Last week, I told how you about the delightful time that we had at our cookery school and that in fact, Chiang Mai was everything that we had dreamed of, and more.
Another reason why we wanted to go to “The Rose of the North” was also because of the fertile Ping River Valley. The Valley is a patchwork of paddy fields surrounded by rolling hills, forested mountains, jungles and rivers. The ideal terrain for adventure travel, trekking, river rafting, four-wheel drive safaris, visiting Thailand’s hill tribe people, and of course, riding the elephants.
Yes, the elephants.
I know what you’re thinking. Riding elephants has become a controversial issue. Indeed, human contact with wild animals is anything but simple. A highly respected blogger: Turner Barr from Around the World in 80 Jobs spent some time as a volunteer at the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi as part of the Tiger Island Project in which that age old question arose: Tiger Temple Abuse: Is Tiger Temple drugging the tigers?
His verdict: Make up your own mind.
Another respected blogger: Amanda Williams from A Dangerous Business also spent some time as a volunteer at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai and she wrote about what it is like as an elephant and animal volunteer.
Her verdict: Visit and Volunteer, but don’t ride the elephants.
Indeed, another well-known and respected blogger: Matthew Kepnes from Nomadic Matt actually started an awareness campaign about dolphin riding, playing and swimming that resulted in so much media chatter that it was eventually dropped from the TBEX (Travel Blogger Exchange) convention in Cancun, Mexico this month! He wrote about Stopping the Promotion of Unethical Tourism (Boycott TBEX!). It was so controversial that “discussions” got rather nasty!
His verdict: Promote responsible tourism, and don’t spend your hard-earned money on those organisations that don’t.
So back to me. What do I think?
If you recall, I wrote that 2014, was the not the first time I had been to Thailand, and it wasn’t even the second (2nd) time. It was the third (3rd).
The first time that I had seen a wild elephant was on the streets of Bangkok in 1999. This huge elephant was just waddling along in the Bangkok traffic. My mouth hung open as I had never seen the like. I was also worried ‘cos an elephant isn’t exactly dainty and things were falling around it. I’ve seen and ridden elephants in India, in Vietnam and in Indonesia. I’ve also ridden camels and horses, but I drew the line at touching a white tiger in South Africa. I was far too scared!
Unfortunately, in 1999, I also encountered elephants drawing, painting, running, and doing tricks. In fact, we all have. At the local circus or country fair.
I’m not proud of it. It was all rather entertaining. However, the internet is now at my fingertips. I can choose to be informed and then make make my choice and so I am enclosing the post of a new blogger. A family blogger: Pati & Andrew Goodell from The Meandering Family. They also thought hard and long about whether to ride elephants or not, and chose to support a conservation park called the Baanchang Elephant Park in Chiang Mai, where there were abundant opportunities to engage with the elephants. This is what they wrote about Riding Elephants in Thailand.
Their verdict: Elephant conservation or Elephant Parks. Recommended.
it must be noted that in Thailand elephants are not categorised as “wild” animals but as part and parcel of Thai culture, as much as horses and cows are part of ours. I always feel so sorry for both the elephant and it’s trainer but the harsh reality is, that elephants are not pets but working animals. I’d rather they “work” at an elephant camp that educates all and sundry, than a circus of painting, running and jumping!
I like what I had heard and seen about the the Baanchang Elephant Park in Chiang Mai so I decided to book our elephant experience with them.
On the day that we chose, a van came to collect us from Tanita House at the early hour of 06:45 in order to get to the park before the sun became too much! In our van was a British family of four: a lawyer, his wife and two kids, a British girl from London, and ourselves.
When we arrived, we were led to an open dining room where we were asked to help ourselves to cups of tea, local coffee, and bottles of water. After introducing ourselves we were given the blue clothing of the Mahouts. A sort of denim button-up smock, some quarter-length trousers, a towel, and a key for our personal locker. Let me tell you, I looked ridiculously liked a fisher-woman, The Music Producer looked like a hospital orderly, and only “The Tall Young Gentleman” looked decent LOL!
Anyway, we were led to a group of gentle elephants by our guide – Vinai – who showed us how to communicate with the elephants, how to stroke, and how to talk to the elephants. We were also taught about the lifestyle and behaviour of Thai elephants, the basic commands for elephants (which I can no longer remember LOL), and how to ride on the elephant’s neck using different spoken techniques.
Then, and only then, we were allowed to get on the elephant. BAREBACK!
Let me tell you, it’s a little bit scary because the elephant is a huge animal and you need it’s co-operation before you can attempt to climb up. We were encouraged to whisper and talk to the elephants in a soft manner and then to leap on, by gently holding onto the back of the ears of the elephant. Yes, the ears!
One 20-something young man was so unconvinced, that he refused to get onto the elephant and decided to walk! Even The Music Producer had a few gulps before he went on the elephants back as you really are as free as the wind. “The Tall Young Gentleman” on the other hand took to riding the elephant as if he and it, were one. I also noticed that every now and then he would whisper to it. I’m very proud. Our son has always been an animal lover and was previously designated to look after his grandparents dog whenever he visits. He also rushes to the side of practically all our friends who have cats, mice, lizards and a giant Iguania!
Once we had the rhythm, we then went to feed the elephants.
