photos by Karen Gershowitz

Elephant Trekking in Thailand

An excerpt from my upcoming travel memoir, Travel Mania: Stories of Wanderlust:

The thought of sitting atop a very tall elephant, traversing rough terrain, terrified me.

I have an acute fear of falling, a bona fide phobia. If I have to cross a stream while hiking by walking across a log or even climb a tall ladder to change a light bulb, my breathing gets ragged and I freeze in place.

But after reading descriptions of elephant trekking from Mae Hang Son in northern Thailand-sitting high above the ground with an unimpeded view of an unspoiled landscape and watching elephants cavort in the river-I was determined to overcome my fears.

So, prior to heading to Thailand, I prepared myself with three hypnosis sessions that promised to significantly lessen, if not eliminate, my phobia.

At the orientation meeting, I learned getting on an elephant in the wild requires balance, dexterity, and speed. I lack all three.

I’d imagined a ladder would be used to climb onto the animal’s broad back. Instead, I watched, amazed and panic-stricken, as the mahout (the handler) demonstrated how to mount. First, he made a hand signal to the elephant, who dutifully knelt down. Then, placing his foot on the elephant’s massive knee, he leaned into the creature’s hide and used his hands to balance himself. Finally, grabbing the wooden seat strapped onto the animal’s back, he hauled himself up. The whole maneuver took about ten seconds. The elephant stood up to her full height, and the mahout towered over us, flashing a huge smile and waving. He leaped off and did it again, saying “Easy! Easy!”

I almost gave up before I started, even though I’d already paid for the three-day trip. When my turn came, I kept repeating to myself, “You’ve had hypnosis, you’ve had hypnosis.”

I surprised myself by quickly and easily climbing aboard, then held onto the seat with a death grip as Maeyo, my four-legged transportation, followed her mahout’s command, rose to her feet, and began to walk forward. The mahout sat in front of us, bareback on the elephant’s broad neck, his legs dangling loosely in front of her ears.

Our caravan of six mature elephants, plus a baby accompanying his mama, started down a dirt path through lush vegetation. I was surprised and delighted that I felt comfortable moving along at tree-top level, even though I was sitting on a narrow bench with a low back and nothing to keep me from pitching over the side. The ground was fairly level, the pace slow, and within minutes fear was replaced by the excitement of the trek. I watched the baby, full of energy and utterly adorable, run ahead until pulled back into place by mama’s gentle trunk and deep snorts.

I settled in, very grateful the hypnosis was allowing me to experience this exotic adventure and, for the remainder of the day, reveled in having conquered my fear.

* * * * *

To learn more about Travel Mania, please click here:

Originally published at




Travel addict, travel writer, travel photographer, author of an upcoming travel memoir: Travel Mania, from She Writes Press

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Karen Gershowitz

Karen Gershowitz

Travel addict, travel writer, travel photographer, author of an upcoming travel memoir: Travel Mania, from She Writes Press

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