Tippawan ‘Bua’ Kongjan, tour guide at Elephant Hills, tells Ben Ireland how having the animals’ best interests at heart makes for a better experience.
I start the morning by…
Having a cup of coffee, often with the guests. I live on-site, about 300 metres from the guests’ restaurant area.
The first thing I do when I get to work is…
Make sure the guests are OK. I answer any questions and act as a translator between guests and our elephant keepers, who speak little English. I remind visitors what they need to wear and take for Khao Sok National Park.
My daily duties involve…
Preparing equipment, such as first aid kits, drinking water, towels, lamps (for the bat cave), bamboo sticks for trekking, snacks, sun protection and ponchos. Guests see Asian elephants, but also trek through rainforest, travel by canoe, longtail boat and Burmese junks (boats), discover Cheow Larn Lake and the mangrove swamps on Thailand’s west coast. As well as elephants, Khao Sok is home to more than 300 bird species, 48 mammals such as gaurs, tigers and clouded leopards. We often spot long-tail macaques, dusky leaf monkeys, white-handed gibbons flying lizards. With the Elephant Experience, guests get to feed, wash and interact with Asia’s largest land animal and have time to take pictures and watch elephants in their natural environment.
I’ve been in my job for….
Six years at Elephant Hills. I spent a year with a tour operator in Trang Province beforehand.
I became a guide because…
I like nature and animals, especially elephants. I had never worked with them before, but they are a common site in southern Thailand so I’ve seen them at different elephant camps.
What does Elephant Hills do differently?
We don’t allow guests to ride elephants; it is a more natural experience, and we want our guests to learn about the Asian Elephant. We offer the jungle safari, jungle lake safari and rainforest safari. Guests on the three-day jungle lake safari spend a night in a floating tent on Cheow Larn Lake, meet elephants and go to the rainforest camp.
What should tourists know before they come to Elephant Hills?
That our elephants are domestic and we do not allow riding. Guests watch elephants swim in the muddy pool, and get to wash and feed them. Knowing the elephants are treated well makes our guests have a more enjoyable time and our elephants live a healthier and happier life. They basically do what they’d do in the wild: eat, bathe, sleep and walk around. There’s no tricks or circus shows.
Has the job changed since elephant riding became less accepted?
We stopped elephant rides back in 2010, before it became such a hot topic. The only change is that we get a few more clients visiting us instead of elephant riding camps.
The most rewarding part is…
When guests are happy, which doesn’t usually mean the elephants doing anything crazy. Our guests just love seeing the elephants happy and healthy in their natural environment.
The thing I’m asked most is…
How I got the job. I studied tourism at university and learnt English. Then I applied and was lucky enough to get the job.
To relax I like to…
Travel around Thailand. I have visited other elephant camps, and it has helped me understand how developed Elephant Hills is. I’ve also met lots of foreign travellers, which has helped me to improve my English and better understand other cultures.
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