That was so much fun! We carried huge baskets to where the other elephants were and fed them huge bunches of bananas and sugar cane. It was a little strange ‘cos some of the elephants would snatch the fruit out of your hands, or nudge you if you weren’t fast enough LOL! All in all, a great experience.
After all that excitement, it was time for our lunch, so we went back into the open dining room and had plates of Stir – Fried Noodle Thai Style or Pad Thai. The guides went around with bowls of Pad Thai until you were stuffed. “The Tall Young Gentleman” had three (3) plates!
After our delicious lunch, we each took an elephant and started our trek up the hills and the muddy forests, through the trees and branches and around the paddy fields. You could see all around and even some of the villages. The elephants were gentle and also quite cheeky as they kept wandering off to chew bamboo fresh from the trees and bushes! I had a few cuts and bruises from low-hanging branches that the elephants had pushed through and then had sprung back into my face, but I soon learnt to duck down before we got to them.
After about an hour of gentle trekking, we went to a small river and then the water fun began.
I don’t like cold water and I definitely don’t like dirty water so I abstained from getting into the river and just took personal photos. The Music Producer and “The Tall Young Gentleman” however, were in their element and had lots of fun, washing, stroking, brushing, scrubbing, standing, and generally falling all over the elephant, and each other. Our son had made a friend of another British boy of similar age, so they frolicked about with buckets of water and rapid screaming of delight!
Altogether the trek took about 1.5 hours and then we returned to base to shower as we were all enormously filthy and full of mud, dirt and elephant smells!
The showers were lovely and warm and the towels were clean. Most people had brought extra clothing and footwear with them and so went home quite clean and enormously happy. A really lovely day.
Here’s the info:
WHAT IS THE BAANCHANG ELEPHANT PARK?
The Baanchang Elephant Park is a conservation park dedicated to providing elephants with the highest quality-of-life possible.
WHAT IS A MAHOUT?
A Mahout is the caretaker of the elephant. Each elephant has two or three Mahouts and is extremely connected to that person. The Mahout is like a spiritual brother and lives in partnership with the elephant and taking care of the elephant’s welfare with a lot of love and care. The elephants do likewise and are connected to those who treat them with love and are kind. An elephant never forgets!
WHAT IS THE BAANCHANG ELEPHANT PARK ABOUT?
It is against the practice of separating baby elephants from their mother and accepts, and provides care, for orphaned baby elephants. They are located in Mae Taeng about an hour away from Chiang Mai and their goal is to teach visitors about the importance of elephant preservation. The Park also provides a home, and a purpose for domesticated elephants, with the generous support of visitors who take advantage of the once-in-a lifetime opportunity for an elephant training course.
There are no seats. No reins. No buckles. Just you and the natural rhythm of an elephant stride.
DO I NEED TO UNDERSTAND THAI?
These tour are in English. If English isn’t your native-language not to worry, as most of the Mahout training course is dedicated to enjoying your time and experience with the elephants.
WHAT DO I NEED?
A pair of good shoes and flip-flops, a pair of sunglasses, a hat, toiletries, a camera, mosquito spray, sun-cream, and a huge smile!
Yes. This one day elephant Mahout training course costs 4,200 Baht or $130 for an adult on a single elephant joining a group, and 2,400 Baht or $75 for two adults sharing a single elephant joining a group. Children under 10 cost 3,500 Baht or $109 on a single elephant and 1,500 or $47 for two children sharing a single elephant. It’s a little pricey but was well worth the price and goes to pay for the upkeep and protection of the elephants.
And yes, they’ll take photos, so don’t worry if you forget your camera or choose not to take it whilst riding, due to bumps, rain, and mud!
A wonderful day. We really learnt a lot about how to ride elephants in a natural way, how to look after them, and how to play and feed the elephants.
Everyone should volunteer or visit a conservation programme of sort every now and then, if only to make sure that your money goes to where you want it to.
WHAT IF AN ELEPHANT MAHOUT TRAINING COURSE ISN’T MY CUP OF TEA?
Keep reading my blog. There is more to come!
For more information about elephant Mahout training courses please contact: Baanchang Elephant Park.
This article is not sponsored and even though I received a discount, all opinions and the simple Pad Thai I gratefully ate, are my very own!
I have so much to share with you so for the month of September only, I will be writing about our adventures in Thailand, Indonesia, and Qatar and at the same time, keeping you posted as to the fantastic things going on in my wonderful city of Berlin.
In October I will be writing about the British National Theatre LIVE production. The next production coming up at Cinestar Berlin – Original is:
A Streetcar named Desire on: 02.10.14.
Skylight on: 30.10.14.
Frankenstein – Original Cast on: 13.11.14.
Frankenstein – Reversed Cast on: 27.11.14.
I’ll be participating in An Eat-the-world food Kreuzberg walking tour on 18.10.14.
DANIEL SLOSS – Live! with very special guest Jack Woodhead – is going to take place on 21.10.14 at the Quatsch Comedy Club in Berlin.
In November, Berlin will be celebrating and marking the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.
Following a smash-hit tour of the UK and Ireland, LET IT BE will descend on Berlin with a six (6) day exclusive showing of a celebration of The Beatles from 11.11.14 – 16.11.14 at the Admirals Palast.
October is going to be a marvellous month.
Have you been on an elephant training course? What do you think of riding elephants at a conservation park?
See you in Berlin.
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