1.17.2015

Thailand: Day 6 (500 Pictures of Elephants)

This was the first (and only) morning of our whole trip that we didn't have to pack up and check out of our hotel. It was so nice to sleep in. . . we didn't leave our hotel until 9:00 am. 


The security guard outside our hotel was really kind, so the first day we were there, Steve gave him a generous tip. After that, the security guard was exceptionally kind. . . eagerly trying to figure out ways to help us. 


Every time we saw him, he had a treat for the kids. None of them actually tasted good, but it sure was a nice gesture. 


We piled into the truck and hired a ride into town. . . all because I was too cheap to pay extra for the hotel's breakfast. 


As soon as this lady on the bike saw me with a camera, she pumped as fast as she could to catch up to us: 


We asked our driver to take us to Starbucks. But he took us to a strip club called Star XIX. At 9:00 am. With six kids. 


Nope. 


We finally got to the right place. And we probably ended up spending close to as much as we would have on breakfast at the hotel. 


These two had such a great time together:


We stopped by Pum Thai Cooking School to sign up for a cooking class: 


These three girls were all wearing the clothes they purchased at the market the day before:


Then we went to go on a tour of the Ping River. . . but it was too expensive. I think they were surprised when we were negotiating a price said no and actually meant it. 


So we just walked around:  


And checked things out: 


There was a school bus with kids arriving for a tour at Wat Upakhut: 


We rode back to the hotel and changed into our swimming suits for our next activity. . . elephants!

We had attempted to ride elephants in Ayutthaya, but the setup looked more like a circus production and it didn't seem like the elephants were being treated very well. Which brings up the ethical issue of elephant tourism. . . 

Before we went to Thailand, we had people tell us, "Whatever you do, be sure to ride the elephants. It will change your life." And then other people told us, "Whatever you do, don't ride the elephants."

So . . . a little background about elephants in Thailand: 

Asian elephants are an endangered species. There are believed to be somewhere between 2000 and 3000 elephants living in Thailand, with nearly three times as many elephants in domesticity as in the wild. 

The biggest problem facing the wild Asian elephant population (of roughly 40,000) is no room to roam.

In India 300 people are killed by elephants each year. There are dangerous accounts of elephants raiding crops and villages, results in killing of these elephants. This also leads to poaching. 

Asian elephants have been domesticated for thousands of years. For generations they have moved heavy objects including trees, carried humans on their backs, and been used in wars. 

In 1989 there was a complete ban on logging in Thailand that put several thousand elephants and mahouts of out work. An elephant typically eats about 200 kilograms of food a day. "So unless you're a very wealthy person who likes to keep expensive pets, or unless your elephant is actually working for you and generating some income, it's not easy to keep an elephant in captivity," explains Robert Mather, the country representative for the World Wildlife Fund in Thailand. 

The elephants that carry tourists through the jungle are usually well cared for. "It's not desirable; it's not traditional." says Richard Lair, Thai elephant expert. "On the other hand, it's relatively harmless, and it's the only form of employment that will make sure that people continue to keep elephants." 

Some elephants are still used for illegal logging; others are used by their mahouts for begging. 

The best thing that's happened to the Asian elephant is the introduction of conservation centers and reintroduction foundations. Many of these teach about rethinking tradition. Instead of brutal punishment training methods, including "crushing", they focus on rewards. 

We knew we wanted to see the elephants. We tried to get into Patara Elephant Farm. They are much more expensive, but are known to be the best in Chiang Mai. Unfortunately, Patara only allows twelve visitors per day, so you have to book months and months in advance. 

So we went to Chiang Mai Elephant Camp. 

But first, more treats from the security guard: 


The ride in the back of the truck was over an hour long, but this girl didn't seem to mind: 


We drove on some crazy roads with branches scraping against the sides of the truck.


 I hope we have it on video somewhere. . . 


The foliage was thick and it looked like we were driving into the jungle. (I guess we were . . . ) 


And then we were there: 


From what we could see, the men were taking care of the elephants while the women were doing chores:


Working on some exterior home improvements: 


And harvesting corn that would be fed to the elephants: 


They sent us to go change in these restrooms, but I didn't think they were very sanitary . . . so we changed in the laundry room instead. 


The elephants have thick, bristly hair, so they give you these denim clothes to protect your clothes from getting ruined. 


We decided the outfits were so fantastic that we posed for some pictures: 


I told Adam not to pet the dog, but he has a hard time staying away from dogs. (And his pants are on backwards.) 


Lucy asked me to take her picture, and then posed like this. Hmmmm. 


