Day 6 – Bunong Village and Playing With Elephants

Okay I am super tired and really don’t fancy writing so may keep this short. Today was knackering and we were so underprepared. However, it was awesome and a day that will stay with me.

We had organised going to see some elephants today, and were told that the basic idea would be that we’d go to a traditional Bunong village, see what life is like for them and then head down to a river to meet, clean and paddle with some elephants. We asked what we would need, and were told that it didn’t really matter – not flip flops, but sandals would be fine, and a rain coat. Everything else would be provided and it was a 30 minute walk from the village to the river.

It’s hard to know what you’re going to get here. For instance, the road to Bousra waterfall was good and used by people to sell their goods. Entrance fee and all. We weren’t sure if the route we were taking was one used frequently, but we were told we would take the “good route” so we expected it to be reasonably straight forward.
Anyway we were picked up at 8am, went to the bar which was a kind of base. It was raining quite heavily so we questioned whether we should go ahead or not. The mahout had been prepaid and set off walking the elephant already so we felt we should go. We double checked with the guides whether the route would be safe, they said “not slippery”, whether our shoes would be adequate, they said “yeah you’ll be fine” and how long it would take, they said “30 minute walk”. At 10am we set off to the village and were dropped off with the guide who would be taking us for the day.
The village was lovely and had a real community feel with lots of children and animals running free. We didn’t stay long and set off. We asked whether we could use the toilet before leaving and they gave us a look like we’re crazy and said “toilet? No… Jungle!” I suddenly missed our feared jungle toilet.
The path to begin with was wide, flat and easy to walk along but we soon turned off it and into the jungle. Like, proper jungle.

Dense trees and narrow muddy paths. This particular type of mud is like clay when wet and almost impossible to stay upright on. Slippery would be the biggest understatement. We edged our way through the trees, downhill, heading towards the river, slipping and sliding about everywhere. We held on to any vegetation we could to steady ourselves and tried to strategically plan routes down. One controlled slip at a time. This went on for absolutely AGES! After about 10 minutes, Zoe’s shoes gave out and she had to resign herself to continuing in bare foot. I can’t imagine how bad that must’ve been. Bare feet have no grip, and the floor is littered with biting ants and small sharp rocks. Tough as nails for carrying on if you ask me! I would not have coped so well.

A little over an hour in we met up with the Mahout and his elephant. I wasn’t sure what to think to begin with. Obviously “wow” crossed my mind a lot. But I was suddenly very aware of how fragile I am compared to this massive animal. Her eyes were enormous and skin so tough!

We fed her some bananas and continued walking. She definitely had a stubborn spirit about her, which I admire. If she wanted to stop and munch on some leaves there was nothing and puny human could do to stop her. Quite right! We plodded on for another hour past water-less rice paddies and through stunning vistas. Unfortunately we were drenched to our cores, cold and feeling a little miserable at the whole situation but trying to keep high spirits and laugh it all off so as not to waste the day.

After 2 hours we reached a hut where we stopped for lunch, got to sit down and warm up round a fire. The kids who lived in the house were thoroughly unimpressed at us two weirdos turning up. The more we smiled and waved, the harder they scowled. I wish I could scowl as well, what a look!

We scoffed our food, had a baked banana and sat inside while it absolutely hammered it down. We discussed how annoyed we were with the lack of honesty over what the trip entailed. People were all to keen to take our money regardless of how appropriate the trip was. It would have been just so idyllic in the dry season, with the sun in the sky. But it wasn’t. The rain changed everything and we were regretting coming, wishing we were at home, knowing there was no way out but back up the steep slippery hills.

After food we headed down to river and met the mahout bathing the elephant in the river. I was a little skeptical over jumping in. I’m not a massive fan of murky water, and this was murky jungle water, and out of my depth. I decided to just go for it, this is the one opportunity. Definitely the right decision!! I gracelessly flopped in the water and swam to the elephant, climbed on her back and started to wash off the day’s mud. She used her trunk to squirt water on me and wriggled a load, making it hard to stay on. She knew what she was doing! Having said that she was incredibly patient and obviously enjoyed having her skin washed down for her.

When we were done the guides asked if I’d like to stay on her back and ride her out of the river back to the village. YES. YES I WOULD VERY MUCH! It was great fun, her whole body swayed and shifted with every step. We sat on her neck as that’s where they can hold the most weight, which meant that every time she moved her head to eat the vegetation and yanked it, we would go flying too. What a creature, so strong, so powerful, so careful and intelligent. That was an absolute highlight and suddenly it was all worth it!

I rode her up to the huts like some warrior princess riding into battle. Big fan. We then started the long walk back up.

Zoe had a good ride back up the hill, saving her from walking in bare feet.

It was extremely steep and slippery. Not an easy climb. It took another 2 hours of “OOPS” “AH!” “OW!” and “NO!”s to get back up but we made it. Going up was easier, and we were in better spirits.

After we arrived in the Bunong village, we had a 30 minute wait until the bikes came to pick us up again, so we went for a wander around. We quickly acquired a small gathering of children who thought we looked hilarious and a bit scary. They soon warmed up to us and wanted to play though so we played all kinds of games like pat-a-cake, spinning them round, swinging them about and other games.

They were really sweet, completely up for any fun, running around having a ball. They wore tattered hand me down clothes and really didn’t care. They took us to a tamarind tree and asked us to reach son for them. We didn’t do a good enough job so they climbed precariously and gathered their own and shared them with us.

They were fresh green pods which you open and scoop out the seeds. It was tasty and completely unique. We had a great time with these kids, then had to leave to get back. It was a turkey unique day. Nowhere else would we have had such an experience. I am so glad we did go in the end. However, been able to prepare would have made all the difference.

We’re absolutely pooped now, just went to get dinner, attempting to wash our clothes and packing our bags before getting a 6.30am bus tomorrow, arriving in Sihanoukville around 12 hours later! It’ll be a long one.

Goodnight, I need to sleep!


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