Monday, 14 April 2014

Elephant Trekking near Chiang Mai: Part 1

One of the things Angela and I were most looking forward to doing in Chiang Mai was an elephant trek. So on our second day in Thailand's northern capital, we took a tour with a company called Jumbo-Trek, which picked us up from our hostel in the morning and drove us deep into the jungle where the elephants were living.

We got to pet the elephants, feed them, ride them, and bathe them. We also did some other activities in the jungle, including a short walk, swimming at a waterfall, white water rafting down the Mae Taeng River, and visiting a small tribal village.

All in all, a fun-packed day with the elephant-riding definitely the big highlight. The one thing I feel a little bad about is that we could have done more research into finding a humane elephant sanctuary with which to do the trek. At this one, the trainers appeared to treat the elephants decently enough, though the animals were at times chained up with not a great deal of space to move around. They didn't seem uncomfortable or unhappy with their lot, but then again it's hard to be sure. If I were to do this sort of thing again I'd probably try to find a tour that included a better sanctuary.

Here are some pictures from the trip.

There were nine of us on the tour, including our tour guide, Joy. We drove about an hour outside of Chiang Mai, to a Karen village in the jungles.

After changing into some unflattering mahout costumes, we sat down as Joy taught us how to speak Elephant.
The village is populated by local Karen people, who are an ethnic minority in Thailand, with their own language and customs. We became friends with this cute local girl named Nuthatson, which means sunshine in the Karen language (a very apt name!). She followed us around for most of the trek, playing games on Angela's phone and taking pictures of us.
From the village we walked down to a clearing where the elephants were staying.

We fed the elephants bananas.
This elephant's trunk was bigger than Angela's entire body.
A mahout showed us how to get onto the elephant.
Then we got to practice riding them ourselves. This one was a small female. Her head was caked with dry mud, so it felt like I was riding a huge, living piece of the Earth.

Soon the practice was finished, and while we waited to go on a proper trek, we played with Nuthatson.

For the main trek, we rode on a large male bull.
It was a little precarious riding him at first. With each step forward, his huge spine and shoulder bones would shift beneath us, swaying us from side to side.
Heading out into the jungles.

Our elephant would often steer off the beaten path to eat some nearby plants and shrubs.
Sometimes the elephants would even break thick branches off of the trees, demonstrating their great strength.

Click here to continue the adventure in Part 2!

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