ELEPHANT! We had the most amazing day today...............
We had scheduled a tour guide, car and driver to take us way up into the jungle to an elephant camp and also visit a Hill Tribe village. After checking many reviews, we chose Blue Elephant Tours for a half day tour.
Our guide, a delightful young lady named "Mam" met us in our hotel lobby promptly at 12:45. She escorted us to a waiting late model air conditioned van, complete with driver. The cost for this extravagance?? Less than $50 for the entire afternoon!
It was a nice drive up into the jungle, and we had a great time visiting with Mam. Her English is superb, and she is a wealth of knowledge. She answered our many questions with excellent and thoughtful answers.
We came to the Maesa Elephant Camp first, paid our admission and walked to a seating area. I hadn't realized that we were seeing an elephant show, but we were just fine with sitting through it, even though it was a bit silly and staged. There were parading elephants, elephants twirling hula hoops, elephants playing soccer and finally, elephants painting pictures. Here are a few pictures from that silly show:
That elephant could really kick that big soccer ball--even kicked it clear over the buildings.
There were 5 elephants painting, and each picture turned out quite different. Certainly not a Van Gogh, but pretty good for an elephant! Of course, "Paintings available for sale in the gift shop after the show" (O.K., I'll admit I was impressed by the painting elephants!)
After the "show" it was time for our elephant ride into the jungle! I had been a bit worried about just how I was going to haul my rear end up onto to that big, tall elephant; but of course, they have that all figured out! They have a tall platform built, we walked up the steps, and our elephants "parked" right next to the platform, and we just stepped right on. Easy as pie!
We settled into that nice, comfy seat, and waited for our mahout to give the word. Here we are, ready to go:
Our mahout was very friendly and talkative, and we didn't understand a word he said! We rode through the jungle, up and down narrow paths, some of them quite steep. It was actually very relaxing just rocking and rolling along. I think if we'd ridden much longer, I'd have fallen asleep! About half way through the ride, our "driver" steered our elephant to the river, he (or she?) got a drink of water and splashed around a bit. Some views along the way:
Some "working" elephants we saw along the way:
A cute baby elephant, giving himself a dust bath:
The view from our elephant:
And our nice, smiley and very talkative mahout:
We rode, swaying and rolling, through the jungle for almost an hour. We loved every minute of it!
Here's a couple of videos:
Our guide Mam was waiting for us when we got off, with a cool drink and a candy bar snack. Whew--that elephant riding is hard work!
We joined our driver at the van, and drove about 20 minutes to our next destination, the Hill Tribe and Karen "Long Neck" Tribe Village. We both had mixed feelings about this visit, but after discussing it with Mam, we felt better about it.
These tribes are refugees from Burma, although there ancestors originally came from Tibet and China. They have been settled in this region of Thailand for many years. Their story is an interesting one, too long to tell here, but Mam assured us they are happy to be here, and do have a quality of life that is much better than if they were still in war-torn Burma. The men work in agriculture, and the women of the tribe stay in the village to care for the children and make crafts to sell to tourists like us. There is also a large admission fee to visit, 500 baht each, which helps support the village. Here are a few village scenes.
Walking down into the village:
These are not village tribal houses, but "guest houses" built on the hill overlooking the village. They can be rented for an overnight stay.
Karen Tribe women and child
This women is from the Lahu Shi Bala ("Big Ear") Hill Tribe, note the large ear piercings, and the leg coils:
This Hmong woman was beautifully dressed, and had a shy, sweet smile. She is proudly holding one of her weavings, which I bought!
Although I certainly enjoyed our time at the village with these fascinating people, I left still feeling a bit unsettled, despite Mam's reassurances. Again, I'm not sure if we are helping them by visiting and buying their goods, or if we are just being voyeuristic and intrusive. I will say that it was a moving and unforgettable experience.
By now it was late afternoon, but Mam said we had time for one more stop, and suggested a nearby orchid farm. It was an interesting but quick stop. Of course, the orchids were gorgeous.
They are grown in long rows, hanging from long poles, no soil needed, just humidity from the air:
This is our wonderful guide, Mam:
A nice, long ride back to Chiang Mai, and we are dropped off right in front of our hotel. After an appreciative thank you (and big tip!) to our nice guide and driver, we stop off at The Terrace Bar to relax and talk about our amazing day.
A Northern Thai yellow curry with noodles and pork:
It was a very short walk across the street, and an early night for us--we are two tired, but very happy travelers!
It was a perfect day, full of magical moments that we'll never forget.
Tomorrow in Chiang Mai: We're cookin'! We've signed up with one of the local Thai cooking schools for a day long class. Maybe we can (almost) duplicate some of this delicious food when we get home!