At the Elephant Sanctuary
Elephants are a big attraction in Northern Thailand and like many tourist attractions, not without some controversy. Recently the Thai government banned logging in Thailand which put several thousand elephants and their mahouts (handlers) out of work. Elephant owners were now stuck with non earning, expensive animals that require a tremendous amount of food and care. Some continued to use the elephants to log illegally, others went into the tourist business. The "tourist elephants" ply their trade all over Thailand in a variety of forms; trekking elephants, trick performing elephants, and Bangkok begging elephants are the most common. Unfortunately many of these elephants are abused and live miserably; an elephant should not be walking around the streets of Bangkok for certain.
Enter in Lek, the founder of Elephant Nature Park. She has created a sanctuary that rescues sick, abused, and otherwise needy elephants. Their goal is to change the structure of the Thai elephant tourist trade to a more interactive format where visitors can interact with the elephants going through their daily routine rather than watching them perform or taking one for a brief ride. At the sanctuary you learn the story behind all of the elephants (some rather shocking tales of abuse and misuse - one was a meth addict - forced to take the drug so it could extend its work hours, another blinded, one who stepped on a landmine, etc). Lek brings in the elephants, rehabilitates them and tries to raise enough money to buy them from the owner. She has succeeded in forming a herd of about 40 elephants. They do not work anymore. In order to get the elephants to the point where they are trainable enough to work, whether its logging, performing, or trekking, a "breaking" procedure is conducted. I won't go into details but it is three days of brutal treatment done to the elephants when they are young. We saw a video of it and it was hard to watch. Lek's idea is to stop making work elephants - they are not needed anymore as the logging industry is finished. She wants the elephant attractions in Thailand to be an experience where people can come and pay a fee for a day of interacting with the elephants living a relatively "normal" life at sanctuaries. We had a great day at the park and I highly recommend a visit.
A white elephant. Its reddish color is due to the color of the dirt that they are constantly rubbing themselves with. Even so he was considerably lighter than all the other elephants. White elephants are quite rare and many end up belonging to the King of Thailand’s royal herd.
A portion of the elephants daily food. We loaded two pick up trucks full of pineapples, bananas, corn, and pumpkins.
The elephants were impressively nimble with their trunks and shockingly powerful with their mouths. They could pick the prickly leaves off the top of a pineapple and crush a pumpkin with their lips
Up close with an elephants mouth.
A three month old with her mom. She also had a nanny who was always close by. There was an occasion when one of the juvenile males got to close to the baby and the mom and nanny let him know in a very aggressive manner that he was not at all welcome. They ran into him and then chased him to another part of the compound. He took out his frustration by pestering the 85 year "old dame" of the group. She patiently endured this annoyance. Another time the baby wandered away from the protective couple. They trumpeted several times and when the baby did not respond they began tearing around the compound looking for her.
Little baby with the elephants and a left hand sticker.
Scenes from Chiang Mai
The broom lady. Sweeping is serious business everywhere I have been in Southeast Asia.
The family house in the Baan Orapin Bed and Breakfast in Chiang Mai. Wonderful place to stay.
Little baby in the tub.
The view from the train between Chiang Mai and Bangkok. It is about a 13 hour ride. I did it during the day as I wanted to see the scenery but many people get a sleeper and do the trip at night. It cost me about $10 US. About 6 hours of the trip is in the "rice bowl" of Thailand, the fertile, well watered plain that makes up most of central Thailand. As you pass mile after mile of brilliant green rice fields you begin to see why Thailand is the number one exporter of rice in the world. I believe I had a second class ticket and the car was quite comfortable. It was air-conditioned but got a little warm in the heat of the day. We had ceiling fans to turn on to create an extra breeze. There was an attendant on board who handed out food and drink a few times. The train stopped at many towns and cities on the way which was a nice change in scenery from the endless plains. When the plains end as you near Chiang Mai, the landscape turns to hills with scrub brush and then forests. If you are the type of person who can stand sitting around without doing much and enjoy trains I recommend the trip - type A personalities take the plane.
Scenes from Bangkok
Alicia successfully thwarting the "I'm sorry its closed but I can take you to a special showing only taking place today - its just a short ride away and doesn't cost much - then I can take you to some secret gem stores and maybe you like a massage later?" scam. She told us the palace was closed due to a royal reception but she could take us on a tour of something else and then get us in for a special tour a little later blah, blah. Suddenly her relative showed up and was volunteered to be our driver wherever we were going. I said we don't want to go to any of those places. She she seemed genuinely shocked and asked why not! She didn't give up until I looked down the sidewalk a ways and saw people entering into the palace at another gate. She left us at that point and went after another potential victim. Notice how concerned the guard is about the obvious scam taking place.
Three generations of lovely smiles.
Bangkok is built in, on and around the Chao Phraya River. Canals known as "klongs" wind there way through the city and are traditionally the center of Bangkok life. A great trip is to take a long tail boat back into the klongs where many of the old residential neighborhoods exist.
Swag hat, baby and left hand on the klong.
The ubiquitous Bangkok tuk-tuk.