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Elephantastic & Bye Bye Chiang Mai

March 29, 2013

Elephantastic & Bye Bye Chiang Mai

March 29, 2013

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by Kt

29.03.2013


Elephantastic!

One of the things we knew we wanted to do before we left Chiang Mai, was an elephant experience.
There are a lot of elephant experiences available in Thailand. There’s elephant shows, there’s still elephants traipsed around the streets of cities (thankfully at least banned in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, though we have seen a baby elephant on the streets of Phuket). The main thing you get up in the Chiang Mai countryside is the outdoor elephant experience. Most of these places offer elephant riding of one description or another. To be honest, when we first went there I wasn’t really aware this was a problem. I suppose you see pictures over the years of mahoots on elephants and of people riding them on safari or royalty even in India. However, I wanted to make sure that I went to the most sound and decent choice and upon looking into this I realised that actually riding on elephants might be a bit of a dream for people but it’s certainly no dream for the elephants and some of the elephants are treated very badly – either just by not being fed enough, worked too hard or in even more unpleasant ways. Without doubt the Elephant Nature Park has the seal of approval as a place that puts the elephant first. In fact, it’s not really about the tourist at all, it is a rescue centre and I’m sure if they could get by without the tourists they would, but it’s a happy bedfellow to get people to come and experience the place and pay towards it’s upkeep. In fact, lots of people stay for a week or more as volunteers and pay for the privilege. I think there is one other elephant place in the area which has the thumbs up, the rest are just not ideal and it’s more about the money than the animals. So if you visit, please do your research as it really, really does matter.

The woman who runs the place is, as Dawn, who’d visited the week before us, quite rightly says, inspirational. Lek came from a small village, where her grandfather was the local medicine man (for want of a better description). She has an affinity with elephants and made it her life’s work to rescue them.

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She has animals from all over at her place – some rescued from Burma (where they still are used for work – this has been banned in the rest of South East Asia) and some from Cambodia where they’d been injured by land mines. If she hears of an animal in trouble, she does what she can to get to it. They even provide healthcare for all the elephants in the area (unfortunately helping the cheap owners who use them to make money from tourists but who won’t look after them properly). She also has a massive kennels on the property where they have hundreds (if not near thousands) of dogs, most of whom were rescued from the Bangkok flooding a few years ago.

So what to our ‘experience’? Well, it started badly. We decided not to take much with us and so we locked up most of our money and cards in our backpack cage, only to realise we had also locked in BOTH keys. It was at least both our faults which I think prevented murder. In the end we realised we couldn’t do anything about it until we got home so we just got on with the day. However, we were not particularly welcoming (and key fiasco or not this would have grated) to the ladies on the mini bus with the ukeles. Luckily we had a video for much of the journey so they stayed pretty quiet, though somebody was trying to play along to the theme tune I believe until Mark gave them a dirty look.
I won’t mention this group of woman again, so as not to focus on the negative of what was an amazing day, but ukele lady and her friends were a pain in the backside. Very loud and look at me-ish. They’d get in everyone else’s way and their photos of their experience was the priority of the day. And as for the ukele playing and loud singing during break times. Seriously – this wonderful place was peaceful and there were people sat around in various areas contemplating life the universe and everything – only to have this peace ruined by these dappy mares. I think the icing on the cake was on the way back when one of them said we should all put in money to buy a ukele for our guide (who she’d already explained to that her $100 ukelele was entry level back in the USA to). She did this in front of him and there was an awkward silence where at least one of their party suggested that perhaps it was up to the individuals and they should talk about it later. The worst thing about this was the guy was in the van with us and can here all this. Now if there’s one thing you should learn about Thais (particularly men) before visiting their country is that they are proud and that losing face is the worst possible thing for them. This guy was clearly not pleased and I don’t blame him. My blood was boiling. I mean he wasn’t exactly poor or anything anyway – he has a good job that he clearly loves – how patronising to assume he couldn’t buy himself such a luxury if he wanted. These weren’t young people by the way – it was a group of older ladies who should flipping well know better. It did remind us why we don’t go on trips very often!

Anyhow, now that I vented about the bad manners of our other group members, I can assure you that nothing so banal could detract from the amazingness of this place.
The grounds are huge, set between the mountains, jungle and a river, the huge expanse gives the elephants all the space they need.

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The areas you walk around as a day tourist are actually quite small in the percentage of the size of the land. They have built a large wooden covered area on the edge, from which you can go to viewing platforms and walkways that are up high and in the shade.

The walkways can also be used as big scratching posts too:

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You can feed the elephants (under supervision) from these main area. You never get elephants walking about without a mahoot/caretaker nearby to keep an eye on things. They also only bring them out towards the public in shifts and for limited periods of time. If you look at photos taken at the park because everyone would have elephants and people in them it would look like you constantly have elephants and people interacting and they are everywhere, but that’s so not the case – it’s just when everyone takes the photos. The small groups are spread out in time and area and the animals are never swamped with too many people. They pretty much do their own thing. If they don’t want to hang around, they won’t. Of course, when they are being fed, they are pretty likely to! You get taught how to hand the food to sit in their trunk for them to throw into their mouths.

