes the land. We must have spent over 4 hours on the river, our oars lapping at the gentle ripples which skimmed the surface due to a soft breeze which flowed through the valley, abolishing any stresses or worries which the long days my present to you. It was a tranquil paradise, with honey buzzards circling slowly above – the sun set, casting a warm glow over the wavelets which slowly slapped at the shore. The elephants came for a swim again, this time bringing a ball to play catch with us as they splashed and sprayed one another to cool their parched, leathery hides. It was the perfect way to end the hottest day of the trip so far… In bliss.