Elephant Loop

After a hard day’s doctoring (well, three home visits isn’t bad), I drove the trusty Nissan Pajero down the bumpy track to Mushroom Lodge, where I am billeted. It was almost five o’clock and the sunlight was honey-coloured and gorgeous. I passed a track off to the right, signposted “Elephant Loop”. It looked so inviting that I couldn’t resist, and turned off. The track was definitely the “road less well travelled”. It was more rutted and bumpy than the road to the lodge. After 100 metres, the track entered a cutting, with high-sided walls, leading to a stream. I stopped the car to watch and wait.


Three hamerkop birds flew in and stood in the stream, fishing with their spear-like beaks. These birds have a curious head, shaped like a hammer, hence the name. They have dark brown plumage and long legs. I watched them catching silvery tiddlers in their beaks for ten minutes until there was a commotion in the sky. Several small birds were mobbing a large raptor. The raptor sought refuge in a tree at the stream’s edge. Through the binoculars I identified it as an adult African Harrier Hawk, with its small head, yellow face, light grey back, and white barred tail.



This was fun. I was really enjoying myself when I heard a baboon warning call. These calls are different depending on the threat. I was hoping that a leopard was going to come down to the stream to drink. I scanned the edge of the forest with my binoculars, but couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. I glanced in the rear view mirror, and saw a massive elephant, about twenty metres away, lumbering down the track towards the stream. There was another elephant following behind it and I became seriously worried.


I quickly went through my options. What was that saying, “Never get between an elephant and the river”? No, that was hippos, not elephants. The elephant was too close for me to reverse out of the cutting, it might think I was attacking it. If I stayed put, the thirsty elephant might push the vehicle aside or into the stream. If I drove away across the stream, the elephant might think I was retreating, and pursue me. I might even get stuck in the muddy banks of the stream.*

I decided to drive slowly forward, through the mud, across the stream and up the other bank, intending to demonstrate strength of purpose, not weakness. Once the vehicle reached the crest of the bank, I drove on for fifty metres, before turning round to see if I was being followed by irate elephants.


Question “What is the best thing you have seen from a car?”

Answer “No elephants in my rear view mirror”


So the first part of the track’s name was true to form. There were elephants. Was the track going to loop around? I pottered around for a few kilometres, photographing puku, yellow-billed and saddle-billed storks and eventually returned to the track close to the stream again. I drove tentatively to the edge of the stream and looked carefully for elephants, but they had gone. I crossed the stream and got back onto the main track to the lodge, thinking I had had a very close shave.


* The correct procedure was to remain still and allow the elephants to pass me, according to the experts.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside




Toilets at the Khaomae Khaofung restaurant, Mae Sot. Outside loos, in the tropical gardens, charming. When I showed the last photo to our nurses, they thought the urinals were chairs.

Thai Massage

With a proper Thai massage parlour just round the corner from my guesthouse, I went for a real massage on my last evening in Mae Sot. I had to change into baggy pyjamas and lie down on a thin mattress. The masseuse was brutal. It hurt. A lot. I thought she would realise I was in agony by my whimpering and groaning, but she probably thought she was working on the correct bit of knotted muscle. When I could take no more and begged her to stop, she seemed quite surprised. Not as surprised though, as when I got cramp, and had to get up and hop on my left leg (never the same since sciatica in 2012). And the ending was very abrupt. She stopped in mid stretch, saying, “Finish now.”

I am not sure if you can describe an hour of being a willing torture victim for £2 as good value. I took some photographs of the classic Thai massage technique, and some exercises to reduce “watta on the scrotum” (bottom right).



Just to reassure you, the masseuse was fully trained and qualified. Here’s her certificate…for reading, writing and critical thinking.


Bamboo is amazing. It can grow at 10 cm per HOUR, reaching heights of 30 metres. It can be stronger than steel. It can be eaten, made into paper, clothing, building material, musical instruments and furniture. As a boy, my father told me about “split cane” fishing rods. In 1981, my wife and I worked for Save the Children Fund, in Thailand. We bought some bamboo garden furniture made by Khmer refugees in Sa Kaeo camp, Thailand. We stored it in a garage in Bangkok and planned to transport it back to UK. The bamboo had been treated by immersing the poles in running water to leach out the sugars in the stems. This had not been done very well with the bamboo used for our furniture. Within a month, termites had reduced the chairs to piles of dust.

Bamboo ferry pulled by rope
Bamboo ferry pulled by rope