We Need To Talk About The Elephants! : A Mahout Training Course at The Baanchang Elephant Park.

Beautiful elephants in Thailand.
Beautiful elephants in Thailand.

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.

Thailand's hill tribe people in Chiang Mai.
Thailand’s hill tribe people in Chiang Mai.

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?

A tiger at the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.
A tiger at the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.

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.

An elephant never forgets. Make your own mind up in Thailand!
An elephant never forgets. Make your own mind up in Thailand!

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.

A dolphin
A dolphin

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!

Horse riding in the Welsh Mountains.
Horse riding in the Welsh Mountains.

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!

Hello! I love you!
Hello! I love you!

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.

"The Tall Young Gentleman" and the Hospital Orderly at Baanchang Elephant Park!
“The Tall Young Gentleman” and the Hospital Orderly at Baanchang Elephant Park!

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!

Our guide- Vinai!
Our guide – Vinai!

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.

Trying it out: Bareback style!
Trying it out: Bareback style!

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!

Hold the elephant gently behind the ears: It doesn't hurt them!
Hold the elephant gently behind the ears: It doesn’t hurt them!

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!

Baskets of sugar cane and bananas.
Baskets of sugar cane and bananas.

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 work, I'm rather tired. Fetch me my basket!
After all that work, I’m rather tired. Fetch me my basket!

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've washed and scrubbed my elephant. What do I do now mummy?!"
“I’ve washed and scrubbed my elephant. What do I do now mummy?!”

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:

Baanchang Elephant Park. A place where the elephants can have a better life.
Baanchang Elephant Park.
A place where the elephants can have a better life.

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.

Phew!

The Fisherwoman returns!
The Fisherwoman returns!

DO I NEED TO UNDERSTAND THAI?

Nope!

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!

I can touch you now because we're the same height. Would you like a cup of tea?!
I can touch you now because we’re the same height. Would you like a cup of tea?!

ANYTHING ELSE?

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!

Mud and poo at Baanchang Elephant Park!
Mud and poo at Baanchang Elephant Park!

MY VERDICT:

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.

Highly recommended.

Let's just wade in the dirt and have fun!
Let’s just wade in the dirt and have fun!

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 is how it's done at the Baachang Elephant Park.
This is how it’s done at the Baachang 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.

Watch this space!
All smiles and bunny ears, at the end of a great day at Baanchang Elephant Park!
All smiles and bunny ears, at the end of a great day at Baanchang Elephant Park!

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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35 thoughts on “We Need To Talk About The Elephants! : A Mahout Training Course at The Baanchang Elephant Park.

  1. Great post! I have been to a few elephant parks, and some have been excellent, others horrible.
    I like that you pointed out that elephants here in Thailand are working animals. They are the horses, oxen, tractors that we use in the western world. When choosing an elephant experience you definitely want to choose a place that treats their elephants humanely, but it is important to remember that they are working animals not pets. Although I would love to have a pet elephant. 🙂 if only I could afford it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much @andthreetogo! It’s true. Elephant parks do tend to vary, just as zoos do. It is nevertheless important to realise that the Thai relationship to elephants is totally different to ours. We see cute baby elephants. They see a potential working partner.
      I’m not quite sure I’d like a pet elephant, perhaps a pet giraffe, or a pet wolf that wouldn’t attempt to eat me in my sleep LOL!

      Like

    1. You’re very welcome. I should be thanking YOU! 🙂 I really enjoy reading your blogs and it was such a shame that we never got to meet each other. I’ve got one more post to write about Thailand then I’ll be shifting back to Berlin, as there’s loads going on. I hope to write the posts about Bali in November or December when things quieten down (do they ever?), and the thought of summer fun brings a smile to people’s faces LOL!

      Like

    1. Thank you so much @meanderingfamily. That was awfully nice. 🙂 It really was a lovely, exciting day. I’ve just read your posts about Malaysia and I failed to mention that those artists are enormously talented. Whenever I get to Penang, we’ll be doing one of those urban water-colour painting courses. In fact, one of my blogger friends is in Georgetown right now with her husband and toddler. Perhaps you might have tips for each other! You can find her on http://andthreetogo.com/.
      Have fun!

      Like

  2. That last picture of the tall young gentleman is perfect! He looks quite at home on the elephant. Nice family photo, bunny ears and all, and you also looked like an orderly, just like the music producer..lol! Brave and adventurous , you lot! Glad you had fun, l couldn’t do it though. Too chicken, draw the line at horses 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks kemkem! “The Tall Young Gentleman” is a funny guy and it’s so him so of course, I included the photo. We’ve got many of the same….LOL! He had a great time and was very comfortable. I just know that he’ll be part of the generation that will do their best to protect and support vulnerable creatures. He once left a snail in his pocket (as a gift to me), and he forgot it, so it died a slimy death. He was awfully upset so we had a burial and “sent” the snail to it’s family in snail heaven!

      Tell me about it kemkem. I looked awful. I also stank of elephant poo. Thank goodness, I was smiling! No interest in elephants? Shame. Maybe next time. When you finally get yourself and your Italian husband to the edge of the Asian continent. Turkey perhaps? No elephants though. 🙂 🙂
      Ha! Horses. All I can say is: Raw bottoms!!

