An afternoon with the Elephants - Eco Tourism in Chiang Mai
Updated: Mar 30, 2019
10 years ago I visited Thailand on a short unplanned trip and as many unsuspecting tourists (and even dazzled , let's face it) I did one of the elephant tours offered in Phuket, where we hyde them through the forest, normally in pairs, on the top of the animal on an iron framed chair . Fortunately , over time - the evolution of the human being - , the arrival of the internet , today we are aware that this type of tourism is abusive , maltreating the poor defenseless animals who come to work for 12 hours in unbearable heat , with ropes and frames to hurt their skin .
Elephants are important figures in the history and culture of Thailand, thousands exists , especially on the border with Burma ( Myanmar ) and Laos, despite their presence had dramatically decreased over the last century .
They are an official symbol of the country and object of national pride .
They had virtue in the wars , when the tailandese king, mounted on one of them, defended his kingdom against kingdom of Siam.
They are also spiritual figures associated with Buddhist and Hindu beliefs and often represented in the arts.
Even thought , they were and still are used in heavy duty carrying wooden logs (practice that still exists in Burma), been used to open roads in the forest and, unfortunately, tourism.
Faced with so much reputation (and cuteness), it was inevitable wanting to spend time with such amazing creatures - in a responsible and sustainable way, of course!!!
Fortunately tourism has undergone major changes in the country and many stances of eco-tourism and associations for protecting the elephants , were emerging.
Some will say that it is best not attend this kind of place, I think we should go because, after all changes don't happen from one day to another and thousands of mahouts (elephant trainers, without studies, who dedicated their whole lives to them and can't do anything else in their lives ) and their animals would be unemployed / orphans, subject to some evil.
The important thing is to look for places that do not use the iron chair, which does not put the animals in performances on two legs, (as in circus), or make the paint and etc, stressful activities for them. Places and people who truly understand their value and care for them.
After much research , we got the package " A day as an elephant caretaker " at the Chai Lai Orchid where we follow the Mahouts , feed the animals, bath them in the river and go for a walk through the forest, learning the voice commands.
The Chai Lai is also a hotel/hostel , super cute, rustic and simple, where guests , in addition to doing the same tours , observe the elephants around all the time . There is also offered the option to hike and spend the night in the hut of one of the tribes in the surrounding mountains .
Besides, they do a beautiful job of educating and rehabilitating women of the tribes who did not have study opportunities , some for becoming mothers too young - many exiled from Myanmar - saving them from abuses and sex trafficking .
The mission of the place, run by an American woman, non-profit , is to show the owners of elephants and their mahouts that there's no need to mistreat them so that tourists come. They will come simply by the pleasure of spending time with them!
Lack of information is the main reason of animal abuse in Thailand.
We begin with the task of helping feeding the animals .
When an animal needs to eat 250kg of food a day , or almost the whole day , you can bet that aid in feeding is welcome !!
The elephant's trunk , which "should" be a nose is actually a long and artful arm , seeking food anywhere and bringing pieces of bananas and sugar cane to his mouth .
From there we follow the mahout to the edge of the river, where dee dee, a young rescued elephant is waiting for us for a bath, showing her ability to communicate, performing some tricks and insisting on giving me a "tchuk tchuk" !!
She doesn't give up till she gets it!!
Then is time to beat the heat and rub the rough long-haired skin of the animal !! They love it!!
And more of the wet Tchuk Tchuk !!
We learned to mount the elephant from the trunk, element that among many utilities also serves as a tube where they load water to drink from the mouth or jet up high to cool their bodies down - or even have fun watering tourists .
Dee dee is so cute and smart that in the end even I was asking for kisses!!!
From there we went back to the older animals and went out to a mounted hike , learning to command them by voice, followed closely by their cute babies.
*Mé lôu = the elephant goes down in their knees so we can mount *Rau = stop *Rui = walk
Believe it or no, it works!!!
To end this beautiful day we went down the Mae Wang river by bamboo rafting!!
I left reconnected with nature, grateful for this experience and at peace with myself.
Elephants are extraordinary creatures and it is never too much to say that it is our duty, as tourists, to not contribute to abusive activities .
I saw some tied elephants and one alone in the field, I asked why. One of them was very aggressive and unfortunately had to be held far from the others/tourists and some were tied because the land is not fenced so they could roam around and disappear.