I love how this day progressed. We started out on the observation deck and were totally fascinated by the elephants: 


Then we went down and got a closer look: 


Most of the kids got a little more than just a look: 


We went over to a different area and listened to this guy talk to us about the elephants. He explained that the camp is not like a prison and that they love their elephants like family members. The elephants are chained during the evening and night and during feeding time. The handouts make sure that the elephants each get their fair share of food and protects the food truck from getting attacked by 11 hungry elephants.

They use chains to keep the elephants from escaping. Some people think it's bad to have elephants tied up, but if they didn't tie them up, they could wander off their property and become dangerous to other people. He explained that some elephants don't like each other, and it's is pretty hard to control them when they fight. The elephant hook is not used to beat the elephant; it is there to help control the elephants to keep everyone safe. 


An adult elephant weighs around 3.5 tons. They can carry around 2 tons of load. The skin can feel if a fly sits on it, but their level of pain tolerance is pretty high. Sometimes they will scratch themselves on a tree and shake the whole tree, and sometimes they scratch themselves on a stone until they bleed. They eat around 250 kilogramss of food and drink 200 liters of water per day. They eat for 20 hours and sleep for only 4 hours per day. (Kind of like Steve, haha.)


I was a little bothered that we were grouped together with these college-aged kids. They weren't very accommodating when I was trying to take pictures, so I had to work around them. 


Feeding the elephants was awesome. And then the guy asks, "Who wants to ride an elephant?' Adam raised his hand, so he hoisted him right up on top of the baby elephant: 


Then it was time to learn how to climb up the big elephants: 


You grab onto their ear:


And put your right foot on top of their foot: 


And then up you go: 


Rachel was pretty hesitant with the elephants. She was concerned about memorizing the Elephant Language so she would be safe on her ride: 


Then it was time for everyone to get back up on the elephants again so we could learn how to get off an elephant: 

video

I did such a good job of keeping those college kids out of my pictures that you forgot they were there. It wasn't easy. And I wish we would have gotten set up better before we took off on our ride. 


Because everyone hopped on their elephants and I was too far away to get optimal pictures: 


It sure was beautiful: 


Kaleigh and I rode an elephant with a chair. Chairs are used with tourists who aren't comfortable sitting on the elephant's bare back. The chair weighs around 20 kg. It has a big pad with 35 layers under it so it doesn't hurt the elephant. 


I could have gotten better pictures if I wouldn't have ridden an elephant at all. I was at the mercy of my elephant for how close I got to the others. And it was hard to get pictures in focus because my elephant was jerking us around so much. 


Rachel and Lucy's mahout jumped on the back of the elephant and rode with them. I'm not sure if he thought they needed help controlling their elephant or if he was being lazy and didn't want to walk. (I'm betting it was the later.) He started smoking and Rachel, who has a severe aversion to smoke, just about died. 


Then it was time to wash the elephants: 


Rachel hopped off for this activity: 


It was Lucy's very favorite part: 


Those are big blobs of poo floating around . . . 


I took this picture right after Adam unexpectedly leapt from one elephant's back to another. He got a little lecture from Steve about being gentle with the elephants. But I sure wish I could have captured him mid-air because that would have been a phenomenal picture. 


I'll admit I was just a little nervous when they let Lucy and Adam ride an elephant by themselves: 


Needless to say, everyone had an amazing time: 


They sent the college kids off to the showers and told us to go get cleaned up in the waterfall: 


It started to drizzle and felt like we were living something right out of a National Geographic magazine: 


The elephant experience also included a meal. It wasn't very good, but we were starving and ate most of it. They also had photos for sale. They had a photographer who took pictures (on foot . . . smart guy) the whole time. The photos weren't nearly as good as mine, but they were decent and this would be a good option for someone who didn't have a designated photographer with them. 

And then we rode the truck back to our hotel. I started having stomach problems, and it was a very long ride. I was in excruciating pain and spent most of the ride with my head in Steve's lap, trying not to throw up. As soon as we arrived at our hotel, Steve rushed me up to our room and I made it to the bathroom just in time. This was the only time I got sick during our whole trip, so not too bad. (I could have skipped over this, but it's one of the questions everyone always asks me.) I should also add that the Thompsons were extremely considerate and stepped in to help with our kids and didn't make me feel any more embarrassed than I already was. 

I spent the rest of the night in my hotel room with the little kids. Steve took Rachel and Lucy back to the night bazaar. They tried to buy more gypsy pants, but sadly, they were all gone. 

2 comments:

Kayli said...

Sooooooo amazing!!! I can't wait to go to Thailand! someday.

Rebecca said...

Those pictures are just amazing! I love the ones where you can see all the elephants walking through the river with their riders! AMAZING! I hope your kids realize how INCREDIBLY lucky they are to get to experience all these amazing adventures!