      Like

  3. Hi Victoria,

    This is a great post.

    As a vegan, I often get a lot of flack for visiting zoos and aquariums. I believe that visiting these sorts of institutes that are about animal conservation and research, and promote these ideals is actually beneficial to animals, rather than harmful. Monterey Aquarium and the California Academy of Sciences are perfect examples of marine conservationists and scientists working towards these goals.

    But the vegan community is not one always known for it’s ability to look at the shades of grey in situtations!

    So I did really appreciate the part where you quoted Turner Barr saying “make up your own mind”. Because it really does come down to doing your research, and deciding whether the animal enclosure etc is helping or harming the animals.And in this instance, I’m really glad you’ve been to a park that looks really devoted to animal protection and I can safely visit!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Jessica! I hoped that I could write a post noting and acknowledging different opinions, and then adding my own. That is how things are done in a democracy. Accept differences!

      Yep, the vegan team. Oh my! I’m a great supporter of “the alternative” but again, just because a person visits zoos and aquariums, or doesn’t tally with a life-style as a vegan or a vegetarian, doesn’t make that person evil! I mean, they’re not going to eat the penguins, they’re going to visit them. And short of going to South Africa (they are beautiful there) or Antarctica, I can’t see how else they would do otherwise LOL! 😉

      Doing research will hopefully, teach you of the problems out there and what you can do, or where you can go, to support the institutions that are trying their best to change. I personally believe Baanchang Elephant, along with a few other conservation projects that you can find in Northern Thailand, is one of them.

      Get out there. Find it out. Then make YOUR mind up. I’m not here to tell YOU what to do. My blog is there to tell you what there IS to do. And quite frankly, what I did for myself and family. I can live with that. The question is: Can you?
      Good luck my dear. 🙂

      Like

  4. Riding an elephant is one of my dreams – and it looks just SO great! Are the elephants playful? Did they try any pranks on their human friends/passengers?
    The music producer looks PAINFULLY white – is he allowed in the sun? Does he bathe in sunscreen before he goes outside?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Riding is a lovely experience. I hope you get to do the same one day. I rather think that the elephants were allowed to be cheeky but not in a circus-like way. Just in a “natural” way such as eating when they felt like it and nudging you if you didn’t do things their way. A little like horses I can imagine. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” type of thing!

      Yeah, The Music Producer has green eyes. He probably, should have been a red-head! Is he allowed in the sun? Probably not. I think he’s trying to be all German and stoic ‘cos I bought him Factor 50 and he turned it down for Factor 30. And yes, he later got a little burnt on the arms, around the neck, behind his ears, …. you get the message. 🙂

      Like

  5. Chiang Mai looks and sounds fun! I wouldn’t go into the dirty water to scrub the elephants, but maybe riding them is something I would do..encountered a group of elephants at Ayathuyya ruins close to Bangkok, but I was so amazed that I just touched them, and didn\t ride them, I missed out huh?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I couldn’t ever ride an animal, it’s just not fair for them to carry my burden; but that’s how I’ve made my mind up, I guess we all have to do that once we’ve looked at all of the facts and made an educated decision.

    It’s a shame that I can see some hooks/sticks in the hands of some of the mahouts which are weapons of torture for the elephants, also, in one picture there is an elephant wearing a cord around it’s next; this is covered in sharp edges and is pulled if the elephant is disobeying. Lastly, the ears of the elephant are actually one of the most sensitive parts of its body so any touching of them can lead to severe pain for them.

    Did you consider Elephant Nature Park as an option before booking in here? Their hands off approach is the closest to real conservation is one I highly support, especially after spending a month there getting to know the realities that many other elephants are still going through.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Franca. It’s always nice to share different opinions as that is what the world is about. Of course, I am aware of the discussion on whether riding an elephant is right or wrong, and I made my informed decision, as you have made yours. 🙂

      I admit that I wasn’t comfortable with some items that I saw, but neither am I happy to see a horse whip or a bit between a horses teeth, and let’s not go down the line of the animal whip at a circus, or the tightening of a dog leash, or even putting clothes on a dog! I don’t like that one bit, but neither would I want anyone to be injured by an animal that is not a pet. No “wild” animal is. And until the category of the elephant is categorised as “wild” rather than “domestic,” then we can talk again. The fact remains that in Thailand, an elephant is a working animal and must “work.”

      I explored many an organisation with the information that I had and of course, I would like to choose this one or that one. If not all, but I can’t! I am nevertheless convinced that Baanchang Elephant Park is one of the better organisations doing what it can to educate, inform, and protect. We each must choose where to put our money, and where to support. And I did!

      Like

  7. I think for the most part we’re on the same page and as I read from your article you were fully aware of the discussion around these activities that has been led by several key focal point bloggers before making your decision which I have full respect for.

    Here’s hoping that more organisations continue to push better education both locally in Thailand to eventually return the status of these amazing animals back to ‘wild’ (though why shouldn’t animals have the freedom of choice that humans so desperately cling on to) and away from their ‘domestic’ tag and usage.

    Maybe one day we’ll no longer be looking at these activities asking “should we be doing this?” but rather, “WHY did we ever do that?”.

    Liked by 1 person

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