Ella Phantsgerald

Mae Taeng, Thailand

This is an excerpt from a larger list, where I give various activities a Sober Fun rating of 1-10. Entries from this list are scattered throughout my website, or you can find that complete list HERE.

I want to start by saying that I realize this isn’t an activity that a lot of people will readily have access to, so if you’re looking for something fun and sober to do on a Friday night, this probably isn’t it. Just know that this gets a Sober Fun rating of 10, and move on, but keep it in the back of your mind, or put it on your BUCKET LIST!



I remember reading that we were going to “help bathe the elephants,” and I didn’t think too much about it at first. I think I just saw the word ELEPHANTS and was sold. In my opinion, any time spent with an elephant is magical and precious, and it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing. It wasn’t until days later, when I found myself telling other people what I was going to be doing with the elephants, that I started questioning it. What do we think that means exactly, that we are going to “help bathe them?”

Firstly, I’ve been around elephants before, and bathing is kind of what they do. In fact, they do it all day, every day. They even squirt each other AND STUFF, and I would watch them for hours in Africa, mesmerized by how playful they are. They are as good at bathing both themselves and each other, as you’d expect an animal to be whose FACE IS A GIGANTIC WATER HOSE, so the idea that a few of us tiny humans were going to in any way “help them” was suddenly very comical to me.

They can blast each other, and even themselves, with huge precision-gushes of water from their trunks, so what were we going to do? Show up with silly little sandcastle pails or something, like dweebs, and occasionally throw a few pitiful little buckets full of water onto their lower legs?

Yes, actually. Yes, yes, yes.

Yes that is exactly what we were intended to do, and that is what we did! It was wonderful. I chuckle every time I think about it, though, and I imagine that the elephants awoke that morning to read a quite different description of the day:

“Graciously indulge the silly humans and pretend as if they are helping to bathe you. It’s ridiculous, we know, we know, but they are small and dumb, and this seems to make them happy. Also, it makes them stop trying to ride us….”

All jokes aside, I eventually realized what this was really all about, this “Bathing of the Elephants.” The Thai people are waking up to the fact that riding elephants doesn’t look great on the world stage anymore, with many organizations claiming it is cruel and unpleasant for the elephants. (I guess the elephants don’t absolutely love it the way we must know our AMERICAN HORSES do? Hmm...).

Yet elephant riding has long since been a huge tourism draw for Thailand, so what are they to do? This is them pivoting, I think. Don’t ride our elephants, bathe them!

In all honesty, I probably would have still ridden one, if that was humanely on offer… I mean, I weigh 190 lbs, compared to their 10,000+ lbs, so it would probably feel the same as it does to a dog when I see someone has given them a fun little hat to wear. To an elephant, I’d probably feel a squirmy little human hat: ridiculous looking, perhaps a tad irritating, but ultimately manageable.

In fact, although I do not have a photo of it (regrettably), we saw many a local young man in Thailand perched atop the head of an elephant, riding them around the jungle like they were OLD PALS. It didn’t appear to be cruel or unusual to me at all. It felt more sweet and adorable, and I was instantaneously jealous. I want an elephant buddy, dang it! Think of the fun we’d have together!

And oh my god, can you even imagine what our Australian shepherds would do if we brought them home an elephant? It would be like the mother-load, every herding dog’s dream come true! They’d think they had died and gone to Heaven. In the absence of a cow herd to wrangle, I have for many years watched Aussies on our residential street try and nip at the “heels” of moving car tires. Just imagine if I brought them something that was the size of a car, but also alive and able to squirt them with water. *Swoon!*

I’m not even going to try and end this properly, because now I have to go this very second and write an Elephant/Aussie buddy comedy. I think I'll call the main character Ella Phantsgerald. I wonder if it’s live action or animated? And do they maybe solve mysteries together? Ooh! Maybe they can talk to horses and ask them if they like being ridden or not? So many possibilities…!