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The stories of the various elephants are heartbreaking. There are many blind and partially blind elephants there, not least because traditionally the working animals are usually controlled by violence and a stick in the eye is pretty effective it seems.
The lady in the photo below, Medo, was mistreated in that the owner tried to mate her with a bull elephant way, way, way too big for her as she was too young. The result? A broken back and hips. You can’t fix an elephant with injuries like that, so this is how she lives. Heartbreaking! But she is a lovely lady and is the one I gravitated towards – she totally stole my heart.

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One of the other highlights is bath time. You literally go into the river with them and a bucket and help give em a good wash. They love it.
Now let me tell you, at 5 foot 1 and a half, throwing up a bucket of water at an elephant isn’t going to be all that effective. Didn’t manage much higher than mid ear!

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The day ends with a video, a wake up call and a laugh – you’ll have to go to find out what I mean.

If you ever want to donate to a good cause or just educate yourself some, then please look at www.elephantnaturepark.org/

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So after spending many, many months in Chiang Mai it was finally time to leave for good. After months of a very quiet life, doing online work and ticking by, our last couple of weeks in Chiang Mai and in fact Thailand were a whirlwind of activity and craziness.

We took advantage of the fact that dental work in Chiang Mai is both cheap but also of a really high standard. Lots of people fly there specifically to have dental work as it can be cheaper than doing it in their own country. The dentist even had a little coffee shop at the front and a fish tank in the shape of a tooth. You can’t go wrong with that can you? I was really impressed and for the amount of work we had done (well Mark mainly), can’t believe the cost.
Having never had a filling as an adult, I didn’t really know what it would involve when I was told that I needed one and I’m still amazed now you can’t see a thing. Good job amazing dentist lady.

I was very put out that the most amazing restaurant and bar opened in our last couple of weeks just down the road from us. Bam 7 has korean food, good wine and amazing seating – all mid-century design and comfy as hell. They have cool live music too. Their menu was also a cook book. A really interesting, creative and cool place – was gutted it had not been there the whole time.

Social interaction and that
After over a year seeing no-one from the UK, we saw 2 lots of people in the space of a week. So nice to hit the town, not just the 2 of us.
First up Dawn and Mark had been hopping around Thailand and Chiang Mai was their last stop before heading home. I have been away with Dawn a couple of time and we are good socialising (read drinking) buddies, and after months of abstinence I was very much looking forward to it.
We only had a couple of days, but we managed to go to a few classic Chiang Mai places – Ginger & Kafe and the River Market and put ourselves about a bit. Dawn was hobbling around having sustained an injury at the Thai boxing in Koh Samui. No, it wasn’t in a fight, she just fell over on the way out!

I gratefully received a massive pack of Yorkshire tea, as well as some green and black, the dark chocolate one of which I was so looking forward to, but Mark polished off when drunk. Not impressed would be the understatement of the year.

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One of the nights we went into town to meet up was particularly fun as, in a tuk tuk on the way, the heavens opened and we were completely drenched by the time we arrived at their hotel. We then had to stay in for a while as it was blowing a gale outside. The glass panes of the hotel were shaking. When we eventually went out the streets around us had flooded, but luckily the River Market, which I’d intended to take them to was not too far away and luckily they had enough backup lights and candles to deal with the power cut the storm had caused. So the 4 of us had a romantic evening.

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We also shared a Thailand first with Dawn and Mark, in that in the nearby, slightly seedy, drinking area we got to see a dwarf thai boxing, watched on by ladyboys with dancing chihuahuas (don’t ask). We also experienced the worst toilets of the trip in a gay bar near their hotel. Made rural Laos look positively civilised! It was a great couple of days and for some reason, I don’t seem to have any photos. Probably a good thing.

Crossing over with Dawn and Mark briefly, we also had Mark’s mum, Margaret and her partner Don, over for a longer visit. They were staying slap bang in the middle of the old city which definitely turned out to be a great idea as they got to walk all over exploring all the Wats and wonder inside the city walls. Much to my delight we got to take them to various other Chiang Mai places as well as going back a second time to Ginger & Kafe and the River Market. Had to get my moneys worth before we left! It was great ordering things to share too – getting to try anything that we hadn’t gotten around to.

I also got a load of these. Happy days! I had marmite on toast everyday for a week.

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It was nice to introduce everybody to our neighbourhood as well – to see where we have lived most of this time and to see the difference in where we live as compared to the touristic old city. And of course to visit the crazy garden haven of iBerry ice-cream shop.

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Margaret and Don timed it well as there was a week of celebrations for the flower festival. There was lots of things going on at the gate and they got to see a parade on one day. There was a show on one night with all the kids performing dances and best of all little comedy sketches. The cutest thing ever!
They were also there long enough to enjoy a sunday night walking street and all the tasty treats that involves. And shopping – boy did they enjoy the shopping.

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